Why No Fence? (The Prequel)

Further reflections on why and how the Bible seems to be saying that our ability to have a relationship with God is inextricably tied-to our mortality.

The musings below initiated the train of thought that led to the writing of my previous posting, the sermon entitled “Why No Fence?”.  So, I’ve posted this article to give some additional background on the sermon and it’s theological / philosophical perspective.  Also, I just recently learned that a dear friend of mine (that I’ve tried to contact several times over the last couple of years) passed away in June, 2007 – which makes this an appropriate time to reflect on this subject again.

Reading “George’s” “My Wife has Cancer Blog” (http://themywifehascancerblog.blogspot.com/) has been thought-provoking.  I often reflect on how cruel and heartless the world can be.  Yet, what is also true is that this world is filled with beauty, beauty which we often find in unexpected places, as George’s reflections show us.

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about the implications of Eternal Life.  Something which YHWH denied us after Adam and Eve (meaning “we”) ate of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”.

To me, what Eternal Life means is that time no longer matters.  For someone who has Eternal Life, no day is any more, or less, valuable than any other.  Such people are (in essence) immortal: they have infinite time to complete unfinished business, correct mistakes, or finish their “to do” list.  So, what value would any day (or century) have?  Could love and beauty exist in a world without time?  Many writers have thought on this…

Jonathan Swift in “Gulliver’s Travels” imagines an immortal race called the Struldbrugs.  But, they do not have eternal youth: their bodies eventually age to the point where every breath is torment – yet, they cannot die.  Immortality for a Struldbrug is a curse, not a gift.

In “Lord of The Rings”, J.R.R. Tolkien has a race with eternally youthful bodies: the elves.  Yet immortality is still a burden:  They are a people not quite in tune with the world, a “vision of the elder days living in the present”.  A people whose bodies do not age, but who have an inescapable sadness because they know that everything they build, everything they know, will eventually pass away – and they cannot stop it.  They are doomed to outlive everything they love.  They cannot escape from the past and live fully in the present.

Science Fiction author Robert H. Heinlein imagined immortality through technology.  In “Time Enough For Love” Lazarus Long is the oldest human: a man who is “rejuvenated” whenever old age afflicts him.  Yet, Lazarus tired of life.  Like the elves, Lazarus outlived everything he loved.  Heinlein also pointed out that our brains are not infinite: If we live long enough, like Lazarus, we run out of room for new memories.  Even if that weren’t a problem, our memories get cluttered and disorganized with age.  (Lazarus complains about hunting all morning for a book, only to realize he’d put it down a century ago.)  Through Lazarus we see that even with youthful bodies, our minds (and spirits) will still age.

Heinlein’s Lazarus had his mind “washed” of old memories to make room for new ones, but then asks what good is immortality when memory no longer links you with who you once where?  Immortality is a burden for Lazarus because he outlives his youth, and because of the broken connection between his present and his past.

Mortality makes time precious: every day is a gift that cannot be recaptured.  The flip side of this is that we cannot go back and make different choices when things don’t turn out as we hoped.  We cannot choose to avoid the pain that is the inevitable result of the choice to love (…hence the title of Heinlein’s book).

In the end, we need to ask ourselves  whether it is worth it: to live a life like that of Lazarus, or the elves, or the Struldbrugs, or the timeless existence Adam and Eve had before they ate of the fruit.

What I believe is that the choice to eat of the fruit is what allowed Adam and Eve to choose to have a relationship with God.  This fruit represents the choice to have choices – an essential first step.  It is the choice we must make if we do not want to remain in endless existence as a creature without choices.  That tree’s fruit was the “escape hatch” – the First Choice – that enabled us to have the Second Choice – of whether to Love God (or not).

So, while I am not eager to come to the end of my mortal existence, and know that the end will probably include pain and suffering, the tradeoff is that I have a life that is worth living.  A life where I can have a relationship with God.

Genesis says to me that God gave us mortality because God wants a relationship with us, and knows what is best for us.  So, I know that our mortality, and that of those we love, is a gift, part of God’s plan.  Just like time, if our relationships were never-ending, they would have no value to us: love would have no value to us.

This does not eliminate or even alleviate the pain and hardships of life, but knowing that mortality is necessary for love and life to have value, and that it is all part of God’s plan, gives me the strength I need to endure such things when they come, and the ability to appreciate and rejoice-in the beauty and love that are in this world.  Amen!

Copyright (c) 2009, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that mentions my name or provides a link back to this site).

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