‘But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.’ (2 Peter 3:13). This is the verse that struck me today because it speaks of eternity. What exactly do Christians mean by ‘Eternity’?
In popular speech, saying that something is “eternal” means that it lasts for an unlimited amount of time. From a Christian perspective, this is incorrect because the term “eternal” means OUTSIDE OF TIME.
We could look at the first verse of the Bible to give us a clearer understanding: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1). St. Thomas Aquinas states that this single verse alone reveals that our Eternal God created four things: 1) Heaven. 2) The Angelic Order (Angels). 3) Time. 4) Corporeal Matter (Earth).
This is why we say that God is ‘eternal’. He was before Time. God simply, ‘is’. That is why when Moses asked for God’s name, His answer was, “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14). This is one of the most important verses which all Christians need to know. The ORDER of creation is very deliberate. It is important to realize that God created Heaven and Angels BEFORE Time and Earth. That is why we must believe Angels exist.
Christians who de-emphasize the existence of Angels are denying their own spirituality. Angels are continuously present from the first pages of Scripture, all the way to the end. The problem today though, is that we live in the age of man, of self-consciousness, of science. That is why the world loses belief in Angels, Heaven and God. This is why the world also loses hope in ‘Eternity’.
Reason demands angels.
— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
“But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” — 1 Thes 4:13
A friend of mine, I’ll call her Grace, recently posted online describing a bout of profound grief. Grace’s mother passed away a few years ago and she still gets hit with moments of overwhelming grief. In this particular moment, she had had a dream about her mother — one of those dreams that feels very real. She woke up and, realizing that it was just a dream, sunk into a sadness that took her breath away. In her post, she blamed Satan for taunting her. Grace is a deeply convicted Christian who lives each day with the purpose of drawing closer to God. She has a passion for her faith that just leaves me in awe. In her post, she said that she felt that the more she strives to grow closer to God, the more she feels Satan goes after her. And this was just one more of his dirty tricks.
I think a lot about death. Not in a morbid or pessimistic way, I just think about the reality of it. I’ve felt for a long time that death is the single greatest challenge to our faith. We talk about it and even sing about it. We have all the sayings to make us feel better about it (“She’s in a better place!”, “Don’t you know there will be a party in Heaven when he gets there!”, “I can’t wait to walk on those streets of gold!”). The reality, though, is that most of us are terrified of dying, and we can’t wrap our heads, or hearts, around it when someone we love dies. We just don’t know what to do with it. Death is very much an inescapable part of our human experience.
Know this: Death was not part of the original Plan. God didn’t want it this way. We did this. And we’re stuck with it.
But — and this is huge — death isn’t the end! Again, we know this and we say it out loud. But truly knowing it in the depth of our being… well, that’s probably the most difficult thing on Earth to do.
Something you should know about me — and you’ll see this the more you get to know me through my writing — is that I sometimes have an unconventional way of seeing things in the Gospels. Take, for example, the story of Lazarus. John 11:35 is such a familiar verse: “Jesus wept“. Every homily or sermon I’ve ever heard on this passage explains Jesus’ weeping as a moment where we see the humanity of Jesus: It’s in His grief for His friend that He is brought to tears. Well, I just don’t buy it. If you read the passage leading up to it, you see Jesus, over and over, explaining that Lazarus isn’t gone for good, that this is all happening to show the glory of God — just wait! But the crowd, over and over, is convinced that this is the end for Lazarus — that he is… gone. And then, Jesus weeps. I think He weeps because He sees the profound stronghold death has on people. That they (we) are so deeply convinced that it is the absolute end. And not even He can change their minds. The crowd grieves without hope.
But, we, as St. Paul says, do “not grieve as others who have no hope.” Our grief acknowledges the loss, but, with faith, gives rise to hope. Years ago, I heard something beautiful about mourning. (I have searched for the source, but cannot find it. Perhaps the Holy Spirit has assimilated several ideas into this one in my head!) I will do my best to paraphrase it here:
When someone we love dies, something deep in our soul resonates that this is not how things were meant to be. We know, deep in the recesses of our being, that death was not supposed to be a part of life. We’re agitated by it. So much so, that we ache. But something else in our soul reminds us that death is not the end — that there is life beyond what we can see. And even more hopeful — we know that, one day, death will no longer be a part of it. Our longing for that day is such that we ache for that as well! And so, we grieve and mourn, knowing that this wasn’t part of the plan, and that one day it will be removed from our experience. And to the extent that we find that hope, when we mourn, we worship!
I called Grace and we talked for quite a while. I told her that I didn’t think Satan was taunting her. (I really don’t like to give him credit for anything that’s not his to take.) No, I believe that the closer Grace gets to God, the more deeply she feels the separation, the more she desires that day when all brokenness will be gone, the more she hates death and the distance it causes her to feel between her and her mother. To put it another way — she aches for God. I don’t think that’s a Satan thing — I think that’s a God thing!
So, perhaps you, too, find yourself feeling the deep loss of someone you love who has passed away. Grieve! Let yourself mourn. But do so with hope! Hope that one day the original Plan will be restored! And know that your mourning is, in a very real sense, worship of the One who longs for us to live with Him in eternity!
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain, Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain; Love lives again, that with the dead has been: Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
— John M. C. Crum, Now the Green Blade Rises
A number of my young friends have died, either from cancer or suicide. It is difficult saying goodbye to people who die in old age, and even more so when they die young.
However, we as Christians have a steadfast hope in the resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting. Death no longer has the final word. This is the Good News which is the fruit of the Cross! It is this knowledge that enables us to meet even the most painful death joyfully with serenity, knowing that beyond it lies eternal life.
Lent is a chance to reflect on our lives, purify our souls, and prepare for a good death, however it may come. We should not be like the foolish virgins with no oil in their lamps, but rather, emulate the wise virgins who were prepared when the Bridegroom came (Matthew 25:1-15). Christ, the Bridegroom of our souls, awaits our entrance to the Wedding Feast which is Heaven, abiding in Love forever.
It is, of course, still very painful for those left behind; the grief is in proportion to the love bestowed. Yet, we can smile through our tears, knowing that in spirit, our loved ones are still near to us, and that one day we may meet again, never to part.
If I should die and leave you here awhile,
Be not like others, sore undone, who keep
Long vigils by the silent dust, and weep.
For my sake – turn again to life and smile,
Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
Something to comfort other hearts than thine.
Complete those dear unfinished tasks of mine
And I, perchance, may therein comfort you. – A. Price Hughes & Mary Lee Hall
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