Timeless

Here is what the material world is all about: death.

The certainty of death encircles and limits everything we do. There is not only the certainty that each life will end in death, but also the certainty that everything that exists will eventually somehow end—whether through dissolution, decay, destruction, or some other loss. Everything vanishes into the void.

Here is what Jesus is all about: life.

Describing his aim and his mission, he said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

He repeatedly used the phrase “eternal life.” Famously, he used this phrase in John 3:16. We read that biblical phrase, “eternal life,” and we think of heaven. However, during those times in scripture when Jesus was clearly and directly talking about an afterlife in heaven, he did not use this phrase. He spoke of “paradise” (Luke 23:43) and “my Father’s house” (John 14:2). “Eternal life” is some concept that is distinct from this.

The Greek word in the Bible we translate as “eternal” is aionios. According to the concordance I have closest to hand, a more precise translation would be “perpetual,” which is a slightly different term. I would like to suggest the translation “timeless.”

The very reason we have time is because we have death. According to physicists, the directionality of linear time—that is, the sequence we’re locked into, in which one event follows another event in an order that can’t be reversed—is defined by entropy. Entropy is the tendency toward irreversible decay that is built into the nature of everything made of matter or energy. Through entropy, everything is fundamentally falling apart. What we experience as time is the shadow of entropy’s progression. Thus, we who live inside of linear time are, quite truly, passing through the valley of the shadow of death.

Yet here is what Jesus knows that physics does not: Get beyond this realm in which entropy rules, this realm in which death governs the system, and what you find outside the limits of this realm is not nothing, but life.

Moreover, what lies beyond the boundaries of this world is real life—abundant life—because it is completely unbeholden to time.

“Life after death” does not say nearly enough to describe it. “After” is still a time word. “After” leaves the life still subject to time, still bound inside of death. What Jesus brought could more fittingly be described as “life beyond death,” because now that we know the truth, now that we know about the ultimateness of life, we can look past the rulership of death in this very moment. We can look past it to the life that is timeless, and therefore indestructible, and therefore with us not only after this world is done but also right now. Indestructible life is the certainty that supersedes whatever aspect of death or loss os entropy is taking something away from us today.

We cannot envision this fully. The very brains with which we think are bound within linear time. But when the living God entered physicality as one of us, he conveyed the message as pointedly as it could be conveyed within the realm we do understand. When Jesus died and stood up alive outside the grave, he made two things clear: (1) death is not the final ruler of things and (2) the living God is. Scripture says that if you can get your head and heart around just the essence of these two ideas, then you will be saved from this world’s futility. See Romans 10:9.

In allowing humanity and history to witness his resurrection, Jesus opened a window in the material world. That window had always been there, and maybe a few people such as Enoch had found it, but for all of the rest of us, death was blocking the view. In rising from the dead, Jesus opened a window in the world to reveal the transcendent and welcome truth of the way reality actually works.

Looking through this window, we see that life wins. Death does not contain us. It is a joyful discovery. Free of the subjugation, free of grasping for temporary victories in a losing war, we can at last change direction and live a different way. Death (and entropy, and time), where is thy sting? Death does not contain us, and seeing this, we can also see the next point, which is that death does not have to constrain us.

These Words

The most important fact in all of reality is that God exists. What are you to do with this fact?

From more than 3,000 years ago, here is quite possibly the ultimate writing on the subject:

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. —Deuteronomy 6:4-7

A few observations about this passage:

1. “You shall love the Lord…” leads directly to “… and these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” Compare that with Jesus’ words: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). In Old Testament and New, in documents written about 1,500 years apart, we find these two statements of the same idea—that the way to love God is to value highly and take seriously what he has said to us. (Indeed, the source of the two statements was the same. Jesus said Moses, traditional author of the passage above, was in fact writing about him—John 5:46).

2. Look at the activities mentioned in the passage above. They include sitting, walking, sleeping, waking. Meanwhile, there is no mention of any mountaintop experience, no mention of ritual. God, the creator of each day, is the author of our everyday lives. The mundane is not boring to him. He invites us into a life in which simple activities are lit up with sacredness, with nearness to him.

3. Are we to obey the words of the Lord’s commands? Strikingly, the passage above does not literally say this. It says we are to revere and treasure the commands—these words shall be in your heart. Perhaps this is because, as sinners, it is impossible that we would perfectly obey. We are instead called to be transformed by loving what God has said, and treating it as holy enough to aspire to be true to it. Even in the line attributed to Jesus in point #1 above, the original Greek word was tereo, which has the sense of “guard” rather than “obey.” “You shall keep my commandments” (emphasis mine) is how the King James expresses it.

4. You shall teach them diligently to your children. We have a generational responsibility. This treasure we keep is to be passed to its next possessors and guardians, and we are to do this diligently.

5. How do we treasure the treasure? The plain answer, out of the passage above, is that we revere the treasure at least in part by talking about it. The Deuteronomy passage entails considerable talking. The Law of scripture is, in this respect, considerably different from the sets of regulations that make up human laws. The Ten Commandments are concise and straightforward on the surface, yet flower with implication and meaning the more they are examined, the more they are discussed. Anyone claiming to know God’s Law so well and so fully that discussion was at an end would be contradicting scripture.

E-Books, Printed Books, and Axes

If I love a hardcopy book, then chances are good that I will still have that book in 20 years. I can pull that book down from my shelf and revisit whatever notes I wrote in the margins when I first wrestled with its ideas.

If I love an e-book, chances are not as good that I will still have it in 20 years. For digital media, 20 years is a long time. Across that length of time, it is likely that the e-reader I use will have been eclipsed by a different and better platform. The maker of the latest platform may or may not see value in supporting the legacy content I purchased for a different device. The “e” in e-book could stand for “ephemeral.”

As a result, I have this new consideration to factor in whenever I contemplate purchasing a book. Namely: Is this a book that has the potential to so elevate my thinking that I will want to be able to return to it, and return to the conversation I originally had with it, well into the future? Obviously, this is a tough call to make about a book I haven’t read yet.

We could call these great books “axes” in a nod to Franz Kafka. He wrote, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” Because of the problem of still-changing digital platforms, I tend to view books such as these as needing to be purchased and experienced in hardcopy. Axes, in other words, still need to kill trees.