Saturday, January 31, 2009

Who wants to live forever?

We see in the New Testament a few areas where Jesus is shown to be offering eternal life -- those who believe in Jesus have it. Or Paul saying that the wages of sin are death, but the free gift of eternal life comes from Jesus (or is something God offers to us through Jesus).

Yet we also have the concept of heaven and hell. Both hold the concept of an eternal existence. You either are eternally in Paradise, or eternally in a place that is rather unpleasant. Technically speaking, doesn't one have this eternal life regardless of where one ends up?

After all, that is what life is: existence. So wouldn't we logically say that when if God is offering someone eternal life, He is offering them the opportunity to exist forever? And if someone refuses this chance, that person will not in fact live forever? They'll cease to exist?

Except based on the heaven/hell theology, the person ends up in hell, which means the person is still existing. Does this mean we end up with a situation where while it does say that Jesus offers eternal life, "eternal life" means something other than the standard definition? Because if someone came up to me and said that s/he is offering me the chance to live forever, the implication is that I don't already possess the capability to live forever.

12 comments:

Josh said...

Or how about if someone came up to you and said the s/he is offering you a consequence of certain death, the implication would be that you would not otherwise die?

Genesis 2:17
...but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."

I think the Christian understanding of the verses you are discussing has to conclude that it is a big mystery. Death is clearly involved, but it doesn't seem like people die, so it must be spiritual, but it is still a big mystery. I can no longer try to wrap my mind around it all in a literal sort of way, in a way that really draws any conclusions about it.

Lorena said...

Did you know that even Buddhism says our souls are eternal? Apparently people re-incarnate because they go to hell, and the only way out is to be born again to burn the karma. When you've finally paid off all the karma--by being born again and again--then you go to "heaven" and need not comeback here again.

But at least they're not OFFERING out eternal life like Christians do. Eternity is understood.

You're right Jesus' offering of eternal life is redundant.

steve martin said...

I think Jesus means authentic life...in Himself.

There are many today walking around who are lost, who do not know Him and who are for all intents and purposes...dead.

Thanks!

OneSmallStep said...

Josh,

The Genesis scenario has always been a fascinating one for me, because the serpent seemed to come pretty close to what happened -- they didn't surely die, and they did become like gods, knowing good and evil. Given that God kicked them out before they could eat of the tree of life and thus live forever, I never read it as they were deathless before eating the fruit. I always thought they'd have to eat the tree of life regardless.

And I can understand concluding that it's a mystery ... but in order to people to have faith and believe in this, it can't all be mysterious.

OneSmallStep said...

Lorena,

That would make a lot more sense. It's not so much offering eternity as to where one spends the eternity one already has.

Another question I would have, though, is can eternity have a beginning? If it's of infinite duration, and seemingly endless, and even existing at all time, then how can one's eternal life every really begin? So would Buddhism say there's a starting point for people when they first begin? Or have they just always existed?

OneSmallStep said...

Steve,

The problem I would have is that if Jesus is offering an authentic life, then the "eternal" portion of "eternal life" no longer means a life without end. If eternal life is offered, then it means that your life is never going to have an ending. But with heaven/hell theology, your life doesn't have an ending regardless.

Now, we could say this is only meant spiritually, and perhaps that's where you going with your comment. The people wandering are spiritually dead. But then that still means they spiritually no longer/do not exist, and thus there's still the conflict with the heaven/hell idea. Because something has to exist in order to be in hell, and yet the people are not living spiritually. So what would be left?

Sarge said...

I am beginning the process of coming to the end of my life, I've come close a few times before during my army years and a few other occasionns, but now it might be a blood disorder, a stroke, but melanoma will be doing the job if the other two fail. And, as annoying as some 'twice' born find it, I'm still an atheist.

I am now 62, and I am a harpist. I started playing when I was 47. In my younger days I was an engineer on a sea going tug and I trained horses (among other things). My father, when he heard, opined that if I was looking to the "afterlife" I should reacquaint myself with pitchforks and stoking tools because they would be more appropriate to where I was going to end up than a harp.

Where does such an imagerey come from?

The "after life" and its conceptions have always fascinated me. How can people foist such things on themselves?

Hell is something out of a Breugel or Bosch painting, but what is heaven? A grandmother told me that you would sing her deity's praises pretty much eternally (I'm guessing this 'entity' has issues, needing such an ego stroking) while watching saints throwing crowns down by a sea, (I asked why they were doing such a singular thing, was informed that it was biblical, and thus had to be, and also, thus, made sense) and after a while they'd take you to the edge of heaven where you could watch the horrible things being done to the "sinners" when you needed recreation.

Didn't appeal to me.

I've been in combat, heard people call to their deity. heard more call for their mothers, seemed to get about the same result. The christians didn't seem to want to go and meet their loving deity and enjoy the pleasures of heaven any more than anyone else. Nope, they all petitioned that their impending trip and it's alleged pleasures be postponed. I've always wondered why.

I go to a support groups, and I think that a lot of people simply haven't lived in the here and now. (My wife gets her picture in the paper several times a year due to our activities, her colleagues ask her how this comes about as most of them have never had such a thing happen once. She invites them to vary their routine and come with us, but they "can't", they stay in their rut, and life goes on around them)

So, they accept an invented consolation prize where they gain "victory" and the 'bad' people in their lives get it in the neck.



One of my grandmothers figured that

atimetorend said...

Jesus and Paul often seem to have such a different emphasis. Jesus talks a lot about the kingdom of God being at hand, as though people could experience the kingdom of God in the here and now, not in the future/eternal sense. He didn't seem to say as much about eternal life. Paul talks about the benefits/"fruits" of living as a christian, but certainly emphasizes the eternal consequences of believing in Jesus.

Is there any verse about Jesus that got you started thinking along those lines? I find it difficult to read what the gospels say about Jesus apart from the lens of what the rest of the NT says. So it is hard to read a quote of Jesus without reading into it what Paul wrote. I don't anymore assume they are saying the same thing.

OneSmallStep said...

Sarge,

**and after a while they'd take you to the edge of heaven where you could watch the horrible things being done to the "sinners" when you needed recreation.**

A relative situation really is everything -- I never understand why this is seen as a positive viewpoint when we'd be horrified to see it in any other context. It's like saying that the rich would go live in paradise, do a few things, and whenever they need some recreation, they go watch poor people thrown to vicious animals. We'd be appalled by people who found that recreative, who just sat by and watched.

Yet, when it comes to the heaven/hell concept, suddenly there's no problem watching people be tortured.

OneSmallStep said...

Atimetorend,

A big verse for me is John 3:16, in God loving the world so much that He sent His son to give people eternal life, and those that believe will then have this life, and not be condemned. To me, if one is given eternal life after believing, then those who don't believe will simply cease to exist at a point in time. And a lot of other portions in John, with the emphasis on Jesus being life.

There are also verses from Paul, such as saying that the wages of sin is death, but the gift from God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. I think that's Romans 6:23.

Lorena said...

So would Buddhism say there's a starting point for people when they first begin? Or have they just always existed?

I am anything but an expert on Buddhism, but, I think I believe in evolution. So, I guess the first cell that split had to reach karma, ha!

Just kidding. I don't know anything.

OneSmallStep said...

Lorena,

**ust kidding. I don't know anything.**

Isn't someone admitting that they know nothing the first sign that the person is approaching wisdom? ;)