Dearest Rachel –
I think I remember your roommate (and eventual maid of honor) Elizabeth talking about how, when she was young, she would occasionally find herself scared sleepless pondering the concept of eternity. The idea of time going on, and on, and on forever without an end terrified her. What would you do with that kind of time?
I have to confess to being completely perplexed at that fear. It’s true that we humans have difficulty thinking in terms of long spans of time; for just about any situation that we are in, even though intellectually we know better, we think that whatever state that we’re in at the present will go on as it is forever. It’s really the fact that it doesn’t that should frighten us – what will change to cause the future to be different from the present, and will that bring an improvement or destruction? Given the universal tendency toward entropy, it’s more likely the latter – meaning we should fear endings and changes far more than we should eternity.
Of course, there are people that will say that civilization is evolving rather than devolving; that the sum total of knowledge is increasing day by day, and on an exponential level, even. I’m not about to contest that, necessarily, but it does also seem that, for all our technological advances, we can’t seem to do a whole lot for humanity at its core. For all the apparent advances in medical science (indeed, I recently saw a news headline that said people with the Covid vaccine are less likely to die of any cause – imagine if that were true!)…
…people still age and die, of all sorts of causes. Life still has a fatality rate of 100%. Add to that the fact that nothing we devise or invent can do anything about human nature. People (including me) are self-absorbed and insensitive even at their best, and at their worst… well, the words to describe them aren’t exactly fit for publication.
What I’m saying is, the claims of any upward march of humanity are dubious at best. So naturally, change would be more frightening, from my perspective, than an eternal status quo.
But wouldn’t that be boring? I’m not going to say that you would ask that question, since from where you are, you actually know what eternity is like – unlike me – so you can actually answer that question. Would that any of us you’ve left behind had that knowledge!
Again, we as humans have no idea how to live in time. We only travel in one direction in this fourth dimension; we cannot experience again the things that we already have (and we’ve known this since antiquity – Socrates himself quotes an even older philosopher, one Heraclitus, when he comments that “you can’t step in the same river twice”). All we have of the past are memories; at best, we may have recordings of certain incidents and sights, but that’s all, and the details fade. And as for the future, well…
Don’t brag about tomorrow;Proverbs 27:1, Expanded Bible
you don’t know what ·may happen then [L the day may bear/ bring forth].
Yeah, we know all about that now.
Still, how can we plan for the future if we have no idea what it will look like? A prospectus may say that “past performance is no guarantee of future performance,” but what else do we have to go on?
Even the people the world considers to be experts on what some refer to as ‘the long game’ don’t always have everything together:
640K ought to be enough for anybody.Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, 1981
Everything that can be invented, has been inventedCharles Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, 1899
So what chance do we mere mortals have of knowing what the future holds? Long range planning is simply beyond our ken; even the best laid plans are subject to the laws of unintended consequences, and any attempt to mitigate those consequences create unintended consequences of their own, and so on, and so forth.
So there you have it; humans are incapable of divining the future, and barely able to remember the past accurately. All we ever have is the single moment in time that we are presently sitting in, and anything beyond that is mere extrapolation.
I like the description that Lily Tomlin gave of eternity: it is merely “time-released time.” One moment after another in constant, permanent succession. That extrapolation is what I suppose eternity to be like. To take the best days, the best moments of your life, and let them go on without end: that is what I imagine eternity in heaven to be like. Not so much the experiences that caused those wonderful moments, as much as how you felt in that moment, multiplied by orders of magnitude. Beyond that, I obviously have far fewer specifics than you do; would that you could straighten me out as to whether I’ve gotten it, or I’m way off base.
But in either event, I don’t see where it’s anything to be afraid of. It’s just getting there that’s the hard part.