It’s really unsettling to me.
When I think about “forever”, my stomach gets all twisted up.
Usually these thoughts come as part of a dialogue about death; not necessarily morbid conversations, but discussing death automatically sends my mind to thinking about “forever”–and the result is an unsettled stomach.
Stomachs get twisted up for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s sickness; I had a nasty case of salmonella earlier this year, and my abdomen was in pain for several days. Sometimes our stomachs twist in excitement, like on a thrill ride. I recall standing in the line for the “Tower of Terror” ride at Disney’s MGM Studios theme park, and my friend commented, “Oooh, my stomach’s all anxious–but that’s what I love about this ride!”
But when it comes to contemplating “forever”, this feeling in the pit of my stomach arises for another reason. I call it the pit of eternity.
I’m not nervous about eternity; I believe that Jesus Christ has delivered me from all future punishment and condemnation. Eternity for me is really good news. But there’s something about the concept of “forever” that just doesn’t compute with me. The idea of never-ending just doesn’t make sense to my body.
On and on.
I can’t wrap my mind around these notions, and my body apparently can’t either.
My stomach can’t possibly imagine being full forever; it’s a very short-term organ. I can’t go more than a few hours without getting hungry, let alone remaining completely satisfied for billions and billions of years. No, that’s not even adequate: “eternity” makes billions and billions of years just a drop in a bucket.
See, there it goes: unsettled tummy. The pit of eternity.
What will it be like? It’s a life that goes beyond any categories that I have. Our lives are lives of change. In the last 3 months, I’ve slept in 11 different cities, in 6 different states. The ideal of an unchanging living situation–one that’s not just long-term, but truly never-ending–really goes beyond any life experience or point of reference that I have.
I expect things to change. I don’t expect anything to last forever. The best product, the most amazingly crafted monument of stone, nothing lasts forever. Even lifetime guarantees (Tupperware, Jansport backpacks, Craftsman tools) fall short; what are a few decades compared to timelessness?
Still there: unsettled tummy. The pit of eternity.
I think I have this feeling for one simple reason. As I said before, it’s not nervousness, anxiety, or fear. Instead, I think it’s a reminder of one fact: the incomprehensible is coming. All of the categories that I build for understanding and navigating life as I currently experience it are going to be obliterated once I come into eternity.
Is the life of here and now important? You bet. But it’s not all there is. And God gives me this little twinge in my stomach to remind me to keep my perspective on the things of forever. The pit of eternity isn’t a pit of despair, a place of dread, or a prison–at least, not for me. If anything, it’s a pit of hope.
My lot in life apparently isn’t to live with a settled stomach, avoiding thoughts and conversation about what’s to come. Instead, I’m to be honest about the realities of now, and also the realities of what’s to come. And the pit of eternity helps ensure that I don’t forget the second part, and simply lapse into a false contentedness that things will always be as familiar as they are right now. The truth is, they won’t be. And that’s a good thing. Even if it means living with a little discomfort in the meantime.
Still there: unsettled tummy. When’s the last time I ate?