The world makes its quiet but furious war against death, groping to live forever. Plastic surgery, obsessive fitness, compulsive dieting, pouring billions into scientific research searching for the holy grail of immortality. The author of Hebrews describes the condition as a lifelong slavery to the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15).
Try as we may, Adam’s and Eve’s children cannot shake the ancient nightmare.
[God] drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)
Humanity, east of Eden, still reaches out in vain for that Tree of Life.
How would the world change overnight if all people everywhere heard that a man had cured death? How many ages would pass celebrating the discovery? But as it stands, these same people bypass the knowledge of a true eternity because it is not the eternity they invented.
“How would the world change overnight if all people everywhere heard that man had cured death?”
God has placed in us a sense that life continues after death: “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Yet most suppress this knowledge of their own immortality. But why?
Because they “did not see fit to acknowledge God” (Romans 1:28) — the God “who inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15). They disavow the truth their hearts would thrill to believe because they do not approve of any eternity with God. Better to steal happy moments from a broken and fleeting mortality, their dead hearts reason, than submerge in an endless existence with the God they disapprove.
All men, we know, shall live forever. We trust and love the eternal God, we believe in the resurrection from the dead, we believe Jesus’s promise of eternal life with him. And we know the everlasting fate of the wicked: “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).
Eternity exists, we believe, and all men are immortal. The souls we come in contact with at the ballgame, in the restaurant, walking the dog — shall be a million years from now. The mailman, the bus driver, the nosy neighbor — immortal beings. The most decrepit among us shall outlive the galaxy.
“The most decrepit among us shall outlive the galaxy.”
Even considering those who have gone before us — the deceased grandfather, the fallen child, the departed spouse — though hidden momentarily from our eyes, we know they are and shall be again. Death, we profess, is the Great Interruption, not the Great End.
While we say we believe in undying souls (a truth that the world would go delirious to acknowledge), do we give that momentous reality much thought? Does that eternal weight of glory hold much weight with us? Has it changed your week at all?
How many of us have believed upon eternity, as John Foster lamented, in vain?
The very consciousness that your minds have been capable of admitting and dismissing this subject [eternity] without a prolonged and serious emotion, ought to produce at last that seriousness, by means of wonder and alarm, which may well be awakened by the consideration how many years you have believed this truth in vain. (An Essay on the Improvement of Time, 150–151)
How many years have I believed in eternity without much effect? And not just any eternity, but eternity with the Blessed God? Eternity with Jesus Christ? How many of my waking moments of these short and numbered days have orbited around the ceaseless “day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18)? If in Christ I have hope in this life only, do I really feel myself of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19)?
How this world deceives me. The sturdy tree and its branches I call “this life”; the falling leaf I call, “eternity.”
With one glance of the mind, I realize my madness. Who at sea would give all his affection and thought to a day’s trip onboard, completely disregarding the inescapable land ahead? I forget that “Surely a man goes about as a shadow!” (Psalm 39:6) as a dream (Psalm 78:18–20), as a flower that fades, as grass that withers (Isaiah 40:6–8), as a mere mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14). This world, O my soul remember, “is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).
I hope you have kept eternity closer at hand than I have.
Have you, Christian — possessor of the mightiest revelations, steward of sacred knowledge, keepers of the way of eternity — appropriated these truths for yourself and distributed them freely to a desperate and decaying world? Has forever bent down with you as you changed diapers? Has it drove with you to work? Has it laughed along while you had a game night with neighbors?
Has “everlasting” brought you low to plead in prayer for your children, your church, your city? Has that terrifying splendor, “immortality,” lifted your gaze from this painted and perishing kingdom to the one that cannot be shaken?
Has eternity provided you an anchor in suffering? Sent you along on a grand mission? Warned you against friendship with Here and Now? Bestowed solemnity to life? Brightened up gloomy days? Infused courage to venture on in Christ? Showed you the coming tsunami that will wash away all these splendid sandcastles? Endowed acquaintances with new significance? Lifted our eyes with abiding gratitude to God? Equipped us to drive a spear through sin?
Have you believed in eternity in vain?
Tree of Life
We must awake to the coming world without end. We are those who look “not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
People all around us live and die for the seen, the felt, the tasted, the pleasurable, the transient. But God has left you and me here to speak, to reason, to plead with immortal souls that they be reconciled to God.
Through faith in Christ, we have reached our hands out to a Tree of Life on Golgotha’s hill, and we will taste of that fruit denied to our first parents:
To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14)
This tree is within reach because Jesus Christ — the Resurrection and the Life — has drawn near to us. He promises, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die,” and asks the pertinent question, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26).
God give us grace to believe, and to make sure our friends know, our families know, our children know, that eternity is only a short time away.