Friday, April 13, 2007

Theology: Eternal Life: When and How?

I usually don't just copy-and-paste like this, but I want these thoughts all in one place before I write a blog post about it; since it's here, it might as well be public. I said I wasn't going to blog during Lent, but that didn't stop me from taking part in numerous threads at Catholic Answer Forums, including a lengthy one on the Catholic understanding of Eternal Life. The final post I made was an on-the-spot interpretation of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

I'll follow this up with a regularly-formatted blog post in the near future. For now, feel free to comment on the posts I've copied and pasted.

Eternal life -- that is, as opposed to eternal death (as contradictory as it sounds) -- is given to those who endure to the end (cf. Matt 10:22). Eternal life is a direct result of perseverance in a temporal life being lived in Christ. Contrast that with the temporal life lived in Christ until the times get tough (Matt 13:18-23):
"Hear then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path.
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
Not all who hear the Word understand it. Not all who understand it believe it. Not all who believe it let it take hold in them. It is not for us to say "so-and-so has eternal life". Even Paul wasn't sure of his own salvation: Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:25-27) Paul admits he constantly fights against his body (that is, his fleshly impulses).

The letter to the Hebrews stresses that we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it (Heb 2:1).

Peter's second letter refers to the possibility of being led astray by false teachers who contort Scripture: And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability. (2 Pet 3:15-17) If we are to beware lest we lose our stability, surely that stability must be related to our salvation.

The love of God is unconditional; we can only love because He first loved us. However, salvation is conditional. Jesus, Paul, and Peter make that abundantly clear.

Originally Posted by Socrates4Jesus View Post
"If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."
-- Jesus Christ (John 14:15-17)
You left out something VERY important in your citation. Allow me to include it for you:
-- Jesus Christ to his Apostles (John 14:15-17)
Jesus is talking specifically to the Apostles at the Last Supper. He's not staring off into space, dreamy-eyed, he's talking to the first 12 members of his Church. He's speaking to the Church. Throughout this chapter, certain Apostles ask questions, and Jesus answers them. Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father, and Jesus responds (John 14:9-21):
"Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.

"I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."
The Spirit is in the Church; it will be in the Church for ever (cf. John 14:16). The world cannot accept the Spirit, because it does not know him. The Church knows and accepts the Spirit, but a single member of the Church who returns to the worldly way of life will not be with the Spirit.

If we assume that Jesus is speaking to every future Christian individually, you will run into the problem of the Spirit being with a person who stops loving Jesus. Let's look at a timeline:
  1. I love Jesus, therefore I keep his commandments. (cf. John 14:15)
  2. Jesus prays to the Father and the Father sends the Counselor to be with me forever. (cf. John 14:16)
  3. I stop loving Jesus and disobey his commandments.
  4. The Spirit remains with me. (See #2)
So if I go to Hell, is the Spirit of God, the Counselor, with me in Hell? What purpose is that serving?

So the typical response is to say either a) "you won't stop loving Jesus" or b) "if you stopped loving him, you never really loved him in the first place, so you never got the Spirit". That's what happens when you don't understand that the Spirit resides in the Church and therefore in all members of the Church.

Originally Posted by Socrates4Jesus View Post
Can anyone else think of another passage of the Bible that explains John 5:24?
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."
There are two ways of understanding this statement of Jesus; one follows from a belief in universal predestination (God has destined some of us to salvation and some of us to condemnation), the other follows from a belief in the active participation of each person in the life of grace and faith offered to us by God.

Consider: "Whoever crosses the finish line first has the gold medal." Does one have the gold medal before finishing the race? No, the gold medal is the result for completing the race first.

Consider: "Whoever crosses the finish line first has great speed." Does one have great speed before finishing the race? Yes, winning the race is the result of being tall.

So which is Jesus saying? Which is the cause, the belief or the eternal life? Catholics believe the former, that eternal life is the result of belief in Jesus Christ; many Protestant denominations believe the latter, that only those who have eternal life can (and will) believe in Jesus. They see "eternal life" as a line (that is, stretching infinitely in both directions) rather than as a ray (that is, an infinite length with a definite starting point).

