The Present and Eternity
We don’t commonly hear demons discussing us. But in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Lewis examines human reality through a contrived conversation between two of the fiends. Through the inverted lens of a demon, the character Screwtape discusses with his nephew Wormwood the devilish purpose of destroying humans. Keep in mind the literary device that finds the demons describing reality from their point of view, where God is referred to as the ‘Enemy’.
“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.” Screwtape goes on to advise Wormwood how to impede that process.
God’s Ministry of Internal Human Affairs deals with that strange dichotomy, the connection between the present and eternity. Our present reality is visible and tangible, so it grabs our attention. But eternity is invisible to us earth-bound creatures. How do we connect with a reality we can’t see? So the Apostle Paul paints for us a picture; he illustrates the junction of the eternal with the present (in II Corinthians 5:1-10) by describing our present bodies as a tent, and our future, eternal bodies as a heavenly dwelling. Listen.
“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
Paul is pretty honest about our lives here on earth. He’s relevant. He observes that we are fragile; we feel pain, we know burdens, we fear and resent death. But he’s telling us why we feel this way. He is saying we feel uncomfortable with our own mortality because we were designed for real, immortal, eternal life. So he is helping us understand how we can live here and now in the present, while we wait and hope for our ultimate reality: eternity.
He says that God, who has designed us for eternity, has given His Spirit, like a deposit, as a promise and taste of the reality to come. It’s like getting a taste of eternity while still in time-bound present.
But who of us receives this unearthly and sacred Presence of God in their lives? Isn’t that just for the likes of Paul himself? No. It’s for “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours.” God’s ministry of making Himself present in the lives of people is for all who trust in His Son Jesus. Simple belief. But somehow it’s not easy for everyone to believe without seeing. It’s easier to think about our earthly future or our past than about eternity.
C.S. Lewis describes this, too, in his Screwtape Letters. Screwtape explains to Wormwood how a demon’s job is to keep his human patient busily thinking about past injuries or future plans; never allow the creature to think about eternity in this present moment. Because when eternity touches the present, lives are changed. And demons don’t like that.
Paul summarizes the phenomenon by saying, “We live by faith, not by sight.” We choose to bring His Presence to mind in every moment of our day. Waking, we may whisper, “Good morning, God!” In a traffic jam we may pray, “Lord, how would You react if You were driving my car?” After dinner we may ask, “Jesus, how can I honour You this evening in my leisure time?” These are ways we catch a glimpse of eternity now. There are infinite other ways of bringing eternity into the present in our lives of faith. Let’s embrace them. It’s part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that God wants for each of us.
Father, thank you for your Spirit with us. Remind us in many ways today to think about Your Great Presence here in our daily lives.
(Photo Credit: Focus on the Family, Radio Theatre)