eternitatem cogita

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.


About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an Episcopal priest), live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and five grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, Sophie, and Drew, with a sixth on the way.