As for passages of Scripture that support the Catholic doctrine in this regard, I find Peter's shaky history an excellent example. Let's go through a series of pericopes and try to determine the status of Peter's "eternal life":
So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 10:32-33, cf. Luke 12:8-9)
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." (Matt 16:15-17)
Jesus said to him, "Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you." And so said all the disciples. (Matt 26:34-35)
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a maid came up to him, and said, "You also were with Jesus the Galilean." But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you mean."
And when he went out to the porch, another maid saw him, and she said to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." And again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man."
After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you." Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know the man."
And immediately the cock crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matt 26:69-75)
if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us. (2 Tim 2:12)
So, did Peter have eternal life when he professed, by the grace of God, that Jesus was the Christ? How could Peter have professed that Jesus was Christ in the midst of the Apostles (either gaining eternal life, or as a sign he has eternal life) and denied Jesus in front of many witnesses (clearly an act for which he would be denied by Jesus)?

Originally Posted by petra View Post
Respectfully, Japhy, the scriptures disagree with you. While eternal life is also something we hope for (Hebrews 10:3), it is also something that we can presently have.
I think the Scriptures point to eternal life as an inheritance that we must come in to, in order to actually "have" or "receive" it. Here's a look through Scripture; this isn't exhaustive, but contains passages which I believe point to the "inheritance" idea, as well as some which are less certain:

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Dan 12:2) At the resurrection is the realization of everlasting life in our entire bodies (as opposed to just our souls).

"And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life." (Matt 19:29) An inheritance is a promise of a future receipt.
In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13-14) Note Paul does not say "sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit". He says we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (which we had been promised), and that is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Col 1:11-12) It's like the best "junk" mail ever: "You are already qualified to inherit Eternal Life!"

Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. (Col 3:23-24) We will receive our inheritance.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. (Heb 9:15) The eternal inheritance has been promised, but only those who are called will receive it.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. (1 Pet 1:3-4) Our promise of eternal life is realized in a heaven.
And a ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18) More inheritance.

And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life." (Luke 18:29-30) We receive sustinence from God in "this time", and eternal life "in the age to come" (which I interpret as meaning at the end of time).

"And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matt 25:46) The righteous go into eternal life at the Judgment.

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14-16) The juxtaposition of "eternal life" and "perishing" speaks to the ultimate destiny of our bodies.

"But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14) The "water" of Jesus produces a spring, which wells up to eternal life, as if filling a well which measures the completeness of our sanctification, the result being eternal life.

"Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal. ... He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:27, 54) If this is not to contradict with the rest of Scriptures, I think Jesus is speaking of an inheritance acquired by eating his flesh and drinking his blood.


"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28) Jesus is again juxtaposing the giving of eternal life (salvation) with perishing (being condemned).

"And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3) I guess this is the definition of eternal life, eh? Knowing God is something we accomplish when we are face to face with Him; we know the Father through the Son, but we will know God in His Completeness when we see Him.

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48) To "ordain" means "to dictate, to decree; to pre-arrange; to establish". I think this fits in with the "inheritance" economy.

But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. (Rom 2:5-8) On the day of judgment, God gives eternal life to the righteous.

But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Rom 6:21-22) Upon submitting ourselves to the will of God, we begin the process of sanctification, the end of which is eternal life.

For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Gal 6:8) Eternal life is the "crop", a life in the Spirit is the "seed".

Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Tim 6:12) I think Paul is challenging them to live their lives as though they have already received what was promised to them, or else he's using emphasis to say "wake up and live like a Christian!"

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised ages ago. (Tit 1:2) We are in the hope of eternal life, which is a promise from God.

So that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. (Tit 3:7) We are heirs to eternal life (our inheritance).

And this is what he has promised us, eternal life. (1 John 2:25) It is a promise to be realized.

Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15) This is tricky. I think it means that eternal life is a part of us, so long as we are in Christ. That is, eternal life is due to the dwelling of the Spirit of God in us, and so no one without the Spirit of God dwelling in him (such as an unrepentant murderer) has eternal life within him.

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life. I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 3:11-13) This (which you quoted) is also kind of tricky to reconcile with the previous Scriptures. I think the key is that John says "this life is in his Son", so eternal life isn't "had" as a possession is had, it's "had" in the sense that we abide in it (as it abides in us) when we are in Christ. I'm open to other interpretations, so long as they don't end up contradicting the previous passages.

But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. (Jude 20-21) I think this speaks towards the inheritance of eternal life as the "final act of mercy", if you will, of Jesus Christ to us who remain in him.

In another, simpler approach to John 17:3, if eternal life is God, then if one "has" eternal life, one "has" God, or one is in God. As petra stated, it's not your possession of the life which is eternal, but rather, eternity is a quality of that life, and as long as you are a partaker in that life, you are a partaker in eternity. You can lose (or deny) that knowledge of God, and thus be apart from it, but that doesn't change the fact that the eternal life is God.

Originally Posted by petra View Post
However, they do not preclude that a specific quality of eternal life can be experienced now. Scriptures and the Catechism support this.

