Eternity is in our lips, and eyes
I’ve been thinking recently about eternity.
During lockdown, I have heard so many people talking about the endless waiting: waiting to return to work (or school); waiting to be able to hug loved ones; waiting for life to return to normal. And I confess that, just in this last week, as I have started to find the daily round of Zoom meetings both endless and frustrating, I have also begun to long for an end to the seeming ‘eternity’ of waiting.
I’ve always thought of eternity as a positive: God is eternal, and when He created us, He made us eternal, too: we were designed to be with Him, and to be His stewards in our beautiful world, and to be in fellowship with Him for ever.
But ‘eternity’ is certainly not always seen in a positive light. Frequently people say they don’t like the thought of eternity because it will be boring, just doing the same things in the same place with the same people for ever and ever. And it will be especially boring in heaven, they claim, where there’ll never be any changes, since everything is perfect.
Nor have writers always portrayed eternity positively. Shelley described it as “white radiance”, while Tom Stoppard had one of his characters complain, “Eternity’s a terrible thought. I mean, where’s it all going to end?” Shakespeare portrayed the idea both pragmatically and romantically: in “Hamlet”, as Gertrude tries to comfort her grieving son, she simply states that ‘all that lives must die/Passing through nature to eternity’; in “Antony and Cleopatra”, the great Egyptian queen describes being in love with Antony in these moving words: ‘Eternity was in our lips, and eyes,/Bliss in our brows bent.’
So why is ‘eternity’ seen as a negative concept? It must be because eternity signifies endlessness, and endlessness is associated with boredom or waiting, which, in their turn, suggest having nothing to do. But perhaps it is because we are always ‘doing’, always clock-watching.
Nevertheless, God has placed eternity in our hearts. The Amplified Bible paraphrases Ecclesiastes 3:11 like this: “God has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God].
We are made for eternity. This physical world, beautiful though it is, is not all there is. We all sense there is something more. In one sense, all our waiting in this world is for death. “All that lives must die.” We will go to be with God eternally, if indeed we have found peace with Him through the death of Jesus. Otherwise, we will go to an eternity without God, without all that is good and loving and gracious and true.
So will eternity be boring or feel endless? The Bible says ‘No’, not for those who know the Lord. God may be perfect and unchanging, but He is infinite and so there will be an infinity of aspects of his character for us to discover and enjoy. If, in this fallen, finite world, I can take the same country footpath day after day (as I have done - endlessly! - through lockdown) and find differences every day, every week, in the trees, the birdsong, the hedgerow flowers (all of which pass away), how much more will I, day after day in eternity, find new things to learn about my Lord and Saviour, whose love and truth and holiness are infinite. Eternity will not be long enough to know all there is to know.
Shakespeare also has an insight to offer us in Cleopatra’s words: when we are in love, a moment in our loved one’s presence can be an eternity, and hours can seem like a moment. We delight in the presence of our loved one, and there is always something new to enjoy. So eternity in the presence of Love Himself, the Lord Jesus, will be all that makes for bliss.
Eternity with the Lord is worth a seeming ‘eternity’ of waiting.
But, of course, for those of us who know the Lord, eternity is already in our lips, and eyes.