by Allan Humbley
I have not spent much of my lifetime contemplating eternity. I have always believed in the God who inhabits eternity and in the eternal hope that belongs to those who are in Christ; but beyond that, eternity has seemed beyond my capacity to comprehend. There are those things in which I firmly believe but cannot explain.
I believe that, as the Scripture teaches, God is spirit; but being a physical being that exists in a physical world, I don’t have the ability to define ‘spirit’ other than in the most nebulous of terms. I have the same problem with defining ‘eternity’. My whole life experience has been spent in this physical body of flesh and each and every activity has been governed by time and divided into hours, days, nights, years and seasons. We live with the knowledge that life is finite and must end in death. What chance is there that we can understand eternity which has poetically been described as the ‘land of endless day’?
The quite recent passing of my wife of fifty years (seven months ago at time of writing) has brought me to occasional times of reflection on the hereafter. Not unnaturally, after so long a time of happy union, and given that we shared a definite faith and hope in Christ, I would dearly like to see her again. But how will it work out in reality? Will we know and recognise each other? What memory will we have of this life?
From time to time, in my prayer times, I have outlined these and other questions to the Lord. It’s not a matter of expecting answers but rather an expression of where I am at that particular time. I speak of the certainty held by some of my friends that our earthly relationships and friendships will continue and be expanded on a never-ending basis, and that we will look much as we do in our earthly form so that we will be recognisable to each other.
But then I am reminded of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:35 of those who ask, ‘What sort of body shall we have in resurrection?’ He actually describes that as a foolish question and by way of analogy points out that when we plant a seed or grain in our garden, the resultant plant that emerges following germination is quite different to the seed that we planted, because God gives it a body as He has determined – and so it will be with the resurrection of the dead.
Then there are those who have told me that we will look the same in resurrection as we have in this life on the basis that the risen Lord was clearly recognisable to the disciples – but of course He had to be, or their testimony to having seen the risen Lord would have been impossible. How credible would they have been in saying, ‘The Lord is risen – we have seen Him!’ if when questioned by the leaders of the Jews, they could only reply, ‘well it didn’t look anything like Him and we wouldn’t have recognised Him by appearance, but He said the right things and was very convincing.’ But will we look the same? I don’t know.
And then there is the question of our memory of the events of this life. Will we have full recall or none at all? One line of reasoning is that we would need to have a full memory of our earthly deeds if we are to be required to give an account of the deeds done in the body, and I can understand that point of view. But whilst that would simplify the matter of us recognising each other, I am inclined to think that there is so much of this life that I, for one, would prefer to not have to remember through endless ages. If God is able to cast men’s sins into the sea of His forgetfulness, never to be brought up again, will He require that we should live an eternity of regret over our failings, shortcomings and sins whilst in these earthen vessels or earthly bodies?
And how would we deal with the sense of grief and loss when we discover that there are friends and family members who are not there with us, not to mention the regrets if and when we acknowledge that there was much more we should and could have done whilst in this life to lead them to Christ? Again, I don’t know. But I am sure that whatever the judgment handed down on every aspect of our walk in this life, no one will dispute the justice and righteousness of God, but will simply and gratefully bow to His verdict.
It seems that there are many questions to which I have no answer, but that does not disturb me to any great degree – although I do still ponder on them from time to time. The answer, to me at least, lies in the Word. I find great comfort when I read 1 John 3:2: ‘Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what He has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is”. There we are told of one thing that we don’t know, but also of something that we can know.
I am left to wonder at what is meant by ‘we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is’. We believe that He humbled himself and (of necessity) took on the likeness of sinful flesh when he came among us. But does that mean that, when we see Him as He is and we are like Him, that we will all be of recognisable human appearance? Again I don’t know.
Then there is 1 Corinthians 2:9 in which I read, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.’ From these words I infer that whatever God has prepared for His own in eternity is good beyond our imagining.
In recent days I have been reading the Bible from the beginning and came to Deuteronomy 29:29 which says, ‘the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever that we may follow all the words of this law.’ Now I am aware of Dr Bullinger’s comment regarding the translation of that verse; but that doesn’t alter the truth that God has those things that have been revealed to His people, and other things that remain known only to Him and that will only be known by us when He chooses to reveal them.
Notwithstanding all of the above, I confess that, in my humanity, there remains a strong hope that ‘when the trumpet call of God sounds and the dead in Christ are raised to be joined in that joyful meeting with the Lord in the air by those saints still then living.’ (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17) that there may be a time of reunion with those we have loved in this life.
Nothing that I have written of here is, to any degree, of faith-shaking consequence – God is good and that is beyond doubt! These are just what I think to be the quite normal ponderings of one who has lost his dearly loved mate of fifty years and misses her deeply. If there is any good to come from these thoughts, it may be that someone else will realise that they are not alone in experiencing similar feelings; they are not wrong – they are natural. But our walk is by faith and not by sight, by trust and not by feeling. The rock-bottom truth is that God is faithful and ‘what the Lord ordaineth will be for the best, just to trust and follow Him is perfect rest’.
My conclusion at this time therefore is that I must be content to trust God who will work all things according to His purpose in the knowledge that whatever He will do in eternity is for the best, and will be good beyond the most creative imagination of us all.