It is both. We can have eternal life now, and it is also our future inheritance if we remain in Christ.
Ah, we find agreement. Yes, I agree with you now. The bolded part of your response clears things up for me, especially in light of 1 Tim 6:12 (Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.)

2 Peter 1:10-11... choose your translation. Preface (2 Peter 1:3-9) is from the RSV:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.

For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
(RSV) Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(NAB) Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble. For, in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

(KJV) Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

It sounds like Peter is saying it is our duty to make certain (or sure, or firm) our calling and election. We must make sure of it, so that we will not fall. How do we do that? By manifesting the qualities found in the first verses of the letter: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. But not only must we have these, they must abound! The person in whom they are not present, or are shown grudgingly (that is, not aboundingly) has forgotten that he was cleansed of his sin; it doesn't say he was never "elect" or never forgiven in the first place, it says he forgot that he was forgiven (and therefore, what was expected of him in return).

Originally Posted by guanophore View Post
Peter lied to save his own skin. that is not the same as denying his belief in Christ. He never stopped believing that Jesus was/is the messiah. He just got scared.
I disagree that it was that simple.

"So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven." (Matt 10:32-33)

"Hear then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." (Matt 13:18-23)

Jesus is talking about people being ashamed of him when the situation for a faithful witness to Christ comes about, a situation that may be a tribulation or persecution. When Peter had to follow through on his promise to Jesus (not to deny him but rather to die with him)... he couldn't. Whether or not he lost his faith in Jesus is not the issue -- if he lost it, certainly he regained it -- but that he was afraid for himself because of Jesus and denied having anything to do with Jesus, lest harm come to him.

Originally Posted by Socrates4Jesus View Post
I agree that there is no doubt these are things all Christians should do. After all Jesus suffered to bring us to the Father, how can we do anything else?
Well, specifically, we are called to share in his suffering, which for us is manifested not only by dealing with the temptation of sin, but with persecution. Paul litters his epistles with the theme of suffering with Christ so as to share in Christ's rejoicing; Peter's letters contain the theme as well. Here are a few passages:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:15-18)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Cor 1:3-5)

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. (Phil 1:29)

[T]hat I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil 3:10-12)

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (Col 1:24) Yes, Paul said it! Our sufferings are a necessary part of the ongoing sanctification of the Church! Of course, he does not say that Jesus's sacrifice was lacking, and the Catholic Church wholeheartedly agrees.

Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God. (2 Tim 1:8)

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 2:3)

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)

Originally Posted by Socrates4Jesus View Post
The doubt with which i am struggling is whether eternal life (and heaven itself) is one of the rewards or is a gift for which i can do nothing to merit or earn.
Eternal life is our inheritence from God our Father, if we are truly His children by being truly brothers and sisters of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. An inheritence is not "earned" or "merited" except through sonship; but to denounce sonship is to denounce the inheritence. Does this make sense to you?

Let me put it to you the way Jesus did, in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The rash youth decides he wants to go his own way, and his father accepts his son's decision and gives the boy his share of the property at that time. The son squanders away his property and wealth and eventually realizes he must return to his father, if only so that he can survive (cf. 15:17)! He decides he will say, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants." (15:18-19). Notice the son doesn't even ask to be forgiven -- just that he be treated as a servant. He does not consider himself worthy of an inheritence, just a laborer's wage!

Does he get to say it all? No, his father cuts him off after "I am no longer worthy to be called your son" (cf. 15:21-22). What the son has just said is an admission of guilt ("I have sinned"), and an act of contrition and humility ("I am not worthy"). The boy's father -- who has already embraced and kissed him before the boy even spoke -- knows the penitence of the boy and celebrates his return. His return from what? The father says "my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found" (15:24). Was the lost son, the dead son going to receive an inheritence if he remained dead and lost to his father? All the hoping in the world, on the father's part, would not have brought his son back if the son had not actually returned.

And what does the son receive upon his return? Is it something the father would have given to a hired servant? No, the son receives a fine robe, a ring, shoes for his feet, a fatted calf, and a feast and celebration (cf. 15:22-23). This is part of the inheritence, part of the joys of sonship. Truly he did not "merit" or "earn" such gifts -- this is attested to by the faithful son who feels cheated, because he did not receive such things. The father tells the faithful son "all that is mine is yours" (15:31), and so it is revealed that the gifts of the father are bestowed on his children as he wishes and not by any merit of their own.

What the son took with him when he left was not his proper inheritence. He returned to his inheritence only when he returned to the father. His real inheritence never disappeared, he was only disqualified from it.

No comments: