Eternity is kind of scary, isn’t it? I mean, trying to understand that we will all, believers and unbelievers, go to a place that we can’t currently see and may not even be able to understand. Tonight we look at eternity and try to understand exactly what eternity is.
Eternity is Complicated
The first thing we have to understand is that eternity is kind of complicated. Most of us can understand the concept of places, things, and events, but the aspect of eternity that is probably the most complicated is how we will experience something like ‘eternity’, particularly when it comes to time. Does it just mean we sit in a place for ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and… well, you get the point.
Being an engineer, I have a hypothesis for you: maybe time is just like weight, size, or any other measure that we know exists on this earth… it’s just another characteristic of our ‘experience’ of which God has complete and utter control.
The analogy I used during Wednesday night’s CROSSROADS meeting was of a black hole. Did you know that time is thought to ‘skew’ within a black hole? These ‘scary space things’ are highly concentrated areas of gravity usually caused by something huge, like a star, collapsing on itself. When you get that much gravity in one place, weird things happen including a stretching of how time is perceived. Freaky, huh?
With all that said, if something like a black hole can modify time, why can’t God? Doesn’t it make sense that God, who created ALL stars, ALL galaxies, and ALL planets, would be able to command everything in this universe even more than the thing HE created? Time is just one more thing God controls and because of that, we are left to wonder: does eternity even have “time” at all?
This discussion of time and eternity either did one of two things. It either (a) helped you understand how eternity can even exist devoid of a ‘start’ and ‘stop’ time or (b) it helped you simply accept the idea that eternity is super, incredibly complicated and may very well be outside of the understanding of all mankind. Both outcomes are good because it helps us understand that eternity is absolutely ‘physically possible’, even when you consider the most complicated aspect of eternity which is the concept of time.
Eternity is Good
Once we understand that God commands all things, including time, it may make more sense when we read things about God like what we read in 1 Timothy.
All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17)
God is the eternal king because he defined eternity. When you define something, that’s about the greatest extent of ‘supreme’ you can possibly be over that thing. The interesting thing is that because eternity and God are connected, we know that eternity is designed to be good, not scary.
So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possessions. (James 1:16-18)
What James is saying is that if it comes from God, it must be good. Because eternity is something that comes from God, it simply must be good. This is particularly useful to realize when we start thinking about how ‘scary’ eternity can be. If it came from God and we are His, we should be excited to see what is to come. It’s no wonder, then, why Paul writes…
For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
Heaven vs Hell
Now that we’ve talked about eternity in general, let’s break things down into what people really want to discuss: Heaven and Hell.
The first thing we have to make crystal clear is that Heaven and Hell are not ‘punishment’ and ‘reward’. That’s not at all what these eternal places are. These places are defined by their relationship with God.
In Hell, we see a picture of those who chose not to follow God. These people decided they wanted a life devoid of God and that’s exactly what Hell is. So if Hell isn’t a punishment, then why is it described as a ‘lake of fire’? Remember that all good things come from God. If Hell is a place devoid of God, then it is also a place devoid of all good things. In a way, Hell is actually the final “victory” for those who didn’t want anything to do with God.
On the contrary, Heaven is a place where there is perfect unity with God. In Revelation, we see a picture of a kingdom being restored for eternity.
I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of the day because there is no night there. (Revelation 21:22-25)
Imagine a place so filled with the glory and power of God that there is no need for light! A place where the presence of God is so felt everywhere that there was no need for a temple! That’s a relationship unlike any we’ve ever seen. It shows that Heaven really isn’t about ‘reward’ as much as it’s about mending the relationship.
Wait… mending? What are we mending? Well, lets look at the relationship of Genesis.
They heard the voice of Adonai, God, walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, so the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Adonai, God, among the trees in the garden. (Genesis 3:8)
In this image of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve have just committed the first sin and are hiding, but notice what God is doing; God is walking in the garden. God’s relationship with man was so close that God actually physically dwelled with us here on earth. The thing that messes that all up is the introduction of sin. In Heaven, with sin removed entirely from the equation, that relationship is restored.
What we see is that Heaven and Hell are about our choice to follow God or follow our own paths. If eternity is something that concerns us, we should keep in mind that God wants for nothing more than to be restored with His creation. Accepting the gift of grace into our lives is all about that restoration and it is my prayer every single week that God’s relationship with all of us will be restored a little more so that we will be ready for this wonderful, glorious thing called ‘eternity’.