I used to know someone who hated the song “Amazing Grace.” The first few verses were fine enough, he said, but then he would get to the last stanza—the one about eternal life—and freeze.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.
“That’s absolutely terrifying,” my friend insisted. He pictured himself as a halo-ed Energizer bunny playing a harp on a cloud day after day after day. “That would be pretty terrifying,” I agreed.
But what if that’s not what eternal life means? What if eternal life is less about the continuation of time forever and more about the removal of the limitations of time forever? Less about the “ten thousand years” and more about the divine irrelevance of years?
Scarcity and Abundance
Theologian Samuel Wells describes two opposing worldviews of “scarcity” and “abundance.” So often, the reality of the world is scarcity. There doesn’t seem to be enough time, food, water, money, housing, jobs. Everything, including life itself, comes to an end—sometimes tragically soon.
At the same time, the reality of the kingdom of God is abundance. The perspective of abundance sees that God gives sacrificially of himself, his Son, and his Spirit. And that is more than enough. As Wells says in God’s Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics: “God has given his people everything they need to worship him, to be his friends, and to eat with him. . . . [H]e gives his people more than enough. He overwhelms them by the abundance of his gifts.”
Admittedly, we won’t always feel “overwhelmed by the abundance of God’s gifts.” Because his gifts don’t always look how we expect. We tend to operate with a short-sightedness that looks for immediacy and clarity, easily missing the reality of God’s abundance. But, our eternal God operates with an abiding presence for the present and an abundant hope for the future.
The Abundance of Easter
Shortly before he is delivered over to death, Jesus prays to the Father in John 17, saying in part: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (v. 3). So eternal life, Jesus says, is defined by knowing God through Christ.
After Jesus is resurrected, he demonstrates this definition of eternal life to the downcast disciples by spending time with them, walking along the road to Emmaus, sitting at table with them, and breaking bread. These resurrection encounters teach the disciples that they still have, as Wells said, “everything they need to worship him, to be his friends, and to eat with him.” By spending time with his disciples, the resurrected Christ shows his disciples tangibly that, by following him, worship, friendship, and fellowship are not objects of scarcity. They’re not limited and not over.
God’s presence with the disciples wasn’t over. And God’s presence with you isn’t over either.
In times of loneliness, you can experience God’s presence peeking through in prayer and in people, in timely text messages and songs on the radio. In times of loss, you can experience God’s presence through friendship and food, through frozen casseroles from church ladies and late-night pancakes with peers and Easter feasts with family.
Eternal life means that those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus won’t just, as my friend worried, be an Energizer bunny forever. Eternal life means that you receive the abundant gift of abiding with God in Christ both now and forever.
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Laura Li-Barbour.