Living Now in The Light of Eternity
Happy New Year! When someone greets you with those words are you hoping that 2023 will be just that? If one of your resolutions for this New Year is to make some changes for a happier life, then read on.
I had a seminary professor who once told our class, “We should be living our lives now in the light of eternity.” That was a sobering statement for us to hear. But honestly, most of us at our age were not thinking about eternity that day. We were focused instead on the here and now, on completing our courses and living a fruitful and happy life in the ministry.
But after many years of ministry and contending with many of life’s ups and downs, my professor’s words have caused me on many occasions to have some sober reflection.
To be honest, I’ve learned a lot about happiness, and it wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be. Some of those insights came from my own painful and troubling situations, while other lessons came from observing all the “happy” people in our world.
Like Asaph of old, I struggled on occasion to understand the world’s version of “happiness”. Maybe you can identify with his feelings too:
But I had almost stopped believing; I had almost lost my faith because I was jealous of proud people. I saw wicked people doing well. They are not suffering; they are healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like the rest of us; they don’t have problems like other people. . . These people are wicked, always at ease, and getting richer. So why have I kept my heart pure? Why have I kept my hands from doing wrong? I have suffered all day long; . . . I tried to understand all this, but it was too hard for me to see until I went to the Temple of God. Then I understood what will happen to them. . . I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.
Asaph, like many of us, was caught up with the temporal realm. He couldn’t understand why some wicked people seemed to be so “happy”. The more he looked at their “happiness”, the more miserable he became. He needed to see things from an eternal perspective, and so do we. Living our lives in the light of eternity can make all the difference in how we understand the true meaning of happiness.
“Happiness” has been an elusive state for so many people. Philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and even economists have long sought to define it. And since the 1990s, a whole branch of psychology – called positive psychology – has been dedicated to pinning it down.
It was twenty years ago, when University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman (a proponent of positive psychology) published his book, Authentic Happiness and declared, "The time has arrived for a science that seeks to understand positive emotion, build strength and virtue, and provide guideposts for finding what Aristotle called the 'good life'." But twenty years after the publication of his book, there are still a good many people looking for Aristotle’s “good life”. Haven’t we all wondered if such a good life is even attainable? And if so, what would it look like? And what would we need to do to attain it?
Aristotle wanted to know if there is an ultimate end, goal, or purpose for human life. But what exactly is the end of human life – the end that all of us should aim for? For Aristotle, the end of human life is to flourish, to live well, to have a good life. He believed that all actions should aim toward this end. But then what? When we finally come to this end, will we finally be happy with our “good life”?
No doubt, many people will want to find this “good life” before death comes knocking on their door. That is because many see death as something that steals away all meaning in life. Ernest Becker, in The Denial of Death, understood that what makes us different from all other organisms is that we want eternity out of time. Becker was not a Christian, but he says we want to know that our lives count, but for anything to have meaning to a human being, the effects of our lives must remain alive in eternity in some way.
Becker wanted to know why human beings were afraid of death. He saw that human beings wanted meaning in life but realized that when we die everything perishes and destroys our happiness. We can’t believe life has meaning if we believe once we die, no matter how we live, everything is going to end.
King Solomon was also haunted by this futility. He said, “I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless!” Solomon realized that everything he had worked for and had accomplished would be left behind to the whims and wishes of others and that he couldn’t take anything with him.
Becker realized that we have a yearning for permanence, but he did not know where it came from. He never asks, “What is the origin of this desire?” But thankfully King Solomon found the answer and shared it with all of us in Ecclesiastes 3:11. He said God had put eternity in everyone’s heart. So, it is little wonder then why we desire permanence. God is eternal and we were created in his image to be with Him, not just now, but in eternity too.
Unfortunately, so many are haunted by the notion that, when they die, they will experience the loss of everything that’s meaningful in their lives.” But that is not how the Apostle Paul saw things – for he was someone who discovered the secret to a happy life.
The Apostle Paul in Phil. 4:11-12 spoke about “learning the secret of being content or happy." His happiness was not dependent on his circumstances. He said, “for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.”
Imagine, if you could be like Paul and be happy in whatever situation you found yourself in. Have you ever wondered where that kind of happiness or contentment comes from? Far from seeking fulfillment in his work or life’s accomplishments, or fearing death was going to destroy all he worked for, Paul had an interesting mindset that made him happy.
First, he never looked at his accomplishments as something to cherish or to hold on to. He didn’t see those things as bringing happiness to his life. In fact, Paul’s happiness came from renouncing all his status and accomplishments in the pursuit of a far greater goal. Listen to what he says:
I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.
When was the last time you thought of all your accomplishments as garbage? Only one thing made Paul happy – it was the pursuit of knowing Jesus Christ. Paul had learned what the most important thing in life was when he said, “For me to live is to live for Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil.1:21). And in a few verses later he adds, “to die and be with Christ is far better than living in this world” (Phil.1:23). Far better than living here in this world? Yes, far better!
Unlike Paul, who found happiness and purpose in living for Christ, many people think they can find happiness without Christ. To them, all they need to do is to achieve the right outcome or make the right decision in life and they will be happy. For example, the type of thoughts listed below exemplify some of the misconceptions people have about happiness:
"I’ll be happy when I’m rich and successful."
"I’ll be happy when I’m married to the right person."
"Landing my dream job will make me happy."
"I can’t be happy when my relationship has fallen apart."
"I will never recover from this diagnosis."
"The best years of my life are over."
Jesus knew the futility of this kind of reasoning when he said to his disciples, “If you try to hang on to your life (aka, chart your own course, follow your own way, try to make yourself happy), you will lose it. But if you give up your life (aka, surrender your ambition and will) for my sake, you will save it” (Matt. 16:24).
In other words, true contentment and happiness can only be found in surrendering our lives to Christ. And lest you are tempted to think that being wealthy will make you happy, Jesus said, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul (Matt. 16:24-26)?
Finding real happiness comes from experiencing two deaths. First, we must die spiritually – to ourselves, to our selfish ambitions and to the world. It is only then that we can find our real meaning and purpose in Jesus Christ.
Second, we must all die a physical death; and if we are Christians, we will discover what Paul said – to die is great gain. Only Christians will realize what Becker referred to as having our works follow us into eternity. The Apostle John records these words in Rev. 14:13 says, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”
Notice, that the verse says, “die in the Lord”. This refers to those who chose to follow Jesus and work for him, or to put it another way – they chose to live their lives in the light of eternity.
When Paul came to the end of his life, he had no regrets. He was a happy man. He wrote to Timothy his young protégé, the following words as his execution drew near:
As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. 
Paul had something to look forward to. Death would not have the final word. Do you want to be happy in this life and in eternity? Then live your life now for Jesus in the light of eternity; and take heart from what the Psalmist said, “You (God) will show me the way of life (that’s here and now), granting me the joy of your presence (that’s here and now) and the pleasures of living with you forever (that will be our inheritance – eternal joy and hope) (Ps. 16:11).”
 The Everyday Bible: New Century Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), Ps 73:2–20.  Martin E. Seligman, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment,(Simon and Schuster, New York, NY) 2022.  Earnest Becker, The Denial of Death, (The Free Press, New York, NY) 1973.  Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Ecc. 2:18–19.  Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Ph. 4:11–12.  Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Php 3:5–9.  Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), 2 Ti 4:6–8.