My calendar has an orange-lettered name on today’s date: “Aunt Agnes.” Her name is in parentheses, though, indicating she’s passed away. Aunt Agnes died 30 years ago and would have been 97 today, had she lived. I decided to keep her birthday on the calendar, as a reminder of someone we all loved.
Since Aunt Agnes died, there’s been a great deal of orange ink added to my calendar, the births of many babies and the addition of many friends’ birthdays. Some squares have two or even three names written on them, and in recent years I’ve been adding orange names to the calendar on the death days of people precious to us, too. If I live to be an old lady, will there be any empty squares left?
Most of us keep track of life by our calendars, and it’s hard to imagine a future time when we’ll no longer need them. But Nate and Aunt Agnes are living in a calendar-free environment along with millions of others, and one day we’ll be there, too.
At the moment of death, times comes to a screeching halt, a truth we have trouble internalizing. None of us has ever known life outside of time. Everything we do depends on the day-night cycle of 24 hours: sleeping, eating, working and taking out the garbage.
When we no longer have access to a clock or a calendar, how will we know what to do when? And won’t we forget some very important dates?
I’ve been frightened thinking about eternity, not about the afterlife in general but about not having a way to mark time. God made all of us time-sensitive. Its possible Adam and Eve were the only two people who didn’t give time a thought, although they did experience day and night, morning and evening. Once we die, even those general guidelines will disappear.
Back in the sixties, during the Viet Nam War, POWs found ways to mark off their days in captivity, even if it was just a dot on the wall. We all want to know where we stand. Yet from ages past, Scripture has taught that we’re eternal beings, meant to live forever. In our heart-of-hearts we know that, but have we embraced it?
More often than not we ascribe calendar characteristics to heaven. We say, “Grandma has celebrated five birthdays with Jesus now,” or “Dad has enjoyed 19 Christmases in paradise.” This we understand. But from their perspective, heaven’s citizens know we’re talking nonsense.
On several occasions I’ve sat quietly and meditated on the word “eternal”, trying hard to take in its meaning and begin thinking biblically. But each time it’s been very unsettling. There’s always more… and more… and more.
One of the verses to “Amazing Grace” makes me nervous:
- When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
- Bright shining as the sun,
- We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
- Than when we’d first begun.
This scenario doesn’t compute for me. It does compute for some people, though, Aunt Agnes and Nate among them.
I guess the only way to cope with this mystery is to entrust it to God’s keeping, knowing he’ll explain it to us when the time… is right.
“He has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b)