So finally the Heidelberg Catechism reaches the end of the Apostles’ Creed. (That’s “finally” if you’ve been with me since 2013 when I started blogging on the Catechism, including this section.)
They’ve been at it line by line, sometimes word by word, since question 26. Now it is Question 58, and they address the concluding phrase
…And the life everlasting.
In the Europe of 1563 they didn’t bother to define it. Almost everybody was at least nominally Christian. They assumed they knew what “everlasting life” meant.
Today people might reasonably wonder. Look around and you’ll find multiple opinions.
- Some have a standard Christian-ish assumptions, no matter how tenuous their connections to the Bible. Think stereotypes: playing harps, lounging on clouds, turning into angels.
- A few pay big bucks to have their bodies kept in the deep freeze so they can be thawed out and revived when medicine has made necessary advances.
- And many envision a purely secular eternity: they hope their lives makes a big enough splash that someone, anyone, will remember them. Having their own Wikipedia page would be hitting the big time.
The question that Heidelberg does ask is distinctive. It points out their assumptions about the whole of Christian theology:
58 Q. How does the article concerning “life everlasting”
Christian teaching, all of it and every part, is supposed to be deeply helpful, giving us confidence in God’s care as we live out our days as people of faith.
But when it comes to everlasting life, as I said, things have changed since the Reformation.
Let’s admit that some, probably even a subset of Christians, do not find the idea of living forever comforting at all.
- They may have found their life miserable — they just want it to end.
- They may have lived out their most important hopes and dreams — they are simply done.
- They may have a totally atheistic and materialistic worldview, and expect nothing but — well, nothing.
But most Christians do find comfort in the promise of everlasting life. Here’s how Heidelberg explains it:
A. Even as I already
now experience in my heart
the beginning of eternal joy,
so after this life
I will have perfect blessedness
such as no eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no human heart has ever imagined:
a blessedness in which to praise God forever.
It is an issue of the “now” and the “not yet” as some like to say. The “now” is real — the kingdom of heaven has drawn near, and Christ is in our midsts. But there is more to come — just “not yet.”
How is Everlasting Life Comforting?
I suspect that this rings perfectly true for many Christians. We have tasted joy in Christ, in the midst of earthly struggles. It is wonderful to think of that joy in fullness, undiluted, unending.
The weakness of Heidelberg’s response is that it comes close to a quiet capitulation to the Western ideals of individualism and personal fulfillment. It is about me, my joy, my blessedness, even if it specifically directed to continuous praise of God.
My hope in eternal life expands when I listen to Gregory of Nyssa, the great four century theologian who shaped the East.
In his great book The Life of Moses, Gregory takes the Exodus narrative as a model for our spiritual growth.
Moses climbs up the mountain, closer to God. It led to genuine transformation — he glowed in the dark afterward.
To Gregory, our life here on earth is about growing intimacy with God so that God’s good work is done within us. The tarnished image of God is restored, and we shine with God’s glory. We actually become more like God.
But for Gregory, this process is simply not finished in this life. It continues to be the business of heaven. Like at the end of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, eternal life in heaven is not static. The children and Narnians run up to glory crying
Further up! Further in!
It is constant movement toward God, constant transformation to be more like God.
And since God is infinite, and we are finite, there will always be room for further transformation.
Further indeed. Further up! Further in! That’s what comforts me in life everlasting.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. How do you (or don’t you) find the promise of life everlasting to be a comfort?
This post contains affiliate links.