Guest blog: Experiencing Eternity

with Dr Ken Baker

We're delighted that a number of our VOX contributors and new Irish writers have agreed to "guest blog" for VOX magazine.  Dr Ken Baker has become a regular in the pages of VOX magazine. With his wife Val, Ken directs a few missional communities across the Midlands of Ireland.  Previously he worked as an Irish church-planter with the Methodist Church, a London pastor with the Baptist Union and a lecturer in New Testament Theology for the University of Wales.   His books are available on Amazon and Lulu.com under Dr Ken Baker.   You can read Ken's blog at  www.tithebarn.wordpress.com

“We are travellers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”  ― Paulo Coelho

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” ― Heraclitus

“The Universe is very, very big. It also loves a paradox. For example, it has some extremely strict rules.  Rule number one: Nothing lasts forever. Not you or your family or your house or your planet or the sun. It is an absolute rule. Therefore when someone says that their love will never die, it means that their love is not real, for everything that is real dies.  Rule number two: Everything lasts forever.”  ― Craig FergusonBetween the Bridge and the River

“For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.” ― C.S. Lewis

How do you experience eternity? 

Is it something appended to the edge of our present lives, or something within it? There is a way of talking about “heaven” that makes it almost irrelevant to the way we now live. As a child I used to sing a song with the line,

“And some day yonder, we’ll never more wander, but walk the streets that are paved with gold.”

It’s a metaphor, of course (I hope you realise that) but what is it a metaphor for? The only really helpful point it makes, in my opinion, is contained in the verb, “wander.” One day I will be truly at home. I will not yearn and stretch for fulfilment  any more. There will be an arrival point.

Within Psalm 103, there is a perfect awareness of the human situation. It acknowledges that there is something here in human existence so short that it hardly seems worth unpacking for, like a stay in a Travelodge. We’re only here for an Overnight. And humanity itself is just like a wild flower, seeding, blossoming, withering, gone.

As Edvard Munch put it, presumably in a slightly low-spirited moment, “From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them, and that is eternity.” 

That’s not the whole view of this psalm, however. Its worldview is much closer to the paradox posed by Craig Ferguson above. There is a river that flows –as Heraclitus put it–  in a pattern of ceaseless change, but there is also a bridge of overarching constancy. The brevity of humanity only becomes oppressive, Edvard, when it is viewed from a solitary perspective. We need both, to find our feet.

The psalm draws us into this double-sided perspective of experiencing eternity. He combines the bigness of God with the littleness of humanity.

So we find significance in obeying the God of eternity (vv15-18),  whose “lovingkindness,” (that unforgettable word from the King James Version of the Bible) lasts forever. The word “obey” simply means to come into relationship with. Obedience is the key note: “those who fear him,”
“those who keep his covenant,” “who remember his precepts to do them.”

We find significance too, in celebrating his sovereign reign along with all who submit to his will (vv19-22). There is a tremendous reassurance in the Lord’s Sovereignty. People sometimes speak of this as if it were a negative characteristic. It is, in fact, the solid ground of the psalmist’s assurance. 

“The Lord has established His throne in the heavens,” “And His sovereignty rules over all,” “In all places of His dominion.”

And the psalmist calls us to respond to the fact of God’s sovereignty with celebration. “Bless the Lord!” We are sharing in the activity of the angels who perfectly obey the voice of his word, and perform it.

It’s somewhat reminiscent of that moment in Luke 15, when Jesus said that when people come into right relationship with God the Father, then angels rejoice in heaven too.

For we are part of the celebration, “you who serve Him, doing his will,” together with “All you works of his.”

In fact, -and here’s the point- obedience and celebration are precisely how we experience eternity! It’s what we do now, with these tiny lives, that opens every moment to the possibility of God.

The actress Kirstie Alley meant something like that, I think, when she said this:

“It's funny. No matter how hard you try, you can't close your heart forever. And the minute you open it up, you never know what's going to come in. But when it does, you just have to go for it! Because if you don't, there's not point in being here.” 

Perhaps I’m giving her too much credit, but when  I read the line it reminded me somehow of Augustine saying, “Our hearts are restless till we rest in thee.”