LIFTING OUR THOUGHT TO ETERNITY
A Sermon by Rev. Grant H. Odhner
Preached in Oak Arbor, Michigan March 17, 1991
“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains … ” (Psalm 121:1).
Mountains have always inspired people with awe. Who has walked among mountains and not been aware, at some time, of his own insignificance?
Mountains give us a means of appreciating relative sizes and forces, distances and times. We feel small next to them. The creative efforts of human beings seem puny by contrast. We can dramatically alter many landscapes can level hills, redirect rivers, fill swamps, cover miles of green with pavement and skyscraper but mountains are remarkably resistant to human manipulation. They defy taming. There is also something timeless about them. They stand unchanged for ages. They silently proclaim a time before we were, and a time after we will be gone.
For those who believe in God, mountains have always provided not only a humbling perspective on humanity, but also an awesome perspective on the infinity and eternity of our Creator. Do mountains seem immense and unchanging to us? Yet, sang the Psalmist:
[Yehowah] looks at the earth and it trembles; He touches the hills and they smoke (Psalm 104:32, emphasis added).
The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord (Psalm 97:5).
Mountains indeed seem ancient to us. Yet the prophets declared:
He looked … and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills bowed. His ways are everlasting! (Hab. 3:6, emphasis added).
Before the mountains were brought forth or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God (Psalm 90:2).
The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from you (Isaiah 54:10).
Mountains and hills have been symbols through the ages of what is Divine, unchanging, eternal. In the Word they bring to our attention these qualities about the Lord, either by contrast, as in the passages we just read, or directly, as in our text:
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains from whence comes my help. My help is from the Lord, Who made the heavens and the earth (Psalm 121:1,2).
Here the mountains are the Lord. This Psalm is about the Lord’s perpetual watchfulness, guidance, protection. He is pictured as a watchman, who neither “slumbers nor sleeps” (vv. 3-5). He guards us constantly, by day and by night (v. 6). The Psalm ends:
The Lord shall preserve your going out and coming in, from this time forth, and even for evermore (v. 8).
“For evermore.” To eternity!
Our subject today is lifting our thought to the Lord, who is eternal life lifting “our eyes to the mountains.”
The Word tells us many things that we cannot know from mere sense experience, among them that our life is eternal. Our senses teach us that all things around us pass away. All living forms gradually grow old, their metabolism slows, they decompose. Even land formations and seas change and cease. Planets and suns grow cold or explode. Perhaps we can see that energy is conserved and conclude from experience that energy might be eternal. But this says nothing of individual human minds.
In our day-to-day lives we generally don’t sense life as eternal. We face the tasks at hand; we set goals that affect the foreseeable future next week, next month, in rare cases next year. For most of us life is busy and preoccupying. The needs of the body are relentless: food, clothing, shelter, sufficient comfort. The needs of the mind are ever with us too. More than ever before perhaps, we are aware of all sorts of things that we see as important for our proper maintenance and betterment. We have all sorts of goals and ambitions for our own mental well- being and for our children’s. This makes life very busy, and leaves little time for reflection on what is eternal.
When we ask the question, “What is eternal about our lives?,” we can think of “eternal” in two ways: we can think of it as a matter of what is timeless, or we can think of it as a matter of what is enduring through time, of what lasts.
Properly speaking, eternity is not a matter of time. It is not just an infinite amount of time. Eternity is as much this moment as it is a millenium (see TCR 31). The Lord, who is the eternal, has no beginning and no end; everything is present to Him, as the Psalmist suggested: “a thousand years in [His] sight are like yesterday when it is past” ( Psalm 90:4).
Time belongs to nature. We have time because physical matter defines distances, and movement across distances marks times. As the earth spins, it marks out regular periods of dark and light. As it moves around the sun, it marks our seasons and years.
Of course, the Lord does act in time. How else could He touch us and lead us? He is in all time, but apart from time, and in all space, apart from space (see TCR 31). He is not bounded by them or defined by them.
Certainly, for us eternity involves time. We have our beginning in time, we live in time, and we come to appreciate the Lord’s constancy and wisdom through time. It is impossible for us to envision the unbounded nature of the Divine without thinking of endless time (see TCR 31; AC 1382, 4204).
Still, we can all become aware that there is something beyond fixed time. It is a common observation that when we are engrossed in something, our sense of time vanishes. A minute can seem like an hour. We discover that what we thought had been an hour was actually two or three. The same is true when we are with someone we love for example, lost in conversation. Time becomes irrelevant! At that moment we have no other belief than that we will know and love that person two thousand years from now!
Our mind with its loves, affections, and thoughts is actually not in time; it too is “in time, apart from time.” We become so accustomed to disciplining our enjoyments and our thinking to a timetable that this can be hard to see, but it’s so. The mind knows no time! It grows and changes through time, but it always remains unbound by it. Our bodies grow old and wrinkles appear, our functions slow and become less vibrant, but our minds’ capacities for growth remain. Our capacity to love and empathize and understand what is important in life actually increases, provided we allow the Lord to regenerate us.
We have a common perception, especially about those whom we know well and love (e.g. spouses, children, friends), that they do not die with the body. The Lord implants in all people the perception that life is eternal. It’s not that He wishes to subtly persuade us to believe in the afterlife against our will. Rather, the perception simply results from the fact, which cannot be hidden, that unique human beings cannot die.
We are able, then, to sense that our life is eternal not with our physical senses but with our spiritual senses. The only requisite is that we have some idea, however scanty, about eternal life (which doubtless exists in every culture). And, of course, we must also reflect.
