To see a World in a Grain of SandI've quoted from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence before on how we can see the whole of God's Creation in the very small. My recent conversations with my peers on Hell, although a frightening topic, was very fruitful as it forced me to confront my understanding of Eternity. The framework of our conversation was the question as to whether we are to go a finite duration punishment or an eternal separation. Can mortal man separate himself from his Creator eternally?
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
I leave that answer, such as it is in its paucity, to my previous posts.
My question now turns to what Eternity is and how God can be Eternal. As usual, as befits my Rational, Anglican Papal, mathematical methods, have a working definition, but I realize that all my definitions must, in some way, be merely working definitions.
A definition is a statement about what is, and, if we think about it, only God has the authority and scope to say what is. God is the Being from whom we derive our very being: who am I, then, to presume to say what is? Yet, clearly I do have some possibility. God is incarnate: He speaks to us, interacts with us, provides a bridge for us back to God the crossing of which washes us clean in a tide of blood. This means that we can have some definitions that will work as far as our understanding of being is concerned. God saves us, and we have sufficient knowledge of what saves means in order to know that we need to be saved. However, we also know that we are not saved by knowledge otherwise the unborn, the ignorant, and the incapable cannot be saved. We have sufficient understanding of being to know that being with God will fulfill our existence, and separation from God will cause us anguish, the like of which we would be better off never knowing.
However, we have insufficient knowledge of how God exists. There is an established philosophical debate about whether God is timeless (i.e. utterly beyond Time) or everlasting (i.e. within Time but unchanged by it). Each position has its problem: an Eternal God cannot interact with Time; an Everlasting God cannot have created Time. At least, these are the problems that confront human thinking, and ones that cause atheists much joy in thinking that they have a proof for the non-existence of God. This misses the point though. We are temporal beings and, although we have capabilities to express questions about timelessness and "everlasting"ness, our powers of reason are liable to break down. I can make philosophical enquiry into the situation, but philosophy is not theology, and theology is more pertinent.
The Bible is not clear on the question of Eternity. Indeed, we find ourselves back to αἰώνιος and ἀίδιος which underlie the philosophical problems as stated above. We have a Platonic Eternity which is "out there somewhere" and an Aristotelian Time which Newton would use to great effect in his theory of Absolute Space and Absolute Time. If anything the revolution that Einstein puts forward in his theories of relativity indicates that, due to the idea of simultaneity being subject to one's motion, Plato may indeed be right and that the past and future are "out there somewhere". This does seem to suggest, then, that the Creation that God has created exists in all Time, with Time as an ingredient within Creation, God standing "outside" of it yet His interactions with it all made from this "outside".
If this is true, then we do indeed have an Eternal existence, our soul being our totality within the Creation that God has made. Our consciousness of how time passes is thus an accident of how we experience being. Our consciousness is narrow and requires some kind of opening up our into the truth of reality. This is not something that can be done via any process of ours because all of our activity is necessarily dependent on our relationship with Time. It is how God can open our minds for us, as I believe that He did with St John the Divine in opening up the mind of a little human being to the complexity of Existence. Look at this Apocalypse, this Book of Revelation and see just how difficult it is to pin Time into it. There is silence in Heaven for about half an hour, but only for the perception of St John who is used to thinking in terms of Time.
This is such a beautiful possibility, but it is only that being, as it is, dependent upon the observations and theories of mortal man. Yet, if it is true, then it means that our dead still exist, preserved in the fabric of spacetime for God to draw out into His Eternity at His decision. We have nothing to fear, then, for whatever awaits us, we are being gazed upon in Love by the true Being Whom we cannot comprehend. All of our lives are open to Him and He truly does offer us true life in Him. I can only see that life in Him being Eternal. I don't know how we will experience it, but I know that, if those closing chapters of St John's Apocalypse are anything to go by, it will be more beautiful, more peaceful, more lovely than any human sense can behold. This is truly Heaven!