Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Does Eternity Start Now?
"Eternity is now"
We hear the words from our Christian friends, we see them on motivational posters, we may even hear them preached from a pulpit, but do we really understand what the implication of this very simple yet profound thought is? Jesus spent a lot of time talking about life, particularly in the Gospel of John, where life is a major theme of the book. The word for life zoe is very often paired with another word, aiōnios, a word that is translated eternal or everlasting or without end. and so we have Jesus over and over again promising to those who believe in Him, a life that is without end or eternal. But at what point does this new life start. Does it start with the point of initial faith, or do we have to wait until the disposition of our physical bodies before we can experience this life unending that Jesus is referring to?
To Answer this question, I want to look at one of my favorite stories in all of the Bible. In John chapter 4, we see Jesus and the disciples passing through Samaria and Jesus stops at Jacob's well to take a rest. While he was resting and the disciples had run to town to buy food, a Samaritan woman comes to the well to get water. This begins what has to be one of the most bizarre conversations that we see in the Bible, or at least so it would seem. It starts out innocently enough, Jesus simply asks the woman to give him a drink of water. Clearly, Jesus had violated some social norm, because the woman cannot imagine why he would do such a thing, He was a Jew, and Jews didn't talk to Samaritans, they especially did not drink from Samaritan water pots. And then without explaining why he asked her for water, Jesus says "if only you knew the gift of God, and Who it was speaking to you, you would ask me and I would give you this thing called living water."
Now the woman is truly confused, he asked her for water because he had no way to draw for himself, that much she was able to figure out, and what does he mean by living water anyway. So she asks, "are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well?" Now, not only are we crossing cultural norms, we are talking in strange metaphors, the woman is speaking of real physical wells and water and people like Jacob, and Jesus, well, he is talking of living water and of giving drinks without having to go draw from a well. And Jesus reply "those who drink this physical water that Jacob provided will thirst again, but those who drink of the water I give them will never thirst again, in fact, they will have this unending source of life within them."
The woman clearly still thinking of physical water says, "please sir, give me this water so I don't have to keep coming back to this well". This saving of physical effort, at least, held some value to her. But Jesus needed to jar her into the Spiritual realm, the place his mind had been all along and so he addresses the thirst that she had been seeking to quench. "Go and bring your husband". "Sir I have no husband," the woman replies. You have spoken truly" Jesus says, "you have had five husbands and the man you live with now is not your husband. " (How many times have you gone to this well to quench the thirst within you to be loved and yet still come up thirsty?)
And suddenly, like a little switch somewhere is thrown, the woman realizes that the conversation is no longer about physical water (not that it had ever really been about that) and she shifts gears to her religious conversation. (I perceive that you are a prophet). You know this whole "husband" thing is a little personal, how about we talk about religious places instead. "Dear woman, believe me, a time is coming when it will no longer matter where you worship, but, only the object of your worship. You Samaritans know only a little of who God is, but the Jews know a lot more since God gave them the law, but there is a time coming, in fact, its right now, that those who seek to worship God must do it in both spirit and truth." I may be a Samaritan, but I do know about Messiah, and when He finally comes, He will explain all these mysterious things to us. "Woman, the one who speaks to you, I AM"
And off the woman goes to tell here whole village all about this guy who was able to tell her about her life and to ask if this could possibly be the Messiah. But what about this rather remarkable conversation that he just had with this woman. A few things are clear from the outset: first, Jesus is speaking about the spiritual world, and when he says water, and life, He is not addressing physical water or life, but is speaking of spiritual water and spiritual life. Second, Jesus is addressing a here and now issue. Just as the woman was coming to the physical well over and over to meet her physical thirst, she was also over and over again returning to the well of human relationship to fulfill her spiritual thirst.
Jesus' promise to the woman was "if you ask me, I will give you a (spiritual) water that will result in your (spiritual) thirst being quenched not just now, but starting now, and continuing into the forever future. You see, just as the idea of the woman not having to go to the (physical) well every day to have her (physical) thirst met had real life value to her right now, the promise of (spiritual) life only has value if the experience of having that (spiritual) thirst quenched begins right now. Can you imagine if Jesus had instead said, "the one who asks me will have a wellspring of life inside them quenching their thirst so they never again have to come to this well, right after they die physically." What value would that have for this woman, she was smart enough to understand that she would no longer have (physical) thirst after she was dead. If she had to wait for death to begin to experience the quenching of her (spiritual) thirst, then why bother. She was most interested in quenching the thirsts of the here and now, and the promise of some future life that had to wait had no real interest or value.
This is the implication of the phrase "eternity is now". That we do not have to wait for our physical death to begin to experience the once-again-connected-to-God-as-it-was-meant-to-be-life that fills us up so completely that it is like an artesian spring bubbling up inside of us forever quenching all of our deepest spiritual thirsts. Do you thirst to belong? You belong to Christ, right now. Do you thirst to be loved? You are loved by Christ, right now. Do you thirst for relationship that will never dissapoint? Christ alone can provide us with that genuine never ending relationship that starts right now. All of your thirsts, all of the things that have you constantly running back to the well to be quenched, all of them can be quenched in relationship with Jesus Christ, right now. That is the value of eternity now, we don't have to wait, we have all that we need to meet all that we thirst for right here and right now in Christ Jesus.