Daybreak over our backyard always amazes me. Sunny or cloudy, the sky looks like it goes on forever, into eternity. According to the Google Dictionary, “eternity” means infinite or unending time; the theological definition is endless life after death.
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever”. (Daniel 12: 2-3)
Eternity, and a choice of “everlasting life” versus everlasting “shame and contempt” are two areas I ponder as I pass my fifty-ninth birthday with all the aches and pains that remind me daily that I am no longer twenty-nine.
Physicist Albert Einstein rejected his Jewish faith’s Yahweh, preferring to decline the personification of God, favouring the idea of a “cosmic religious sense.” Einstein appreciated that there was something beyond what he could perceive scientifically, as he tried to understand creation.
“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty. It is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious ourselves. Enough for me, the mystery of the eternity of life and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with a single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.”
Yet the Lord had already said He was not like humankind. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)
Einstein’s general theory of relativity that proved there was no rigidity to time and space would propose that time originated with the creation of the universe – the so-called Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.
As British physicist Paul Davies noted, Augustine postulated the same thing in the 5th century. “Augustine said that the world was created with time and not in time. He placed God outside of time altogether, a timeless, eternal being. So we’re back to eternity.”
Einstein went further than the acceptance that time exists in the universe for the universe, and believed that outside the universe, there existed eternity.
Einstein wrote these words to the queen of Belgium following a string of family deaths, including her daughter:
“There is, after all, something eternal that lies beyond the hand of fate and of all human delusions. And such eternals lie closer to an older person than to a younger one, oscillating between fear and hope. For us there remains the privilege of experiencing beauty and truth in their purest forms.”
So that beyond the edge of the universe lies eternity, the place we fall into after our earthly death, where remains the “privilege of experiencing beauty and truth in their purest forms.” The diligent scientist, whose goal was purely the best understanding of how the world works, discovered eternity and he perceived it as an obvious reality.
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” (Phil 1:21-24)
Yet how did mankind become the inheritor of safe passage to eternity?
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’ ” (Genesis 1: 26)
“…for God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity…” (Wisdom 2: 23)
Humankind is invited to eternity through his image or imitation of God. In his book Christianity In Evolution: An Exploration, Scottish Jesuit Jack Mahoney SJ explores the compatibility of evolution with Christian doctrine.
Through this exploration, he gives insight into how humankind can be understood to be the image of God, and how Jesus made possible the ultimate spiritual evolution, the journey to eternity.
Mahoney proposes that God created humankind in the image of God’s own altruism. We are all created in the image of God, and “are invited to imitate in all our actions within the human species the altruistic solidarity and community of the divine Trinity, and in the process, as Romans 8:29 tells us, we are called to be daily conformed to Christ, who is the prime image of God’s own altruism…Certainly in the teachings, life and death of Jesus…is to be found the definitive and all-exhaustive act of human altruism as imaging God’s.”
Further on, Mahoney identifies the role of Jesus in our spiritual evolution.
“Jesus triumphed over death, and his death was more than a striking moral example of the extent to which altruism could draw one; it was also in evolutionary terms a cosmic achievement for humanity, taking our species through the evolutionary cul-de-sac of individual extinction to enter into a newer form of human living. He not only liberated humanity from self-centeredness…but also rescued us from the evolutionary destiny of individual death.”
Death has been conquered for us so that we might live in a new human form, in community with our Triune God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
I share these thoughts with you so that the reality of resurrection becomes clearer for all of us. I better understand what my dying sister-in-law meant when she said she could see where she was going, and nothing else mattered anymore.
How fantastic that glimpse of eternity must have been, that a mother and wife who clung to life so tenaciously wanted to go at that moment, assuring all of us that it was okay.
To understand even the tiniest portion, I am so happy.
Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit, by Krista Tippett.
Christianity In Evolution: An Exploration, by Jack Mahoney SJ.