Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thinking of Eternity

Unless you've been completely cut off from the media for the past 48 hours or so, chances are very good that you know about the recent tragic events at Virginia Tech, in which a man inexplicably took loaded weapons onto the campus and started shooting at just about everyone he met. 33 people are dead (including the gunman), and numerous people were wounded as well.

Looking at this individual tragedy, questions are raised. Why did the killer do it? Why didn't campus security do more to protect the students on the campus? What can be done to reduce the likelihood of such incidents happening in the future? What would it feel like to be trapped inside a building with chains across the doors, helplessly watching one's fellow students and teachers die like flies at the hands of an insane killer? How does a person recover from such a traumatic event and move on with life?

Those are valid questions. Some of those questions need to be asked. Others are bound to be asked, whether they need to be asked or not. But this incident is just part of a larger picture. In order to ask all of the right questions, one needs to think beyond this one incident and think about what the incident represents in the light of eternity.

That's right. Eternity. It's one of the most difficult words in the English language, because it represents something (whether real or unreal) which none of us have ever personally experienced, except in our dreams.

Sooner or later, unless something unprecedented occurs in order to completely change the natural order of things as we know it, we all must die. We may die peacefully in our beds at a ripe old age. We may die quickly, violently and prematurely at the hands of a mad gunman or a political terrorist. There are numerous ways in which to die, but death is nonnegotiable and universal. We will all die. And then what?

Some say that life is random and devoid of any deep meaning. They say that any ideas to the contrary are delusional. They say that a human being is little more than a biological machine, destined to return to the dust in a fairly short period of time. They say that we might as well have as much fun and enjoyment as possible while we remain alive, because life is short and we have nothing better than this to look forward to after we die.

And then there are those of us who are pinning our hopes and dreams on the idea that there is a God who can be trusted. We believe that God is preparing a heavenly place for those of us who have put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. We believe that the real delusion is the idea that life is random and ultimately meaningless. We believe that the trials and tragedies of this demonstrably imperfect life on earth are merely a temporary detour on a road which leads to an inconceivably joyful state of existence in a perfect world where time never ends.

Yesterday, I was in a crowded elevator, and I was talking to a guy who lived in my building. I expressed the idea that this latest incident was yet another example of the flaws of this fallen world. I said that I was looking forward to spending eternity in Heaven, which would be infinitely better than anything this world had to offer.

A woman in the elevator spoke to me directly, telling me that she thought I was "ungrateful" for the good things this world had to offer. I thought, and still think, that that was a strange thing for her to say. It does not follow from the fact that I believe that we live in a fallen world that I don't appreciate the good things this life has to offer. Life here is not always a miserable thing. Sometimes there are times when it is great to be alive on this earth. But I believe that the pleasures of this life pale in comparison with the infinite joy which awaits us in Heaven.

Karl Marx said that religion was "the opiate of the people". I think that he meant that promises of heaven were often used by unscrupulous leaders in order to anaesthetize the population so as to manipulate them into accepting the status quo even when the appropriate response was to rise up and rebel against unjust leaders.

It sounds reasonable, in theory, but I think it's demonstrably false. It doesn't follow from the fact that one believes in heaven that one believes in the need for complacency when one is confronted with evil. In fact, quite the opposite. A firm belief in heaven makes one painfully aware of just how far this world and its leaders fall short of God's ideal. We may not be able to fully implement God's kingdom here on earth, but the Lord's prayer seems to strongly suggest that that should be our goal and our prayer.

It's interesting to note that Marx's revolution (based on a weak philosophical foundation which discounted the necessity of God) ultimately failed; whereas the American revolution (led by men and women with strong religious beliefs) led to a political system which, despite its imperfections, is still thriving today.

Being "heavenly minded" does not have to mean that one is "of no earthly good". On the contrary, it is only by keeping our eyes fixed on heaven that we can do our part in order to bring about God's kingdom "on earth, as it is in heaven".

With that thought in mind, I'd like to share a poem I wrote not long ago.

© Mark W. Pettigrew

When time is at an end, my friend,
then life begins at last.
No longer bound by future dreams
or memories of the past.

When time is at an end we’ll see
an end to death and misery.
No tears will ever stain a face,
and all our pain will be erased.

When time is at an end, my friend,
then minds will heal and hearts will mend.
Then hidden truths will be revealed.
No longer will they be concealed.

When time is at an end, we’ll hear
the sound of trumpets far and near.
And songs of everlasting praise
will grace our nights and fill our days.

When time is at an end, the Lord
will comfort those who He’s restored.
A privilege it will surely be
to praise Him for eternity.


NOTE: To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.

No comments: