I was talking with some friends at work today about our plans for the future. The conversation turned to retirement and how we want to use the years that remain to us. We all agreed that since life is short and none of us knows when we are going to die, it’s important to stay active, to have goals and interests, to make the most of the years we have left.
Like my friends, I want to stay healthy, to use my talents and abilities to the full, to enjoy life, to bless my children and grandchildren. But because I look at life through the lens of eternity, I see all of these as secondary goals. I do want to make the most of the rest of my life, but my horizon is eternal – and that makes all the difference in the world.
For me, having an eternal horizon means at least three things.
The first thing it means is that my life will not end when I die, so I don’t need to fear death. Yes, death is real, but humans are spiritual beings, not just physical ones. The hunger to understand what lies beyond death is part of what separates people from animals. My dog Cookie doesn’t seem at all concerned about the meaning of life, but people are different from dogs. In the ancient words of King Solomon, considered the wisest man on earth in his day, God has planted eternity in our hearts. We were originally intended for eternal life, which is why most people are not content with 70 or 80 years followed by the prospect of nothingness. The wonderfully good news is that Jesus, the Messiah, has conquered death and made a way for those who have placed their hope in Him to have eternal life.
Having an eternal horizon means something else as well. It means that I am accountable to God, who sees all actions and knows all motives, for how I use the time I have left. It’s very common nowadays to say that a good life is whatever makes you happy. God’s word says something different. Ultimately, it is not all about me. In fact, the sooner we learn that, the better, because that’s where all the misery started. The Deceiver tricked our first parents into thinking that if we could be independent we’d be better off, but they soon learned that a life in which they were in control brought only misery and disappointment. It has been the same way ever since. When we live for ourselves, the pleasures – though real – are temporary, and they bear bitter fruit. Having an eternal horizon means recognizing that lasting joy can only come about when we surrender to our Maker and discover life as it was meant to be lived, with Him at the center. If this is a new idea to you, I can tell you that it is much better than doing life on your own. I’ve tried it both ways, and I can’t imagine going back to life without God.
Finally, having an eternal horizon means that I don’t have to be in a hurry. I can face the prospect of death knowing that I am at peace with God and that I have all the time He gives me – no more and no less. Since I am looking forward to an eternal kingdom, I can enjoy the time I have left without worrying about how long it will be. It’s not up to me anyway. A classic story about St. Francis of Assisi illustrates this beautifully. Francis was out hoeing his garden when someone asked him what he would do if he knew he was going to die by sunset of that very day. His famous answer was that he would finish hoeing his garden. Francis could respond this way because his whole life had been lived as an offering to his maker, so he had no need to fear death.
Do I want to make the most of the rest of my life? Of course – doesn’t everyone? But when you understand life from God’s perspective, suddenly the stakes are higher, the timeframe is very different, and the rewards are infinitely better.