Eternity in Our Hearts

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ecc. 3:11
Full Text: Ecc 3-5

Eternity | No matter what people claim to believe, God has “set eternity in the hearts of men” [1]. He has given everyone a longing for something beyond this life – and evidence is everywhere. Socrates once said, “We shall see that there is a great reason to hope that death is good, for one of two things: either death is a state of nothingness and utter consciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and a migration of the soul from this world to another” [2]. Even Steve Jobs, although he was only 50/50 about God’s existence, found himself “believing a bit more” in an afterlife [3].

Critique | Belief in the afterlife, however, has been attacked. In a debate earlier this year, atheist Sam Harris said, “This concept of an afterlife functions as a substitute for wisdom, as a substitute for absorbing our predicament – which is that everyone is going to die, there are circumstances that are just catastrophically unfair, evil sometimes wins” [4]. Similarly, Richard Dawkins wrote, “Polls suggest that approximately 95 percent of the population of the United States believe they will survive their own death. Aspiring martyrs aside, I can’t help wondering how many moderate religious people who claim such belief really hold to it, in their heart of hearts. If they were truly sincere, shouldn’t they all behave like the Abbot of Ampleforth? When Cardinal Basil Hume told him that he was dying, the abbot was delighted for him: ‘Congratulations! That’s brilliant news. I wish I was coming with you’ … Why don’t religious people talk like that when in the presence of the dying?” [5]

Effect | Although I disagree with Harris that belief in the afterlife is a substitute for wisdom and I think that Dawkins fails to take into account the complexity of emotions that death brings forth [6], I do wonder what our lives would look like if we really believed in eternity. Would we live more aesthetically because our treasures are in heaven? Would we spend our time more strategically because this life is short? What would change?

Prayer | Lord, You have set eternity in our hearts. Yet, what does that mean? How do we live in light of knowing that this life is short and our treasures are not here? How do we live as dual citizens of this world and of heaven? Increase our faith and give us guidance about how to live that out. Amen.

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Footnotes: [1] Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV1984 | [2] Apology, 40c-41c. In fact, Socrates – not Paul – was the first to say, “to die is gain.” : “ … we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good, for one of two things: either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and a migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by the site of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain … Now, if death is like this, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead are, what good, O friends and judges, can be greater than this? … Above all, I shall be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge; as in this world, so also in that; I shall find out who is wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not … What infinite delight would there be in conversing with them and asking them questions! For in that world they would not put a man to death for this; certainly not. For besides being happier in that world than in this, they will be immortal, if what is said is true.”) | [3] Jobs said, “That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear. The wisdom you’ve accumulated. Somehow it lives on.” In fact, one of the reasons that he didn’t like putting on/off switches on Apple devices was because he hoped in an afterlife. In their original designs, the iPhone and the MacBook were to be put on “standby” or to sleep when not being used. See WSJ Staff, “What We Learned About Steve Jobs on ’60 Minutes.” The Wall Street Journal, Speakeasy. 23 October 2011; Jon Swaine, “Steve Jobs refused on/off switch for iPhone because he hoped there was an afterlife.” The Telegraph. 24 October 2011. | [4] Whizin Center for Continuing Education at American Jewish University. “Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens Debate Two Rabbis: Is There An Afterlife?” February 15, 2011. | [5] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. | [6] Yes, we can be overjoyed for our fellow believers who are dying – and, in fact, I have seen family and friends rejoice at the death of believers precisely because they know that they’re entering into the presence of the Lord. Yet, we can also mourn our loss of them in our lives here on earth. In fact, even though Jesus knew that he was on his way to raise Lazarus from the dead, he wept when he saw the sadness of Mary and Martha, the sister of Lazarus. To me, Dawkins minimizes the complexity of death and the various emotions that can coexist simultaneously in the heart of Christians.

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2 Comments to “Eternity in Our Hearts”

  1. This is way too awesome ! This needs to be spread all over and the ideas even further discussed and developed and placed before skeptics as well as believers. Tx!

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