"He has also set eternity in the hearts of men..." -Ecclesiastes 3:11
I have been pondering this verse lately. When I first read it some years ago, it really jumped out to me as a pretty bold assertion. All of us, it says, are hard-wired with a certain fixation on the idea of eternity. All of us, not just Christians or Good Christians or people who were born to philosophize.
I was skeptical of this at first, because it seems that eternity is a certain inaccessible topic in certain religions that would only be pondered by some of the people some of the time. I was pretty sure that there were a great many people who didn't care about eternity any more than I care about Bertrand Russell's paradox of the barber who does and does not cut his own hair.
In one sense it is very ironic to say that eternity is important to such fleeting creatures as us. Nothing we see is eternal, not even the heavens and the earth, according to the Bible. If we do have any paradigm of eternity, it must be insufficient indeed. And yet... we are undeniably found spending ourselves on what we think matters, what we think will last beyond ourselves, and what we think is bigger than the problems of our days... eternity.
After I started paying attention, I began to notice that people do indeed grapple with eternity an awful lot. It's everywhere, really. The strongest curse we can speak is to damn someone to hell, to eternity. The most we can promise is forever. We want to be remembered, we want to associate ourselves with famous people for that minuscule link with forever. We want to own a diamond and see our name in black and white and we want to linger in the unarticulated serenity of a graveyard. We want to understand the past, present and future of the universe. We want to know what the genome scientists are figuring out about mortality. We want to go to historical places and read a famous book and leave our initials in wet concrete and take every chance to make our lives something more than a vanishing mist. We are all preoccupied with eternity. We think about it, we wonder about it, and we hold it closer than our breath.
All I really need to know...
Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can't see what's ahead
And we can not get free of what we've left behind
- Rich Mullins "Hard to Get"