How to Think of Eternity (or at Least How I Do)

September 18th, 2013
The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh

There’s nothing quite like loss (and a nightcap of bourbon) to make you think about the hereafter. Heaven… Hell… whatever else might exist (can I say that?). In fact, sometimes thinking about heaven pisses me off, since as soon as I think I’ve figured out something about it my brain has a momentary seizure and wants to send a crash report to Windows. But there are a few things I feel like I have gotten to. They are just conjectural thoughts, but they seem to make sense and even provide some sort of comfort to me.

For the next few blogs, I’ll be posting some of these thoughts. Again, they are all conjectural. I am sure that somebody with a Ph.D in philosophy somewhere can come and poke holes in these thoughts, but then again if I had a Ph.D in theology or philosophy I might decide to poke back. What we know and what we believe and what we are convinced of and what we defend usually come from our perspectives, observations and experiences. These are my thoughts and they come from that…On Eternity.

  • Eternity does not exist in our time. Indeed, our time is a dimension to itself and one which even in our universe has the capabilities of slowing down and ceasing to exist. Linearity is merely a perception of limited bodies. We exist in one place at one point alone and, therefore, distinguish our ability (and the ability of non-sentient things) to consciously move from A–>B–>C.
  • But what happens when moving from A–>B–>C no longer occurs, or when our observations of other temporal bodies ceases? Does our notion of time also cease? I think it does. I don’t think it makes any sense to say “when” and “where” when it come to heaven. These words, if they exist in any substantial way, must surely have different connotations.
  • Linearity is only one way to think of time. It is a ray. But what if, actually, time didn’t have to exist as a ray? Why must it always go forward? Why, must we always move forwards? What if, actually, time exists more as a line, moving in both directions? Or what if it exists more like a sphere? I don’t know which view (or another one) is more likely, but I can’t get away from the fact that when Christ says “ever-lasting” I don’t think he really meant “from here on out…”. Somehow, someway I think time is a good bit more beyond our linear thinking.
  • And I think we see this with Jesus. It’s not magical that he could be in various places at once, or appear and disappear. It’s simply beyond what we can do, broken physics and all. Like Jesus’ post-resurrected body, though, we abuse heaven by making our conceptions of it limited to our own experience, including our notion of time.
  • People say, “God exists outside of time.” I think this is wrong. Does He really? Is Jesus God? Yes, though another Person. But if we think that Jesus exists outside of time, did he exist outside of time post resurrection? Well, obviously not. And what happened to his body at the ascension? Making it disappear into nothingness would defeat the whole purpose of the resurrection, and it’s pretty silly to think that the alternative is that Jesus is floating around in space somewhere, shooting past the Andromeda Galaxy (light year speed of course!). Somehow, someway Jesus brought his body into the heavenly sphere. And this means, I think, that the resurrection brought together whatever heavenly time is with earthly time.

All of this has implications for my thinking and grieving on everything now. How does B exist? She’s not bound by her body to time, to waiting and watching and moving from one place to another. She exists, I think, in that sphere or line of time, not in a ray. I think our concept of heaven as linear means that heaven is always adding in new people every few seconds, and thus heaven is getting bigger and bigger infinitely. But this surely can’t be how heavenly time operates. If eternity is eternity, and heaven cannot be less at any point than it will be, then B has the experience of knowing heaven in its fullness.

I wait on my watch, ticking the minutes away, waiting for my inevitable death. I have known and I will know a life without her. This I still can’t stomach. But my comfort exists in the fact that I have to believe that God never designed heavenly time to come with the pain of waiting. That’s our pain to bear. We wait and us alone. For B, heaven has always been full of who it will ever be full with. And when (?) she entered into that existence, she never waited for us. We have all always, eternally, been there.

Randy Hardman blogs at The Bara Initiative.

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