This word says everything we are not. Yet it also offers what we often long to be.
As frail and finite humans, we sometimes want to be endless. We want to make a mark, create a legacy, be remembered. We want access to a profound meaning for our being, a way of understanding ourselves and our purpose that lasts beyond our last breath. Or so it seems to me.
Alongside the word ETERNAL, you will find FOREVER and STEADFAST. We use them to describe love and grace from a divine being. They are without beginning or end.
It’s like imagining infinity. We touch and attempt to share something larger than ourselves with an imperfect mortal mind, an organic instrument capable of abstract thought and creative innovation, which also has its own boundaries. Our reach toward infinity remains limited, in some ways because we are beings who are born and will die. So we come up with approximations, showing certain mathematical concepts and numbers as equations. The most elusive, or certain ones, require their own symbols.
We make such claims for ourselves … “I will love you forever.” And yet can humans create anything, or do anything, with such permanence?
Our stories last a long time. Our ideas endure.
Sometimes we leave behind our own dauntingly ancient records. Standing stone circles, whose original elements were transported hundreds of miles and set up long before we had written records to tell their purpose, stand long and mute. We seek to uncover their stories over the ages with science and imagination. We can peek at handprints and ancient cave drawings that depict a world much changed from our own, and yet achingly familiar in the mortal passions and dreams.
God, in some ways, is also described in part, in flashes of insight and revelation, because we cannot quite comprehend the whole. The way we know Godself is even an equation: three-in-one.
Philosophers and theologians argue about human souls and whether they are infinite. Again, I’m glad I don’t have to prove or disprove these arguments. Just like I respect and honor mathematicians and physicists, who give us abstract and scientific languages that touch Godself, or artists and composers, who give us music and creative pieces that reveal glimpses of God’s astounding beauty.
Assuredly there’s an essential, elemental part of us that extends within and beyond our own mortal bodies. This spirit-soul self, it seems to me, endures and returns to Godself and the world. Some essential aspect of ourselves, after all, is that self that we understand to live on in God’s house, God’s heaven, after this life. The unique self that is ultimately released, unclothed of our mortal flesh, and with it, our limited boundaries as humans in this material world.
While we’re here, though, we reach for infinity. For Godself. And yes, God is knowable in other ways, even as God is unfathomable in some ways. The intimacy of relationship that God craves is as deep, wide, enduring as the human heart or the human mind can go.
And if we can be moved by the view of a handprint from millennia ago, painted by humans, or the ring of stones standing upright in the landscape, around which our frail bodies moved across the canvas of time, we can also be moved by the awe of our own encounters with Godself. God shows up as the world itself: the surf rolling into the beach or the changing light in the looming sky. God is expressed through the gentle brush of another person’s fingertips on our exposed flesh at a vulnerable moment. And God speaks out of the utter quiet of a moment so profound we cannot exhale.
God is found in our stories. Our art. Our physics. Our math. Our healing sciences. Our architecture. Our engineering. Our dances. Our music. Our planting and harvesting.
God is found in each other’s faces. All around us. God’s is the bountiful love we crave, the infinity toward which we reach, the legacy we want to create, the way we want to live beyond this one adventure of mortality.
God’s is the promise that endures. Yet what we can claim for ourselves begins with each breath we inhale and exhale, each eyeful we take in, each handful we touch and release, each word we shape to compassionate and justice-given use, each step we take, and each life we touch. We have to live at a human scale, speed and proportion.
As we’ve been praying as a community, in this way, surrounded and infused by God’s presence, we reach moments when “we are enough, and more than enough.”
- Psalm 32: 10b –But steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
- Joshua 4: 7 — So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.
- 2 Corinthians 4:17 — For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.
- 2 Corinthians 4:18b – For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
- 2 Corinthians 5:1 –For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.