I am blessed with a handful of friends who make me think. One of them is John Ockels. John thinks deeply about his faith. Over lunch the other day, he pointed out that thinking about life as eternal had changed the way he lives.
“You know, he observed, if you think that this life is all there is, it doesn’t matter how sweet natured and good you happen to be, the notion that it will all be over in 80 years or so changes the way that you live. And most of us — including Christians — really do believe that this is all there is, instead of a prelude to something far longer.”
John is right. Sure, there is something to be said for momento mori….”remember death.” And next year on Ash Wednesday, God willing, I will smear ashes on someone’s forehead and have them smear ashes on mine.
But spiritual wisdom does not lie in gravitating to a single insight into life and then beating it like a toy drum. It lies in living in lively conversation with the mystery that lies behind death and life, darkness and light.
And it could be that one of the biggest problems with contemporary American culture is not just that it is in huge denial about death, but that it is also in huge denial about eternity. We are so pedestrian in our outlook that when someone mentions eternal life we begin asking profound questions — like, “Where would we all stand?” “How are the countless scattered and dry molecules brought back to life?” “Which body does God resurrect?”
Why don’t we leave the answers to those “profound” questions to God and ask ourselves some questions we can and should answer:
If we live forever, what are we doing in this life that will endure?
If eternal life is the presence of God — present and future gift — what are we doing to give ourselves to the presence of God now?
If we live with God for an eternity, what are we doing now that we would be embarrassed to take into that unending day?
If we live forever, are the things that preoccupy us, our families, our nations, our churches, really as important as we think they are?
Eternitatem cogita…”Think on eternity.” It may change the way you live now.