Eternal Life

Eternal Life

Even though I were to die, even though a bear were to consume my head, a fish were to devour my belly and a wolf my hand, or I were to be torn into a thousand pieces, yet I know that I will have eternal life.

~Martin Luther

Dear People of God,

What does it mean to believe in eternal life? It’s a good topic to talk about because there’s a lot of ways to misunderstand it. Most of this misunderstanding comes from thinking of it in obscure and abstract terms. One end of the spectrum will think eternal life, that is, whatever happens in the future is the only reality that matters.

Therefore, whatever happens on this earth does not hold very much weight. How we live then only matters in regard to getting to heaven. It’s a making decisions and commitments eternal life. Thus, we get many who will disregard the earth and all that is in it, taking care neither for the land we live on nor the many creatures that roam it.

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Many hop on this train (even if they don’t believe in eternal life) because making money by exploiting the earth is quite lucrative. It truly is an expression of incurvatus in se, that is, being “curved in on ourselves” everything else but ourselves doesn’t matter. The other end of the spectrum misunderstands eternal life because it believes what happens in the future after we die is unknowable. Therefore, what happens after we live and die doesn’t hold very much weight. How we live then only matters in regard to the here and now on earth. In this view, the kingdom of God comes in by our own exertion and will. That is, how we muster up what we view as a worthy life and how much change we can make in the world. It’s a making decisions and commitments eternal life.

What the two ends of the spectrum have in common is that they treat eternal life as dependent on our own will and decisions and abilities. Of course, neither of these ends of the spectrum capture what God means by eternal life.

The reformer Philip Melanchthon gives us a helpful way to think of eternal life, he says, “But eternal things, namely, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, work eternal life in the heart” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession 28:10).

Again, we see here that eternal life has everything to do with the initiative and choosing that comes from God, and nothing to do with the initiative or choosing that comes from human beings. God uses the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to work eternal life into heart of human beings. So eternal life is not just something that is in the future but something that is also in the here and now. Eternal life is both/and, in the future and in the now. The kingdom of God comes on its own even without our prayer and actions. We pray God brings and sustains his kingdom to us. Eternal life has come to you whenever you hear the Word preached, receive that bit of bread and that sip of wine, or have been washed in that water of baptism.

Why? Because eternal life is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation delivered through the Word and sacraments which are the tools of the Holy Spirit where he creates faith to believe these things. Eternal life is yours now and forever.

Peace and joy,
Pastor Levi Powers
Mount of Olives Lutheran Church
Rock Springs, WY