Some things in life seem impossible any way we look at them. That makes them tantalising to consider.
This post: does the idea of eternal life make any sense? And would it become boring after a while?
An angel longs to escape eternal life
In Wim Wenders’ classic film Wings of Desire (the original German title was Der Himmel über Berlin, ‘The Heaven/Sky over Berlin’, a much better title I think), immortal angels patrol Berlin. Unseen except by children, but somehow vaguely apprehended by adults, these angels can hear people’s thoughts and seek to comfort them.
One angel, Damiel, observes a lonely circus performer, an attractive woman named Marion, and falls in love. He grows tired of always observing but never interacting, except with other angels. He comes across a former angel who renounced his immortality for the sake of experiencing a physical life, and is persuaded to do the same.
Damiel experiences eating and drinking and bleeding for the first time. He meets Marion and they make a connection. Damiel now knows what he could never have known as an immortal.
Eternal life – who wants it?
Until we get old or incapacitated, most of us don’t like the idea of dying. Life is good for most of us and we don’t want it to end just yet. So it isn’t surprising that many people believe in an afterlife and most religions promise eternal life for believers.
But what would an afterlife be like?
If it was a life in time, like the one we all experience but going on forever, would we get bored after a while, just like Damiel?
Wouldn’t we eventually run out of things to do. Eternity is a long time, certainly long enough to do everything that could possibly be done. Would eternity be the incessant repetition of the same old same old? Even if the pleasures were unreal, wouldn’t they pall eventually?
Would it become tiring after a while? Perhaps that thought may help us understand how death can be welcomed as “rest”.
An eternal now?
Perhaps eternal life isn’t so much life going on forever and ever, but living in an eternal now. That is how many people believe it is for God, so maybe we join him in that?
But doesn’t this involve a paradox? Change seems to be closely linked to time, for change means the future isn’t the same as the past. But in an eternal now, there is no future or past, so how can anything happen at all?
Some christians believe heaven will be filled with praising and enjoying God. Images of angels, choirs, harps, etc, sound awfully boring to unbelievers, but these christians argue that God is infinitely enjoyable, and so (as the song goes) “when we’ve been there ten thousand years … we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise” ….. and that is wonderful!
Just like falling in love?
If all that sounds impossibly dull or unattractive, it may be worth thinking about our feelings when we are in love. Sometimes at least, we don’t need to be doing anything with our beloved, we just want to be with them. Even if no word is spoken, even if they are asleep, it is still better to be with them than to be doing anything else.
Perhaps it is like that with God? Just being there will be enough.
What’s the alternative?
Either life ends, or it doesn’t.
We cannot understand how unending life can be possible, let alone desirable. But neither do we want a good life to end.
It’s a dilemma I’ve never been able to really resolve.
As a christian I trust that God has things worked out better than I can imagine right now. And that is about as far as I get in my thinking.
Photo: Cimitero monumentale di Staglieno, Genova by Twice25 & Rinina25.