Seeking to understand eternity
“Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.” — Psalm 102:25-27
I remember once as a very young man — practically a boy — sitting in the home of a sweet family.
This dear woman, who had followed her husband from her native country to a new land, had lost her partner in this frightening adventure to an untimely death, and now was left to fend for herself and her two grade school-aged sons in a country where she didn’t speak the language and knew little of the custom.
When my visits began, their loss was quite recent. They were in fresh mourning.
We were there on a heavenly errand, teaching the things of God and Christ, and seeking to lift up the hands that hung down. It was a sacred time.
My companion on one such visit was inspired to share a modern-day parable, one which I had never heard before that day, and one which I have not forgotten since.
He asked the sweet sister for a line of string or yarn, which she quickly fetched from another room. He instructed the boys to each hold an end, and they did so, standing about a room’s-length apart from one another with the length of the line stretched between them.
Then, taking a pen out of his breast pocket, he clipped it onto the rough center of the line. He asked each boy if they could see the pen. Of course they could.
“That pen,” my friend said, speaking Spanish for the benefit of the mother, “represents our life on Earth. Mortality.”
The family nodded. He continued.
“The string from the beginning of the pen back to you,” he said, pointing to one boy, “that’s our life before we came to Earth — before we were born. And the string from the end of the pen to you, that’s our life after we die.”
Eyes widened as the earnest trio began to understand his meaning.
“Sure seems like our life on Earth is pretty small compared to our lives before and after mortality, doesn’t it?” the young man said, slowly, before coming to his final point. “But, actually, this isn’t even right. In fact, the string should be so many more times longer than this one that we can’t even comprehend it.
“Does it change the way you see your life on Earth when you realize how much more to existence there is than just this?”
Of course they nodded. The Holy Ghost witnessed of the truth of his words to a family mourning the loss of a loved one and frantically pondering life without him. It was a tender moment in that home that I’ll never forget.
Eternity is by nature unfathomable by finite minds like ours. Even so, its concept is taught with regularity in the scriptures, and perhaps never more beautifully or succinctly than by the Savior Himself during the Sermon on the Mount:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,” Jesus said to the multitude, as recorded in Matthew 6:19-21, “where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
What a marvelous message from the Great Teacher Himself. No mortal being knew better than Him the truth he was teaching. He said, simply, that it was foolish and short-sighted to entrust our devotion to temporary things that would surely wither into disrepair or inevitable loss. Instead, he recommended we devote ourselves to that which can never pass away and will never be stolen: Eternity.
Christ was not wholly unconcerned with temporal things. He recognized our need for clothing, food and shelter. He demonstrated this understanding often throughout His ministry and teaching. But He taught with clarity the importance of gaining some level of understanding of the reality of eternity.
The Apostle Paul understood the concept. Here’s what he said about it in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
How differently would we act if we viewed our lives from an eternal perspective?
Let me offer yet another modest parable of my own.
The black ant is consumed with purpose. He scuttles from his complex, tunneled home to find supplies for building or food for consumption that his community might survive and thrive for generations to come.
The ant is an intensely powerful animal. Able to lift and carry multitudes of its own bodyweight with ease, he’s one of creation’s most fascinating finds.
But the ant’s perspective is innately limited. He’s minuscule when compared to even small mammals, much less mighty man. The ant cannot conceive of the world in which we live — which, to be clear, is the world in which he lives, too. It’s just that the narrowness of the ant’s extraordinarily small perspective blinds him to the reality all around him.
In comparison to the Eternal Father, we are much closer in scale to the ant than we are to He who created us both. Our blindingly small perspective — unlikely to even be the whole of our mortality, but more likely the tiny segment through which we are passing at this very moment — limits us as much as it does the ant, and maybe more.
For the truth is, our purpose is far more defined by that eternity to which we are so ignorant than the ant’s is to the larger world. He needs only his space to thrive. We need eternity, and we will have it, one where or another, whether we understand it or not.
One day we’ll see eternity. One day we’ll understand. We are promised as much.
But in the meantime, we have to trust those who have touched it to teach us of eternal perspective.
What would you change today if you knew you were laying up for yourself treasures that would pass away on earth and not follow you into heaven?
Do you believe in your Savior’s promises enough to make that change?
And what peace might you find if you did?
Cuyler Meade is the editor of the Craig Press, but this column represents his personal religious beliefs and not necessarily the opinions of the newspaper.
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