A tourist who lost his way wandered into a small country village. He spotted a resident sitting on a wall and after the customary greeting asked him “Do you know the way to Buxton?” Back came the reply from the simple villager, “Yes, I know the way, but if I was going to Buxton I wouldn’t start from here”. Isn’t there a parallel to that in Mt.19? A young man who wasn’t where he wanted to be came to Jesus with the question “Can you tell me the way to eternal life?” Essentially Jesus replies, “Start here, and follow me”. The gospel truth is, salvation is about transformation now, not a safe evacuation in the future. Journeys, races, games have starting points, ‘Begin here’. Whatever journey we take we have to begin from where we are. Eternal life begins here.
Eternal life, everlasting life, heaven are all inseparable from God. They are expressions of life with God – and God is here, now and everywhere. Heaven cannot be located by a GPS system. ‘God’s center is everywhere, his circumference is nowhere’ (Meister Eckhart). Heaven, like eternal life, is a state of being in heart and mind. St. Catherine of Siena is reported as saying, “It’s heaven all the way to heaven” and Richard Rohr writes, ‘I’ve come to believe that “it’s hell all the way to hell” if we choose to make it so.’
If we take the scriptures as our guide and Jesus as the Interpreter, beginning with him we shall experience life with God here. There are conflicting images of God in the bible, but the image Jesus reveals is ‘a generous God, a God in profound solidarity with all creation, a God where power is manifest in gentleness, kindness and love’…’In Christ, God is supreme, but not in the old discredited paradigm of supremacy. God is the supreme healer, the supreme lover, the supreme life-giver who self-empties in gracious love for all (Brian McLaren). To be alive in God, opening ourselves to the impulses of his Spirit, transformation begins to happen, life becomes a journey of faith, of hope, of learning to love others as he did, especially the needy, and share God’s desire for truth, justice and a better world. What else could it be if we live daily in his company and gradually begin to share his divine nature?(2 Pet.1:4)
It greatly troubles us to know that life in our present physical body will expire, but ‘we’ are more than bone, muscle, brain and 82% water. As human beings we are body and soul born with the image of God in us. Who we are, who we have become through our evolving consciousness is, I believe, what moves on in a new body, as Paul said, ‘For me to live is Christ, to die is gain’ (Phil.1:21).
I know there is great mystery here and we must tread gently and carefully. We speak of an illness being terminal, but a terminus can also be a starting point. Being present at the moment of the passing of a loved one is to witness the transition of a life from one dimension to another, albeit hidden from view. I find great help in a parable. My wife gave birth to twin daughters. Let’s suppose they had been able to communicate with one another while in the comfort, warmth and protection of the womb. Then the womb contracts and one disappears through the birth canal. The one remaining wonders what’s happened, where has she gone, what will happen to me? Meanwhile the one being born emerges to a much greater dimension than the womb; one of light, colour, sight, space, sound and warm loving hands waiting to receive her. What she was in the womb and the life already within her continues into a previously unknown dimension of unimaginable contours.
At birth God starts us off with his blessing as ‘very good,’ bearing his image. What if the soul has a ‘home address’ bearing the stamp ‘Return to Sender’. The New Testament scholar N. T. Wright comments, ‘Heaven is not a future destiny, it is the other hidden dimension of our ordinary life – God’s dimension. It is God’s eternal and just realm breaking into our time and space’. Isobel de Gruchy, whose son was tragically drowned says in one of her poems when thinking of him ‘Sometimes the curtain is so thin. Mostly the curtain between the two worlds is dense as black velvet’. Very true, but sometimes a little light does break through. The more we share life with God here the more likely the chink of light pierces our ordinary, common experiences, illuminating them with divine radiance. It can happen any moment, anywhere. When it does ‘eternal life’ is real introducing us into a wondrous complex wholeness where God is the gracious, generous, kind, loving God Jesus reveals.
Eternal life is life with God on a daily basis. God is present with us and the hospitality he offers us is grace filled. The nature of his love will never change for ‘God is love’ (I Jn.4:8). Here and now is where, in connection with Jesus through faith, we can start our unending journey of transformation into what he intended us to be. ‘This is eternal life – to know God and Christ who he sent’ (Jn.17:3).