“I don’t believe in God anymore,” a friend recently told me. He went on to say, “There is a great life to be lived by just enjoying myself and the last thing I care about is what happens when I die.” He sold the gig pretty well, as this utopian lifestyle sounded pretty carefree. Adhering to hedonism can be great until it all falls down like a stack of cards. This belief that pleasure and entertainment are the sole purpose of our being gets quickly popped when circumstances change.
A few months ago I wrote about a guy with the same injury as me who asked to be taken off the ventilator because he didn’t feel life was worth living in a state of paralysis. Initially I was shocked. Even in a bleak situation, there could be so much potential. So much life left to be lived. There was still hope for the future.
Recently however, I’ve come to realize that if I didn’t believe differently about my life’s purpose and what happens after I die, I may have made the same decision. If Jesus wasn’t real, if there was no life after death, if there was no hope for healing, if there was no bigger purpose beyond comfort and pleasure, then yes, I would be best off conceding and be perfectly content to bid farewell to this earth. I’d give the worms a head start on my corpse since none of it mattered anyway as I entered an eternity of nothingness. If comfort and pleasure was the ultimate goal, I guess considering my circumstances I drew the short straw and now therefore am out of luck.
This goes to show that what I believe about eternity is one of the most important factors in how I view life. In light of all eternity, how should I look at any suffering that may come my way?
2000 years ago, the early Christ-follower Paul wrote that today’s sufferings are not even worth being compared to the joy that awaits those who follow Jesus (Romans 8:18). Because I know I’m going to spend millions of years in the presence of Jesus with no suffering, why should I just want a quick fix to make my time here on earth more comfortable if God has a better way to use it? When Jesus saved me, it didn’t mean the pain went away. Perspective just was added to it.
In fact, thinking with an eternal perspective should affect every aspect of my life, not just how I view suffering. It should affect how I spend my time, how I view relationships, and how I will prioritize my life. What am I doing today that will matter in 100 years? What about 1000? I love the illustration that Francis Chan uses with a rope signifying the expansive nature of our lives, contrasting the importance of this life versus eternity:
Of course, it can be easy to get caught up at the other end of the spectrum as well. Believing in an eternity with Jesus in paradise sometimes makes it tempting to think, “That sounds a lot better than life right now…”
Let’s not get it twisted. Life is hard. Sickness. Pain. Abuse. Betrayal. Death. No money, pleasure, or enticement that this world offers will ever mask that reality. A few people around me have had a knack for pushing the ideology that the here and now doesn’t matter much:
“Hey Ryan, it may be rough physically right now. But don’t worry… You’ll get a new body in heaven!” You gotta love the attempted sympathy and encouragement that simultaneously sounds like, “Oh well, your life sure sucks now, so why don’t I pull out a pithy line about God as I walk myself out to the car to meet the guys for golf.”
I’m not saying I disagree. Yes, that’s true; followers of Jesus will get new perfect bodies in the life that is to come. However, sweeping my current situation under the rug and covering it up with a cliché statement about heaven doesn’t necessarily make things any easier. That’s why keeping an eternal perspective in mind and recognizing that my time on this earth affects the life that is to come is imperative in the midst of suffering.
To put it plainly, I wasn’t created to find full satisfaction in this life. CS Lewis says it best,
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
In the meantime, I want to live with a healthy understanding that my life on earth has purpose, yet pales in comparison to all of eternity. Doing so will enable me to keep my eyes on what’s ahead and passionately cross the finish line of this life.
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