Boredom Eternal?  

Posted by Joe Rawls

When I was a pious young Catholic lad, I would sometimes work myself into a state thinking about eternity. When the nuns and priests spoke about the afterlife they gave the impression that it would be a lot like this present life, minus, of course, sin, corruption and death. Honestly, I did not find it all that interesting. The possibility that it would go on forever was frankly a bit unnerving, even throwing the beatific vision into the mix.

The possibility of everlasting tedium is advanced by some philosophers and theologians as an argument against the afterlife. This is discussed by Episcopal priest Matt Gunter in a post on his new blog Into the Expectation. However, he presents an alternative view based solidly in the Christian tradition--one which was glossed over in my catechism classes. A hat-tip to the Covenant site.


If immortality is just mortal life extended indefinitely, there might not be much to commend it. Our limited mortal selves cannot bear immortality in that sense. Borges gets at this. As does Anne Rice in the desperate and lonely immortality "lived" by the vampire, Lestat. Living forever in the sense of life as we know it is less attractive than might be assumed at first.

But, as a Christian, I have to say that is not my hope. Mere immortality is not the same thing as eternal life. The Bible is surprisingly circumspect in describing just what eternal life means. But there are hints.

First of all, the Christian hope is not to avoid death. Death is indeed the hard reality under whose shadow we live. But, we confess that the one who is Life entered into that hard reality and took it upon himself and died a mortal death on a cross. Still more, we confess that Life transformed the reality of death through resurrection. So, now the shadow of death is the shadow cast by the cross with the light of resurrection glory shining from beyond.

Because we hope for resurrection, our hope is not for life extended over inexhaustible time but for life transformed. Thus, one of the most enduring images of that hope is the prophet Isaiah's vision of the Peaceable Kingdom...Similarly, the vision of the New Jerusalem in the Revelation to John points to the healing of all that corrupts and destroys along with all within and without that keeps us from complete and mutual joy. Our hope is for all creation, perhaps all of history--and us in it--to be transformed.

We do not hope for this life extended beyond death. Rather, we expect to be transfigured, or as Dante would have it, transhumanized. We expect to be "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 2:4) capable of enjoying God who is Eternal Life and capable of being in-joyed by God.

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 5, 2009 at Thursday, November 05, 2009 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Post a Comment