My eternity room is the last one we’ll walk through today. One strange thing about it is that it looks like the East side of the room goes on and on with no solid wall. It’s a clever use of mirrors to illustrate the theme. I also have the sign for “infinity” hanging on the South wall to help symbolize the idea. I mean the side-ways figure eight, not the emblem for that high-end Japanese car.
It makes sense that, as soon as we leave the room of mortality, we walk into the room of eternity. Regardless of what you believe, death marks the beginning of an eternity of some sort. Naturalists who reject any spiritual existence will have an eternity of non-existence. They live; they die; and they’re gone—period. A final period.
Those who accept reincarnation envision themselves coming back in some other life form that is determined by their karma. “Karma,” which means “action,” is something we presumably accumulate, whether good or bad, based on our actions and reactions in life. At death, if we have greater good karma, we will work our way up the ladder, so to speak, still trying to achieve what most Hindus call “moksha,” a kind of final salvation. One point that might surprise you is that the Hindu approach to all of this ultimately wants to stop the reincarnation process. They don’t want it to go on and on. They refer to this ongoing cycle as “samsara”—the wheel of rebirth. The ultimate objective is to get off this wheel. When they attain moksha, they will not suffer the experience of rebirth any longer. Many versions of Hinduism claim that, at that point, the eternal soul loses its individual identity and becomes “one” with Brahman, which is the oneness of all that is.
This approach to eternity is very different from what we find in the monotheistic (one-God) religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In general, these religions think of eternity as the ongoing existence of the individual who will experience either a reality of joy with God or a reality of misery without God. In a sense, one underlying question in these religions is “How can I live forever?” Ironically, it seems that according to Hinduism, a key underlying objective is something more like “How can I stay dead?” That is, how can I avoid coming back to life and, instead, ultimately lose my individual identity forever?”
The Christian faith is unique in many ways, not only from religions like Hinduism but from Judaism and Islam. First, it emphasizes the grace of God through Jesus that makes my eternity with God possible. I don’t—and I can’t—earn it. The apostle Paul says it this way: “By grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). On the other hand, karma is all about works. And neither Judaism nor Islam offers the kind of grace that provides an assurance of salvation. The Christian sense of assurance is at the heart of the good news of Christ. The apostle John concluded one of his letters this way: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13; emphasis added). There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul says (Romans 8:1). One thing that’s so appealing to me is that this assurance does not merely point to some eternal future after my death, it gives me a whole new way of living life right now. I can live without overwhelming guilt, even though I am certainly not perfect. I don’t need to wonder whether I have done enough to earn God’s favor. I may die tomorrow in an accident, but I can always be ready for it. My room of eternity is designed to help me think not just about what comes after my physical death but about how and why I can approach it with confidence and a genuine sense of peace.
Second, I must explain the odd wall on the North. It has a very large disk-shaped stone standing on its edge. On the other side of the stone is a dark closet with no lights. My previous tour guests have been especially inquisitive about this strange feature. I had it constructed to symbolize a point that is necessary for my understanding of eternity. If you push and roll the stone to the left, you will see enough to note that the closet has nothing but an empty bench inside. Every Easter, I have my family and a few friends come over to help me move the stone to take another look. We always have the same reaction: “Yep, it’s empty. No one here.”
It may sound like a weird tradition, but it’s critical to how I see eternity. If you are aware of the basics of the Christian faith, you probably already know what the stone and the closet symbolize. All four of the New Testament gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) indicate that the dead body of Jesus was put in a tomb with a large stone placed over the entrance. Matthew adds that the tomb was made secure by Governor Pilate who had guards posted at the tomb and a “seal” placed over the stone. He was trying to satisfy some Jewish leaders who were afraid that Jesus’ disciples would steal the body and claim that he had been raised.
But the Christian message is that the body of Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day after his death. Women who came to visit the tomb saw the stone had been rolled away and the body of Jesus was not in the tomb (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24). Shortly after, Peter and John saw the same tomb (Luke 24:12; John 20:1-10). It was empty!
If it were not for the resurrection of Jesus, I would have no hope whatsoever for eternity—for any existence after death. The apostle Paul clearly admitted this himself: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14). He even says that if our hope in Christ applies only for this life, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). But, he says, Jesus was raised from the dead. And because of that, all who are “in Christ” will be “made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). Death itself will be abolished, and those who are in Christ will be transformed and raised with a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:42-44). “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may have a new life” (Romans 6:4).
This room, and that stone, remind me of the assurance I have of an eternity with God. They remind me of why I can confidently believe in a “new heaven and a new earth” where there will “no longer be any death, or mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelation 21:1-4). That is something worth dying for. And that is something worth living for.