I really like the Five for Fighting song “100 Years.” The song highlights the swiftness of life, as the singer passes through various life stages: “I’m 15 for a moment . . . 33 for a moment . . . blink of an eye, 67 is gone . . . 99 for a moment . . . ” You get the idea. You can hear the whole song in the YouTube clip below.
The title of the song references roughly the human life span (I believe the average Western life span is now actually 79, but 100 sounds much more poetic). It’s a beautiful song, and a good reminder to make the most of the time we have. The refrain is haunting, “When you’ve only got a hundred years to live . . .”
The problem is that that’s not entirely true. We’re very materialistic, we Westerners. And right now I’m not talking about our love of stuff, our desire to accumulate, our consumerism—although to be sure those are problems for us, too (and related to our materialism). Right now, I mean materialistic in the old philosophical sense: we believe only in what we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands. We have no conception of an extra-physical world. And so we are consumed with these few passing years we have now, because it’s all we know. There is this life, and that’s it – then it’s over.
But there is, in fact, another life beyond. For Christians, this is our hope. (Followers of other traditions are certainly welcome to dialogue here as anywhere on this blog, though the focus of this post will be on the Christian understanding of the life beyond death.) We followers of Christ have done an abysmal job of creatively imagining the next life and actively planning for it. Instead, we have largely surrendered to our culture’s nursery school versions of “heaven” as a place of clouds and harps, or perhaps one giant church service—overall a place of overriding boredom. Certainly this kind of heaven is not someplace anyone would actually want to live. And so, like “those without hope” (as St. Paul says), we place all our hopes and dreams in this life, and we, like everyone else, create our bucket lists and try to squeeze every ounce of pleasure, every new experience, out of this life we can, fearful of a dim and uncertain future.
Now, to be sure, I am as ambitious as the next fellow, and probably more so. I still have it in mind to obtain several more degrees, to visit at least 50 “must see places” around the globe (and several of them more than once!), to learn half a dozen languages. I have more interests and more “potential hobbies” than I can count. I have barely begun to scratch the surface of everything I want to do.
That would be deeply depressing if I have only these “100 years.” But in the Christian conception, not only do I have eternity, almost all of it will be spent in a perfect environment, free from all of the restrictions of mortality. Imagine what we will be able to do when we will never get tired, never run down, never get old. Our bodies will never hurt, we will never be hungry or weary. Moreover, relationships will be perfect; we will never again be weighed down by embarrassment or jealousy or guilt or shame or malice or contempt. There will be no trauma, no scars to work through. All of that will be over.
Instead, we will achieve the fullness of our human potential—utter creativity unleashed! The writer will experience no writer’s block, the gardener no thorns or weeds. Every act will be rich with meaning—no more punching the clock just for a paycheck, no more maintenance just to keep things going. We will experience delights beyond measure: food without allergies or indigestion, relationships without guile or agendas, physical activity without weariness or pain. In short, nothing will stop us from being everything we were meant to be and doing everything we were meant to do.
Obviously, we have to use our imaginations to picture specific scenarios, because we don’t know in detail what the next life will be—but we know it will be fantastically better than this present life, beyond all powers of our imagining. We have only to look to the risen Christ for a glimpse of life after death.
Think about this: after death, Christ was clearly physical, enjoying all the pleasure of this life, such as food and walking and talking with friends. But he could also appear and disappear at will, even through locked doors, and was also able to rise into the sky under his own power. I don’t think these are things he was able to do because he was God; I think he was able to do these things because human life after death means powers and abilities beyond every limitation we now know.
Imagine being able to eat with your friends, and then, feeling satisfied but not uncomfortably full, you then are able to teleport yourself someplace else, or fly around in the clouds for a while! We will be like Christ!
Moreover, if we truly have any insight into the fullness of what the “Kingdom of God” implies, we would be giddy with delight to see what lies beyond death. A kingdom is a realm that responds to a king’s rule and commands. And if the entire universe is God’s kingdom, all of it responds to God’s rule and commands. Moreover, in the next life, we will be co-heirs with Christ, joint rulers of the kingdom, even, according to St. Paul, exercising authority over angels. Imagine what it will be like when we are able to command angels, when we rule with God over a kingdom where every photon of light, every atom, responds to the King’s commands. We will be able to shape whole planets to our will! And because everything will be right and good, we will always have the best motives and absolutely no greed—so these amazing powers we will be able to embrace without fear.
That is what is waiting for us. It is not that we have only these hundred years, and we must pack into them as much as we can. By all means, let us appreciate this time we have now, but let us also remember, in the words of a singer of a different generation, Tim Sheppard, “What is death but a door?” or, as the old Spirituals tell us, death is but the River Jordan that we cross to reach the Promised Land.
These 100 years are only a shadow of the best yet to come. We only have 100 years, in this life at least, but then we step through death’s door, and our real lives—the lives we were meant to live—begin.
Five for Fighting – “100 Years”
“Waiting for my Real Life to Begin – as sung by the cast of “Scrubs”