What Would It Mean To Live For Eternity?

When you think about it, all you ever really have is the present, which the poet William Blake called “the moving image of eternity.” You recall the past in present memory and you model and anticipate the future in present imagination. In this sense, the past and future never really exist except in the present.

What it means to live forever, then, is what you’re already experiencing plus the promise of a never-ending consciousness of present moments. In other words, you already have the first part of this, you just have no guarantee that your experience of present moments will go on without end.

You have no guarantee, that is, unless God has given you that guarantee. (Who else could give such a guarantee?) But since God appears not to be talking to human beings, you don’t have that guarantee. All you have is now; this present time; “the moving image of eternity.”

So welcome to right now, and if your death in the future proves to vacate your consciousness from existence, and there is neither a resurrection of the dead nor a transportation of the mind to another realm, you won’t know it. All you can ever know is what is present to you (until you cease to know it). As the ancient philosopher Epictetus succinctly put it, “Where you are, death is not; where death is, you are not.”

So what are you doing with where you are, in your very specific existential situation, in this particular moving image of eternity?

Answer: you’re reading this blog.

Hmm.

I like these verses from the New Testament (Luke 17:20-21):

20 And when he [Jesus] was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

The kingdom of God, if God exists, is right now. If God doesn’t exist, you still only have right now. This is it. You’ll never have anything other than right now. You’re there. You’re in eternity. You’ve made it. Welcome. Now do something with it.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? What do you do with it? Do you bring into consciousness something from your past or the fact that one day you’ll be dead? How much of your present should you spend on the past and future?

We poison present consciousness with the following:

  • regretting the past;
  • attempting to flee present difficulties; and
  • anticipating future terrors.

But what do we miss in doing these things?

I have no answer to this question. I know we miss a lot, and, like you, I have only the present (which I’m frittering away on this blog post). And no matter where my mind, like a butterfly, alights, I’m still just here. Until I’m not.

Maybe this is a time for listening to the breath and sitting like a stone Buddha. The Buddha realized that the present is all he would ever have, and he tried to be okay with that, even as each shifting moment announced, “You’re not in Kansas anymore. You’re elsewhere.”

So will I go elsewhere from the elsewhere?

I suppose what it means to live for eternity is to put the emphasis on the for. The for expresses your vote: you are for eternity; you are determined to notice and make full use of this “moving image” of now, this present moment, which, if God exists, is His great gift to you–the kingdom of heaven in real time. If God doesn’t exist, the present is still here and it’s all on you, and in you, and all you’ll ever have.

Who brought you here?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to What Would It Mean To Live For Eternity?

  1. pauladkin says:

    And what about Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence? It should be quoted here, shouldn’t it?

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Well, that’s interesting, and a little unnerving. If atoms are eternally shuffling in the void and multiverses are sprouting forever, then, sooner or later, you’ll come round again exactly as before. Therefore, amor fati (love your fate). But this almost feels like a prison, a bad eternity. How does one really choose anything in such a universe? And it compounds horrors like the Holocaust, making them recurrent.

      I certainly don’t like the Christian hell, but I don’t like Nietzsche’s either. Fortunately, neither of them have any particular evidence in their favor suggesting that they are actual (though both of them can be reasoned to as logically possible).

      And what I just wrote, I would emphasize, happened in those “nows” that are now gone. That’s what I know I have–now–and I seem to have some choice over what to do with it. But perhaps this choice is illusory.

      –Santi

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