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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Eternal Life and Life Everlasting

I have never much preferred the term "eternal life." Obviously, there is huge tradition and scriptural witness behind the term, but for me it has always held some difficult philosophical--and by this term I do NOT also mean theological--nuances. For me, the phrase "life everlasting" is much more meaningful, and carries with it an important theological distinction that the phrase "eternal life" often glosses over. As always, it's the little distinctions that make all the difference.

Since the phrase "eternal life" has the word eternal in it, we tend to get caught up in something that may not be true. Namely, that you exist before you are born. Is that the case? Do you (however you want to define that term) exist before you are created, or even before you are born? It is true you may exist in the mind of God before you are created or born, but do you really exist before you are created or born? In the same way that a "dragon" can exist in our minds but not be created, so too we could exist in God's mind without being created. The word "eternal" can lead us into believing that we exist before god creates us.

Since "eternity" has no beginning or end, we often think there is some kind of "circle of life" that just keeps going round and round and we are part of it. Such an idea--philosophically--does not do enough justice to death. Death is not part of a cycle, but the end of it all. Dead is dead. Life stops, it is not just waiting around to be re-"something" (created, imagined, lived, etc.). It's over, and done. Eternity for God is one thing, but it is not something we humans have. We have mortality. We have an end. We have death.

That's why I prefer the phrase "life everlasting." It leads us to take seriously when our life begins, as well as its end. That is, death does not stop life. Death is not part of life, although it is part of living, and as such life triumphs over death because life lasts forever. Although the distinction may seem slight, it is all important to me. In using the phrase "life everlasting" I am trying to get to show that life cannot be halted by death, and that death is really against life. In this way, death is not a part of life, but is a power against life, but because "life" is everlasting, death is not. Life wins, to paraphrase Rob Bell.

But how do you think about death? As this is my 50th year, I realize that I have less rather than more left on my life-span. So is my impending death part of a cycle or is it the end of Scott? If it is the end of Scott, then eternal life doesn't do much for me. I like Scott. I like the people who make Scott "Scott." I like the things Scott does (you know, fast cars, bourbon, and obsessing about the Minnesota Vikings, that kind of stuff). I don't want death to transition me into the next phase of eternity, I want life to beat the crap out of death, and win so that Scott can go on living somehow, as Scott, but probably different. I think that's what resurrection is all about. It's not about continuing on on some cycle of life, but rather, in getting to live because death cannot enthrall you anymore. Life wins. Life in God--you see, is everlasting.

May your table be full, and your conversations be true.

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