If we attend to our mental life, and withdraw our minds from the demands of the moment from bodily needs, from worldly cares, from concern about appointments and deadlines, from considerations of our age, the time of day, the time of year, our physical location then we can notice the timeless quality of our loves and thoughts, and of our deeper relationships with others. We can especially notice this when we reflect on what delights us, engages us, motivates us, sustains us. More particularly, we become aware of what is eternal, by lifting our thoughts to the things of heaven, lifting our “eyes unto the mountains.”
“Mountains” in the Word stand for heaven, as well as for the Lord. To be in heaven is to be in the Lord and in the eternal. In the spiritual world, when a newcomer looks toward some heaven and approaches, he sees mountains. The communities there actually appear to be in the mountains (see TCR 336; AE 405:5; e.g. CL 75:2,76,77).
Heaven is called “eternal life” in the Word. It is the place where one will live forever and not die. In a sense, life in heaven is no more eternal than life here. Angels’ lives are finite and limited, like ours. They are still bound by certain constraints of their world; they still change and grow and learn in finite steps that follow one after another. Day follows upon day with them as with us. There is a reality that appears just like our time (see HH 163; TCR 29).
An important difference is that in heaven life is not forced to take place within a fixed material universe, with its physical laws. There life unfolds according to the loves, strivings, and activities of the spirit. The laws in operation there are the laws of the mind. There time does not determine the course of the body’s changes; the state of mind does. The body stays as young and vibrant as the mental outlook. All things there are governed by considerations of states of mind.
For example, in heaven when an angel feels really inspired to serve the neighbor, it’s morning time, and he has a full day ahead of him. Time bows to his state of mind. He never has the frustration of feeling inspired at midnight when he can’t act on the inspiration. When an angel wishes to do something for another (the Lord willing), he never has the frustration of being fifty miles away; distance bows to his state of mind. When an angel begins to feel mentally tired and needs refreshment, it’s afternoon. (He can leave his active duties and find recreation.) When he begins to feel dull and in need of new inspiration, it’s evening. He is then in his home; he is removed from people (both spacially and mentally), where he can reflect on himself and rededicate himself to the Lord.
The spiritual world is this way in all respects: space and time follow mental states. All those in a given community experience a similar progression. The Lord gathers their states into a common flow and sequence that suits all.
So heaven is called “eternal life,” because there we will enjoy greater freedom from rigid, earthly time. Our bodies will never grow old and die. We will live a truly spiritual life, in which we can love and serve others more deeply and fully, in which we can enjoy a fuller sense of being in the Lord’s life and blessings. This is what He longs for.
It is vital that we think about eternal life! Our lives are filled with so many things. We can become so unmindful of what is important and lasting! We can forget to seek out that state of mind in which time is not a factor, in which the only thing that matters is our attitude and our goals, and what’s in our heart. These things alone are timeless; they alone have a lasting impact on our future. Reflecting that our life is eternal enables us to live for something larger than the moment. It enables us to live as spiritual and not worldly beings.
Consider the picture offered in our text of looking toward the mountains. Mountains offer us perspective. We cannot appreciate distances apart from contrast. If we look at the sky and set our gaze, even at a hundred miles, we are struck with little awe, for (unless there are clouds or an airplane) there is nothing that gives us a sense of that great distance. That distance might as well be a mile as a hundred miles. But when we look up at a mountain, or out from a mountain, the case is different. Then the distance before us becomes meaningful. We can trace this distance with our eye tree by tree, over farm, river, town. We can feel this distance. Sometimes we can sense the space before us palpably as a tingling in our stomach!
Similarly, eternal things, the things of heaven, give us a spiritual perspective that we can’t otherwise have. Without reflecting on what is eternal, we have no means of seeing the relative importance and value of what we are loving, thinking, or doing right now. We have no way of seeing genuine progress, or detecting how far afield we are straying. In fact, without reflecting on eternal life we have no true freedom! because the sense that our life is eternal is what gives real significance to our choices (see DP 73:6f; TCR 498).
A moment’s reflection on eternal life can lift us from the tangled forests of our natural lives, and place us on a mountain from which we can survey what is below. We can find quiet above the pressures of the moment, above the desires of our old will. We can feel new breezes of life. We can experience the Lord His enduring presence, His everlasting love, His awesome power, His timeless peace.
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains
From whence comes my help.
My help is from the Lord,
Who made the heaven and the earth.
Lessons: Psalm 121; Luke 12:16-40; DP 59
Divine Providence 59
It has not been known before this that the Divine Providence in all its proceedings with a human being regards his eternal state. It can regard nothing else, because the Divine is Infinite and Eternal, and the Infinite and Eternal, that is, the Divine, is not in time, and hence all future things are present to Him. And because this is the nature of the Divine, it follows that the eternal is in all things that it does, in general and in particular. Those, however, who think from time and space have difficulty in perceiving this, not only because they love temporal things, but also because they think from what is present in the world and not from what is present in heaven, for this to them is as far away as the end of the earth. When, however, those who are in the Divine think from what is present, they think also from what is eternal, because they think from the Lord. They say to themselves, “What is that which is not eternal? Is not the temporal comparatively as nothing, and does it not also become nothing when it comes to an end? It is not so with what is eternal; that alone is, because its being (esse) has no end.” To think thus while thinking from what is present is to think at the same time from what is eternal; and when a person so thinks, and at the same time so lives, then the Divine Proceeding with him, that is, the Divine Providence, regards in all its progress the state of his eternal life in heaven, and leads him to that state. It will be seen in what follows that the Divine regards what is eternal in all people, the wicked as well as the good.