I have been thinking a bit about eternal life lately.
Prompted quite a bit about a growing fear of flying.
I notice that I have become more and more anxious. A few months back Anne and I popped up to Wellington on a Sunday afternoon to have some time with family and we nearly died (well, I think we nearly died!). There was a full-on northerly wind blowing its way down the lower North Island and Upper South Island. We were in one of the turbo prop planes and boy did we bump around. The approach into Wellington was tortuous. I was having more than a problem with flying already and this time I was terrified. But we landed and the people applauded. We drove away from the airport and seawater was spraying over the road – we were alive!
Flying in planes just brings the possibility of dying much nearer. A few weeks back I was flying to Auckland and at 30,000 feet we hit a strong and rare easterly air-stream and we bumped along for ten minutes. It wasn’t as full-on as landing in Wellington except that we were so darned high that there was little chance of a miracle landing if things went wrong up there. We don’t belong up there. It is silly; silly, frightening, death-defying, and really useful. I quite like those big planes, I just prefer to watch them from the ground rather than be in them.
I have become quite dissatisfied with the old way of talking about eternal life – as in it being a reward for living a good life (you know, the alternative to eternal damnation in the fires of hell). I don’t believe in God rewarding, and the fires of hell stuff leaves me cold. I think that such an extreme view involves calculation. God calculating whether we have been good enough, and us calculating how much naughtiness we can get away with without jeopardising our eternal future. I think there isn’t much mathematics involved in the grace of God – 100% unconditional grace is given – that’s it. The question for us is what kind of response will we make to this eternal and present God who is for us. And the other thing to wrestle with is this: how do we participate in the eternal now?
Here’s what I believe Jesus was on about on this subject: the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven is another way of talking about eternal life. This eternal yet present Kingdom is coming, near, and in us. It is with us and around us. It is inviting us and dwelling in us whether we know it or not. But we need to have faith to ‘get it’ and we need to kind of trustingly walk into it in order to see more of it. This looks too hard for the many who want tangible things to hang their beliefs to, thus they put their trust in themselves, and then they fly in planes and encounter turbulence and their fears come to the surface, and they wrestle with their mortality and recognise their hope is not all that solid. I know this because I saw that look in their eyes on the approach to Wellington and I heard their clapping in relief when we landed, and I don’t like that they saw the same look in my eyes even though I believe I live with more than a foothold into the presence of eternal life.
The learning for me at the moment, as I attend to my fear of flying, is not a secular belief that my days are numbered therefore I must make the best of it – you know, that I must start emptying my bucket list. My belief in eternal life being with us now makes me want to live more into that eternal life now.
I still have a way to go…