(In case you’re wondering, “part 2” will be the last part of this post. It won’t be never-ending…)
What is “eternal life”? As I suggested in the previous post, it’s more than just life that never ends, life that continues forever after I die. That’s a quantitative way of thinking, as if eternity meant nothing more than the concept of infinity on a number line.
But the biblical concept of eternal life, I think, is more qualitative than quantitative — it’s more about the quality of life than its quantity. As Jesus told his opponents, we are all destined to resurrection, followed by either blessing or condemnation. And the blessing for which we hope is not just life that never ends, but life in the presence of God.
That’s why we can think of eternal life as a present reality, not just something for the future. We have eternal life, Jesus says. We have passed from death to life (John 5:24). Put differently, our lives have been caught up into God’s life, which is eternal. Our story doesn’t end when we die, not because it’s been miraculously prolonged, but because it’s been taken up into God’s never-ending story.
Some evangelists grab people’s attention by pointing to our future eternal destiny: Where are you going when you die? If you’re going to hell, you’ve got a problem, and Jesus is the answer. Such a message trades on the human propensity to make our own stories the center of the universe; if we’re going to be interested in God, it’s because God has the answer to our problems.
But that’s an incomplete view of the gospel. The good news isn’t just that life keeps going. Life can be different, now, because God’s work of bringing healing to a broken creation has already begun in Jesus of Nazareth.
Consequently, evangelism isn’t just about telling people how to live forever. It’s a matter of whether people can glimpse something of eternity in us.
Yes, there is resurrection in our future. But we are also being renewed. God is present with us in a way that glimpses of resurrection can already be seen. Eternal life is the invasion of eternity into our temporality, transforming it from the inside out.
The question, then, is not simply what happens to us tomorrow, when we die. The question is how we live today if eternal life is ours already. Perhaps what we need to ask ourselves is this: if we have eternal life now because our lives are caught up in God’s, has anybody noticed?