Not long ago my friend F- received a terminal diagnosis. He didn’t know very much about his disease, so he went to the library and checked out a medical book about it. On his way home he stopped by one of those oil change places.
The attendant who drove his car into the service bay noticed the book on the passenger seat. Sensing an evangelism opportunity, the man approached F- in the waiting area. With a pious concern he asked, “Are you afraid to die?”
The attendant was surprised—and maybe a little disappointed—when my friend said, “No.” His assumption had been that F- was facing death seriously for the first time. He had intended to talk to F- about Jesus and the final judgment. About going to heaven and avoiding hell.
As it turns out, my friend is also a devout follower of Christ. But neither fear of death nor a desire to go to heaven has ever motivated him to follow Jesus.
He believes in life after life. But for him—and for me—eternal life is a kind of existence that we can begin to experience here and now in our ordinary lives.
Eternal life emerges from our relationship with the risen Jesus. It is a life sustained and transformed by our relationship with Christ.
This is what Jesus was getting at when he said, “I am the bread of life… The one who eats this bread will live for ever.” (John 6:35, 58b) Jesus is the bread, the very sustenance, of a love-imparted, love-shaped life.
I put it this way in Looking for God in Messy Places:
“Eternal life is the kind of existence we begin to inhabit as we enter into relationship with Christ in our ordinary, everyday lives. In relationship with God, over time, we become our true selves. God’s love saturates and transforms us. Because we are the beloved, our daily lives take the shape of love, and this kind of life has an eternal trajectory. No tomb can contain it. Eternal life has no end but begins right here on planet Earth. That’s because this is where God first embraces us.” (p. 13)
In what may seem like a paradox, recognizing our finitude is crucial to experiencing eternal life. The Psalmist prays about it like this:
“Teach us to count our days/ that we may gain a wise heart.” (90:12)
Here’s how I’ve experienced that prayer being answered in my life lately. My 64th birthday is just around the corner. My mother died at the age of 66.
Reflecting on this hasn’t left me fretting about my sell-by date. I simply know myself as mortal. Right down to my toes. And here is why I am at peace with that.
Yes, my days are numbered. Whether I have one more day or ten thousand. I cannot earn or guarantee or manufacture a single one of these days for myself.
And neither could any other mortal being. So, I receive each day, each moment as a gift. As a gift from an immortal love.