Eternity is a Problem

Picture yourself in a terrible situation. Someone you care about deeply (pick a friend, any friend and imagine them) is about to do something which you know will get them sent to prison for three weeks. And you have the opportunity to spend some time with them and try to talk them out of it. You know what they’re doing is stupid, but they can’t quite see it.

How long do you spend with them? Do you spend five minutes with them? What is your time worth to you? Do you take the day off of work and spend it instead with them at the golf course just so you can spend a few more hours trying to talk them out of it? Or would you spend even longer? Would you spend a week talking a friend out of it if it could save them three weeks of prison time?

Now what if they were looking at a year? Or 10 years? If someone you loved greatly was about to something that would send them to prison for a life sentence, how much time would you intentionally take to focus on trying to reason with them? How forceful would you be when they’re unwilling to listen to reason?

The picture gets worse when you imagine talking them out of something which would lead to three weeks of something worse than jail time. Torture for instance. What about a year of incessant torture?

Or what about eternity in torment and anguish? Damnation?

And thus you see the issue.

Eternity is a problem for us. As people stuck in time, temporal beings, we’re stuck in the idea of time and the limits it imposes. Therefore grasping a concept such as eternity is inherently difficult for us. This may seem irrelevant to most of us, and in fact we live our lives as though though understanding it is unnecessary, but the truth is eternity is all around us. We are eternal beings — not temporal. But we forget that.

For some reason when the word eternity is mentioned we shut down. We’re incapable of understanding what it means. To save my friend out of three weeks of torture I would do just about anything. This is the same friend, after all, whom I’ve known since I was three. We shared a locker together in High School and a dorm room together in College. He cleaned up vomit after me when I got so drunk I was carted in an ambulance off to the hospital. He encouraged me to put it behind me and step up and be the man God had made to be. He called me to be a witness for Christ when I was wallowing in self-pity. Seems the least I could do is try to talk to him to save him from torture.

But then I think about the many friends I left behind in America. I was willing to get on a plane and fly to the other side of the world to tell the people here about Jesus because I genuinely believe they need him. But I never asked my friends about their relationship (or lack thereof) with Christ, or called them to repentance, or spent even five minutes trying to save them from eternal misery. And why? I love my friends, but I don’t want to offend them? I don't want to me socially awkward when I bring up my belief that they need Jesus?

I’d offend them if it was one year of misery. I’d be willing to punch a good friend in the face if I thought it would save them from that. But eternity just makes me shut down. I bottle up and find myself incapable of grasping the weight of what that would really mean.

I found this quote in a book I was recently reading. This sums up what I've tried to say in my post "In Eefense of the Christian worldview"; and it's particularly potent because it's an atheist understanding what we as Christians often don't — the necessity of evangelism.
“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people that don’t proselytize… I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever… and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was bearing down on you and you didn’t believe it, there comes a certain point when I tackle you…and this is more important than that.” - Penn Jillette of “Penn & Teller”