Astronomers have announced the discovery of a nearby planet. Named Ross 128 b, the planet is only eleven light-years away from Earth. It is about the same size as our planet and could have a similar surface temperature.
Could it support life? Scientists believe that water could pool on its surface and radiation from its star would not threaten its environment.
The new find joins a long list of planets discovered in recent years. Humans have always been fascinated with life on other worlds. Perhaps the quest for extraterrestrial life is appealing in part because life on this fallen planet can be so difficult.
It seems we have two options. We can focus on this fallen world as an end in itself, which is reason for great discouragement. Or we can focus on the world to come, using this life as merely a means to an end.
Recently I have been contemplating a third option, one which values both the present world and the world to come.
A different view of life
Consider this statement by C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce: “Earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, a region of Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.”
Is he right?
John 3:16 famously states that whoever believes in Jesus “should not perish but have eternal life.” Our Lord did not say that the believer “will have” eternal life but that he has such life now. Then, the moment his body dies, he is with his Lord in paradise (Luke 23:43).
By the same token, the lost are destined for separation from God (Matthew 7:23). At death, they move immediately from earth to hell (Luke 16:22-23). Both heaven and hell are permanent (Luke 16:26; Revelation 20:10, 15).
In other words, eternity has already begun for each of us.
Why eternity matters today
When we see people as living in eternity now, what changes?
One: We treat evangelism with greater urgency. Scripture teaches that “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2) because now is the only day there is. If you knew someone with a terminal disease could die today, wouldn’t you get them all the help you could?
Every lost person you know has a disease that is not just terminal–it is eternal.
Two: Jesus becomes more real to us.
One of the practical heresies of modern Christianity is our willingness to serve Jesus without knowing him intimately. In our day of church programs and activities, our faith too easily devolves into religious actions bereft of Jesus’ real presence.
When last did you hear him speak to you? When last did you sense his living presence?
In yesterday’s First15, Craig Denison notes: “God is more concerned about the state of your heart than the work of your hands. . . . More than he wants you to do something, he wants you to be something. He longs for your life to be a reflection of his overwhelming love and goodness. He longs for your life to be a declaration of his grace and nearness.”
If we know that we are already living in eternity with Jesus, our desire for worship and communion with him grows. We find ourselves drawn to the One we will spend eternity praising (Revelation 7:9¬-10).
Three: We become more grateful for the universal church.
We will spend eternity with all God’s people from all of human history. Knowing that we already have eternal life encourages our gratitude for all they have done to lead us to our Lord.
Henri Nouwen: “Our society encourages individualism. We are constantly made to believe that everything we think, say, or do, is our personal accomplishment, deserving individual attention. But as people who belong to the communion of saints, we know that anything of spiritual value is not the result of individual accomplishment but the fruit of a communal life.”
“Whatever we know about God and God’s love . . . is the knowledge that has come to us through the ages from the people of Israel and the prophets, from Jesus and the saints, and from all who have played roles in the formation of our hearts.”
Four: What matters last, matters most.
When we are in heaven, the fears, worries, and distractions of this fallen world will be no more. But we can live above them now. Paul counseled us to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).
The hymn writer was right:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
in the light of his glory and grace.
Are your eyes upon Jesus today?