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"Eternity, not time ..."

From the August 26, 1996 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel


The recently discovered chunks of New Jersey amber contain an amazing treasure. They tell a story. Frozen in time within each translucent piece is a record of biological life that is very old indeed. Among the discoveries revealed in minute detail are the ancient bloom of the earth's most primitive oak, the delicate wings of a wasp, and the earliest-known evidence of a terrestrial bird that walked in North America at least ninety million years ago. See David A. Grimaldi, "Captured in Amber," Scientific American, April 1996, pp. 84–91 .

Trying to think in terms like that—all those millions of years captured in a piece of amber—isn't easy. Mankind's written history goes back perhaps a few thousand years. People's personal stories review mostly the decades of this past century. (Recently I met a woman who has been working two days a week at an inner-city church in Boston. They honored her one-hundredth birthday a few months ago.) But a bird that preened its feathers in New Jersey ninety million years ago? The human mind may take in the numerical symbol easily enough; after all, it's only a number. But the huge span of time it represents can feel beyond us somehow.

Then, what about a concept such as eternity? What is that? Can we grasp anything of its real meaning, and if we can, does it matter? Why should we care about eternity, if life is measured only in decades and if Homo sapiens itself could one day exist merely as a fossil?

Perhaps we have to start by challenging the very basis of what we've been educated to believe our existence is. If we accept only the material record, our model for life is itself mortal, temporal, limited. The Old Testament of the Bible shows the futility of that view: "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth ..." (Isa. 40:6, 7). Yet the Psalmist, in serving God, saw a greater promise: "For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand" (Ps. 84:10).

The New Testament brought further reassurance and hope for humanity in what the Saviour, Christ Jesus, accomplished through his victory over death. We read, "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever" (Heb. 13:8). And, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).

What can we know of God that will help us break free of limited life expectancies and limited life experiences? That will help us grasp something of the divine glory of the eternal, and make it real?

If we consider God's nature as infinite Life, pure Spirit, and as the creator of all good, we're naturally led to certain conclusions about our own identity as God's creation. In the purest sense, we are what the Old Testament prophet realized man to be in the first instance—the image and likeness of God. We are the perfect creator's perfect creation. We express timeless and tireless being. Spiritual being, ongoing and always developing from perfect glory to perfect glory. God's man is never static, dulled, feeble, degrading, or dying. "God expresses in man the infinite idea forever developing itself, broadening and rising higher and higher from a boundless basis," writes Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered the Science of Christianity (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 258).

The usual material perceptions of life are inadequate to grasp this "boundless basis." What the material senses perceive, even at best, is simply too bound up in matter to take us beyond the supposed ultimates of physical birth and death. So, as Science and Health affirms, we need to rely on spiritual sense to discern the reality of spiritual, eternal life in God (see pp. 258–259).

Spiritual sense is the way God speaks to us and reveals His wonders to our hearts. It is both a conscious and constant ability that is the natural condition of our moments at prayer. As our lives themselves become prayers—worshiping God, glorifying Him, obeying His will—we find that we're seeing existence more and more through the lens of spiritual sense. We more readily discern the eternal nature of the good that is all around us, the forever undying nature of good, the immortality of our own life in God.

This divine reality is so far beyond ninety million years measured by a fossil record that, to spiritual sense, the geologic span of all those eons from primitive oaks and terrestrial birds to bipedal hominids seems somehow small. Certainly there is something extraordinary and beautiful to be appreciated in those incredible pieces of amber. But it isn't enough to show us the ultimate, spiritual reality. It's time-bound, and that isn't sufficient for God's creation. The material can never be the spiritual, can never be the reality.

"What is Life?" asks Science and Health. The answer is powerfully liberating. It reads, in part: "Life is without beginning and without end. Eternity, not time, expresses the thought of Life, and time is no part of eternity. One ceases in proportion as the other is recognized. Time is finite; eternity is forever infinite" (pp. 468–469).

The answer here also confirms, "Death and finiteness are unknown to Life" (p. 469). And whatever is unknown to God, divine Life, is unknown to His expression, man. What is known includes eternal being. This finally isn't too big to grasp, for it tells us who we are. And that spiritual knowledge of our life in God has freedom in it. It has peace and joy and dominion in it. Good reasons indeed to care about eternity.

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