Eternal life is not having a never-ending party – the great U2 concert in the sky. N.T. Wright uses a good analogy to illustrate the wrong thinking we have about heaven and eternal life and its idea of everything being ‘perfect.’ He tells the story of a keen golfer who died and went to heaven. When he got there he got his golf clubs out and teed off on the first hole and straight away got a hole in one. He couldn’t believe it. This was amazing! He finished his round and came back the next day and this time he got a hole in one on the first and second holes. He was ecstatic. Heaven was great! The next day he got holes in one on the first 3 holes, and eventually he was going around the course in 18 shots, getting holes in one every time he played. He soon realised though that this was all rather boring.
Such has often been our concept of heaven. We have seen it as a place where everything works perfectly and where we will be with God forever. But it isn’t about that. It is about continuing to create. Eternal life is the ‘life of the age to come,’ and it started when God moved into the neighbourhood. Read what N.T. Wright says about eternal life:
“By the time of Jesus, many Jewish thinkers divided history into two periods: ‘the present age’ and ‘the age to come’ – the latter being the time when YHWH would at last act decisively to judge evil, to rescue Israel, and to create a new world of justice and peace. The early Christians believed that, though the full blessings of the coming age lay still in the future, it had already begun with Jesus, particularly with his death and resurrection, and that by faith and baptism they were able to enter it already. ‘Eternal life’ does not mean simply ‘existence continuing without end’, but ‘the life of the age to come’.”
Another important point is that a Gospel that focuses only on salvation as the ultimate produces immature Christians. We keep reminding ourselves that we’re saved, that God loves us. We are like children who keep needing to be affirmed – children in adults bodies. It reminds me of when Paul wrote to the Corinthian church and said “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.”
Of course it is good to be reminded that we are loved; the human heart needs regular reminding. But to focus on it almost obsessively is psychologically unhealthy. After a while the heart grows restless and needs more. It is not enough to know we are loved. We are image-bearers who are built to reflect that image out into the world. This is where we find meaning, not only in being loved, but in loving. This is what we are wired for. Our final destiny is not an eternal party; it is eternal loving. It will be like a party and it will be a celebration, but it is not just sitting back with our heels up and enjoying life. It will be about discovery and purpose.
With all that in mind, my description of the Gospel in seven words comes directly from 1 John 4:19 – We love because He first loved us. I think that says it all. The only thing I think it might lack is the major point that Jesus is Lord. But I could say that the only reason we love is because it is God who initiates everything. Because He is God, He is Lord.
Over to you. What do you think? What is the Gospel to you, in seven words?