I have come that you might have life -- life in abundance.
~Jesus, in John 10:10
The hope for eternal life is -- at one basic level -- just an expression of selfishness: "Thank you God, that you are going to make sure that I, personally, will live forever." This may seem to some like blasphemy and to others like an understatement. At another level, of course, eternal life is a promise that comes out of the heart of God -- a promise of love. A God who is love seeks and in fact dies for an eternal relationship with the beloved. As Jurgen Moltmann has said, "God loves us so much that he cannot conceive of himself without us." Like a parent's love for a child. (Life was good before our daughters came along -- now I cannot conceive of my life without them.) So perhaps these two approaches are not mutually exclusive: As a child's self-centered self-comprehension does not negate a parent's love, so our grasping for something beyond this life does not exclude the possibility that this is God's very intention.
In fact, this is the point made in Jesus' chief description of God: the parable of the prodigal son. (A story that is better titled, "The Waiting Father," according to Helmut Thielicke.) The rebellious younger son demands his inheritance, spends it all in wild living and pleasure, then heads for home (and -- here's the thing!) not because he's repentant but because he's hungry! And what is the father's response? To hell with you? No, he runs out to meet his son (probably kind of an alarming approach when the kid looks up and sees him coming toward him), interrupts his son's carefully-rehearsed I'm sorry speech with a big hug -- and he throws a party. As one interpreter has put it, the father says, "This party is for me - I'm so happy!" And so it could be that what we call eternal life is something we're caught up in because the love of God is so broad and encompassing that we can't avoid it. Like that father's hug. Like infinity.
I actually didn't set out to write a sermon here. I was thinking of eternal life because I was thinking of my friend and mentor, Big Jeff, the Reverend E. Jeff Rohr (whom we laid to rest in beautiful Riverside, California this week), who said, "I trust God to his promises of the life to come, but living the Christian life is reward enough."
I agree. I submit that the Christian life -- a life of complete liberty lived as a response to God's free gift of grace -- holds up well when considered as a part of any philosophical conversation of what makes for "the good life." (It is we Christians ourselves who have stunted it and turned it into a set of religious rules primarily for the use of judging others.) But, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "Jesus didn't come to make us religious; he came to give us life." Jeff lived -- and lives -- that life. Here's to you, Big Jeff. Thanks.
The Christian is the freest lord of all, subject to no one; the Christian is the greatest servant of all, subject to everyone.~Martin Luther
Title citation: Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:19