J. Marshall Jenkins

Author, Therapist, Spiritual Director

Why I Believe in Eternal Life

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Eternal life is now.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sake, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6).

I believe in eternal life.

Rational argument does not persuade me. Great philosophers convince me that we cannot prove wonderful things unseen.  That does not threaten my belief.  After all, the ardent atheist believes in the love of her friends, although hard pressed to rule out a con or mere chemical reaction in their brains.  Nobody escapes the inability to demonstrate without doubt claims held dearest.

How tempting then to believe because the Bible tells me so! The Bible’s stories awaken me to my story in God’s and God’s story in mine.  Its poems attune my ear to the sound of the Word and sharpen my eye for the movement of the Potter’s hand.

But God did not create Adam (me) and say, “OK, wait until you see the promise written down.”  God said enjoy the garden and the woman.  And after we sinned, God made us garments and sent us out into a harsh, ambiguous world in which we no longer walk with God in the evening breeze.

An irrational leap of faith does not suffice. True, reason takes me to a precipice: I can neither prove nor disprove immortality, so I must decide.  Deciding whether to believe determines how I live and who I am. But with so much at stake, pondering a blind leap freezes me at the edge.

I need help.

So at that precipice, God helps me. God loves relentlessly and will never give up.  I believe in eternal life because Christ conquered death, and I claim that not only because the Bible tells me so, but because Christ touches me here, now, palpable, closer to me than I am to myself even amid toil and suffering.

I believe in eternal life because I live it now. I believe in eternal life because it is so pregnant with meaning that it groans.

You do not read here the confession of a man arranging staid doctrines. I confess this because I hunger and thirst for righteousness, “for the goodness I do not have” of which Mary Oliver wrote in her poem, “Thirst,” one of the best commentaries I know on this Beatitude. Paradoxically, this goodness we do not have, once confessed, becomes a righteousness Oliver, you, and I do have because of the hungering and thirsting itself.

I do not hunger and thirst alone.

Rather, I hunger and thirst with you.  And we participate in hungering and thirsting greater than yours and mine, greater than us, greater than the whole groaning creation (see Romans 8:19-25).

There would be no need for consolation if life ended in nothingness, in no more worries, risks, grief, regrets, and conflicts, just nothing. The compassionate Buddha proposed that as a far better alternative than reliving life’s struggles and vicissitudes.  But I believe in eternal life because I know myself loved even in my darkest hours by One who overshadows death and whose joy is not complete until I finally rest in God.  Until you rest in God.  Until every last one of us rests in God.

 

This post is dedicated to my father, C. Rees Jenkins, Jr.

J. Marshall Jenkins

About J. Marshall Jenkins

J. Marshall Jenkins is an author, psychotherapist, teacher, and spiritual director. For several years he has been writing on the Beatitudes for people in emotional pain, publishing biweekly here on his Beatitudes Blog at http://www.jmarshalljenkins.com. His newest book, Blessed at the Broken Places: Reclaiming Faith and Hope with the Beatitudes, is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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16 Replies

  1. Really enjoy your writings Marshall.

  2. Michael Parnell

    Your post brought to mind a quote from Wittgenstein:
    “An honest religious thinker is like a tightrope walker. He almost looks as though he were walking on nothing but air. His support is the slenderest imaginable. And yet it really is possible to walk on it.”

    The experience of eternal life, to the outside observer, looks like there is nothing to it. It does not exist. But to the one who believes and experiences it, it is something that we walk on, even as a slender thread. It may be this is what Jesus meant by following the narrow way.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      That is a wonderful quotation of Wittgenstein! A friend more acquainted than I with Wittgenstein recently made a case to me that Wittgenstein, known more as the brilliant student of the atheistic analytic philosopher, Bertrand Russell, who out-Russelled Russell, was either a contemplative or a great respecter of mysticism. His best known conclusion, “Of that of which we cannot speak, we must be consigned to silence,” can be a premise for skepticism or mysticism.

      Anyway, your image of the tightrope walker is very helpful. Knowledge informed by faith may be out-of-bounds to the outside observer, but limiting truth only to that which we can observe from the outside is untenable and impractical. We have to move forward with what our hearts perceive, and when our hearts are broken and won by Christ, we must follow him and rely on his promises.

  3. Marshall, this is wonderful. Good to include Mary Oliver.

    I have friends who think much like me, but who say that, while they believe in heaven, they think there’s no such place as Hell (in the sense of the afterlife.) I think if you believe in Heaven, then Hell goes along as part of the package. Not fire and brimstone, or Dante, but merely the absence of God and God’s goodness.

    I wonder what you think about Heaven and Hell.

    No response requested; just putting a bee in your bonnet I’ll run into you again.

    1. The most helpful statement on hell I’ve read doesn’t use the word but makes the point. From Frederick Buechner’s book, Wishful Thinking, follow this link to his brief meditation on judgment:http://www.frederickbuechner.com/content/judgment

  4. Thank you for thinking of me as you wrote this. As you know, this is something that is very much on my mind.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Thank you for inspiring my reflections on it.

  5. Many thanks to Frank M. Dew, Irene Warsaw, Gwen Sealey Bengtson, Cynthia Hillman, Terryn Owens, Bryant Steele, and George Hovaness Donigian for liking a previous posting of this that I have since deleted because of my typos. Thanks to Bryant Steele and Terryn Owens for your comments on that post. Read them when you go to the post through the new and improved link above.

  6. I like the focus on present quality of eternal life, spiritual fulfillment here and now. The alternative, reducing eternal life to an afterlife, is to turn spirituality into rank materialism.

    1. We may be on the same page. Yes, I think a here and now focus is crucial. Jesus spoke of the reign of God as both present and coming, and belief in a risen Christ only makes sense to me because of a present, living relationship. “Reducing eternal life to an afterlife” means to me forgetting the present presence and living in a bad faith that is obsessed with whether one gets to heaven and avoids Dante’s hell. But belief in eternal life now does not preclude forever either, and experiencing God’s radical love leads me to expect that the living relationship won’t end with my empirical death.

  7. I make a terrible proof reader because I am usually looking at the contentrather than the structure. Kind of like looking for the best and finding it!

  8. Thank you, J Marshall Jenkins!!! So beautiful and life-giving!!!

  9. Wonderful! One of my professors said,” none of us are going to heaven because we are good, but because God is good! Blessings!

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