What does it mane to have eternal life? Jesus refers to it several times in the Gospels. People come to him asking what they need to do in order to obtain eternal life. It is stated as a promise and a reward. John 3:36 in particular speaks to me right now. It says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.”
This is one of those lines that cause people a great deal of difficulty. First of all, it suggests that there is only one Son and we must believe in this Son. Then the passage goes on to tell us if we don’t we are going to incur God’s wrath. Pretty scary stuff.
But what if we took a wider view of this verse? First of all, I keep coming back to this question of eternal life. What is eternal life? So many of us think it means that we will live forever. We may intellectually know that living forever does not include this physical body, but our fear and need to grasp this form keeps us hoping that somehow death is meant for everyone else.
I also think that we long for some reassurance that we will live forever because we can’t stand the thought of being alone and in darkness for eternity. When we get quiet we face the ultimate fear of being alone and isolate that hangs in our hearts like a fog. So, we long for reassurance and some kind of concrete action to take in order to ensure that this won’t happen to us. That is why it is so appealing to believe in the surface meaning of this line. If we just believe in Jesus as the only way, then we will live forever. Simple enough. But lacking in depth and substance upon closer examination.
The image of Jesus as the only, is incongruent with the image of God he presents. He tells us of a God that is loving and all providing. So, let’s look beyond the surface to the layers of meaning underneath.
Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity defines the Son as, “The true spiritual self of every individual. The living Word; the Christ idea in the Mind of God.” Let me repeat that first line-The true spiritual self of every individual! That means that we are all the Son. So when Jesus says to believe in the Son he is telling us to believe in ourselves as spiritual expressions of God. As we do, we awaken to the eternal nature of God. By the same token, when we see ourselves anything less than God’s divine extension and expression, we exist in hell. That is when we feel alone, isolated and completely abandoned. In other words, we have incurred God’s wrath.
Let’s take a closer look at the word eternal which means without beginning or end. This does not mean that we will live forever and at the same time when we really understand that eternal life is present in the now moment, we lose the need to live forever. We find ourselves able to relax into the awareness of true being and trust that God’s love and presence eternal. We find ourselves resting in the knowledge that we live and move and have our being in the eternal presence of God. The more we see ourselves as the Son of God expressing God in all that we do, the more we rest in the assurance of God’s love and presence in and as us and the guarantee that God’s love for us is eternal.