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Life Eternal

As mentioned previously, ‘Life Eternal’ (or equivalently Eternal Life) appears to take the place of the central motif of Jesus’ discourses in the Gospel of John, as opposed to ‘the Kingdom of God’ in the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus is also often spoken of as giving us new life in Paul’s Epistles.

To begin with, in terms of images and ideas:

  • What do you think of when you think of ‘heaven’?

  • What do you think of when you think of ‘eternal life’?

What different images and ideas do you get then when you read the following passages?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already…”  (John 3:16-8)

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5)

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6)

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5)

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, may your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6)

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13)


OK, so here are two much harder questions to answer in reference to the Bible:

  • When is heaven?

  • How can we live ‘eternally’?

(Note that the word ‘eternal’ in the Bible means something very different from ‘everlasting’. It means outside of the confines of time rather than enduring throughout temporality.)


Ultimately, Christians believe in eternal life not because they believe something about themselves as humans (that they have an immortal element in them), but because they believe something about God… There is no special reason that Christians should be concerned about ‘evidence for survival’ or psychical research. It may be very interesting in its way, but it may sometimes be a sign of obsessive anxiety. … It doesn’t have much to do with the biblical idea of eternal life, which takes it for granted that the challenge is to respond honestly and repentantly and joyfully to the presence of God’s truth in our midst here and now in the news about Jesus” – Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust, An Introduction To Christian Belief , p. 144


See the Next Part of Bible For Bluffers.


Comments on: "Life Eternal" (1)

  1. Some theologians have made use of the term ‘aeviternity’ to describe something in between being outside and inside of time. Perhaps a sense of being outside of time which has some of the features or experiences of being inside of time imposed upon it by God.

    Pope Benedict XVI has given a masterly description of eternal life in the context of heaven:

    “The term ‘eternal life’ is intended to give a name to this known ‘unknown’. Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. ‘Eternal’, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; ‘life’ makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it. To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality -this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time- the before and after -no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy. This is how Jesus expresses it in Saint John’s Gospel: ‘I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you’ (16:22). We must think along these lines if we want to understand the object of Christian hope, to understand what it is that our faith, our being with Christ, leads us to expect.” – Spe Salvi (Saved In Hope), (2007), Section 12, URL: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20071130_spe-salvi_en.html

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