A journey from trauma to authenticity


I wonder what eternity means to you? There are many different ideas about it: the promise of eternal life, the comfort of loved ones living forever, the fear of eternal damnation, the possibility of reincarnation, a boring event that lasts an eternity, or a longing for there to be no end to something.

I think we have this curiosity about eternity, because life itself feels so infinite. The universe seems to be without end. The details in flowers, snow flake designs, and patterns on giraffes all appear to be endless. The northern lights, distant stars and gleaming rainbows inspire awe. We marvel at the organisation of ants, the beauty of a coral reef and the sweetness of a raspberry. How can we conceive of there being an end to this boundless wonder?

And what about our loved ones: those we love extravagantly, without limit and without end? Surely love is eternal? We imagine our babies alive in the clouds before they are born on earth, and that they will exist for all of time. It can bring great comfort and security.

In contrast, the belief that salvation is exclusive, only available to those who pray a sinner’s prayer to Jesus, is constricting and limiting. The belief that anyone else is going to hell, a place of eternal torment, is fear-inducing. These beliefs are easily used to control people. They feel small and entrapping and restricting. They make this life something to endure, for the promise of eternal bliss in the future.

I stopped believing in hell because of the kind of God that belief creates. If I, as an ordinary human being, could not ever send anyone to eternal torment, no matter how evil they had been, how can I believe in a God who would do that? If God is like that, I would rather have nothing to do with him/her.

Richard Rohr also cites the infinite nature of life as one of his reasons for not believing in hell. Death is not infinite, so how can there be eternal death? He goes on to say,

“Religion is lived by people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is lived by people who have been through hell.”

― Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater

I used to live in this religious way, taking the Bible literally, believing that salvation was a transaction. I lived in fear of eternal punishment, and living that way I would now describe as a living hell. It meant living inauthentically, (which is an existential torture), and that others could control me and harm me. It was sold as grace, and then we had to spend a life time earning it religiously.

I am still a spiritual person, which for me now means the joy and wonder of experiencing the infinite possibilities of life here and now.

One day, I was driving my commute, when I noticed that the clock in the car had stopped. I let myself imagine that time was standing still. I instantly felt relaxed. I had all the time in the world to journey! Instead of worrying about getting to a destination on time, I could take my time. I could savour every moment and each experience along the way.

I don’t know what happens after death. None of us do. But the moments, hours and days that I am fully present, enjoying life as it happens, open, curious, fearless and full of love, I feel I am living heaven on earth. These moments feel eternal. Love feels both a beautiful mystery and wondrously eternal, transcending time and place.

What does eternity mean to you?

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