A Complete Understanding of Eternity
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis imagines a bus ride from hell to heaven. Lewis uses this trip to explore how our understanding of the connection between the eternal and the temporal is often incomplete.
“Son,” he said, “ye cannot in your present state understand eternity. . . That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why. . . the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,: and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.”
Based on Lewis’s writing, there are two things that happen when we believe that the eternal is without relevance to the here and now.
We overestimate the present
If we have a limited perspective of eternity, we’ll focus on the here and now and think that our momentary trials will last forever. We will also minimize the seriousness of earthly sin.
We underestimate eternity
If we don’t believe the eternal is connected to the present, we’ll also fail to understand, as C.S. Lewis states, that forgiveness has a way of working backwards and redeeming even past moments that once caused shame so that they are a testimony to the power of God’s grace. This means that the forgiveness that we receive from Christ, and the forgiveness that we grant others now matters—and it will matter forever.
Live in the light of eternity
The bottom line of Lewis’s message is that the choices we make every day are based on our understanding that eternity begins now. If we live for the present, we are susceptible to our every urge, whim, fancy and momentary need. Even the daily decisions we make for pleasure and comfort will confirm our selfishness and short-sightedness because all temporary pleasure evaporates.
But when we live in the light of eternity, we will choose differently. Making sacrifices or overcoming temptation will make sense, because we can see the good that will result when we finally meet Christ face to face. Even our pain and suffering will be put into perspective when we understand that what matters now will matter forever.