I woke up early today with a long list of problems to solve and chores to finish. I started the day off by breaking one of the 10 Commandments (I chose to work on the sabbath). I finished my list of chores and solved many of the problems I set out to solve, and then I came home and worked up an entire new set of chores and problems to solve. Indeed, writing this post is both a chore and a solvable problem (how do I word this correctly?). By reading this you are completing a chore and solving a problem (do I understand what he’s trying to say?). By completing chores (both good and bad) and solving problems, we enable ourselves to form memories of the experiences. These memories form the basis of our experience of time. They also serve as a list of our accomplishments and failures, both of which exist in our perception of time.
This reality creates a paradox when thinking about eternal life. Generally speaking in the religious context, eternal life is characterized by the conceptions of eternal bliss (heaven) and eternal suffering (hell). With a few exceptions (some branches of Buddhism and Hinduism, for example), there is no in between. In many religions we die and experience the totality of one extreme and a null of the other. Both concepts of eternal life are completely meaningless.
Within the concept of eternal bliss, by definition we can have no pains and no concerns. There are no lists of chores to accomplish and no lists of problems to solve. Everything is perfect, painless, and certain. We can develop no meaningful memories if everything is always the same and we are forever stationed on the premise of bliss. If everything is eternally blissful then when do we sit back and take stock of our accomplishments? When do we feel relieved that a chore or problem didn’t end in failure? Furthermore, if we are under the system of eternal bliss, at least one of two non-mutally exclusive realities is necessary: 1) Eternal bliss is quite boring, or 2) Because we have no basis on which to form meaningful memories, eternity will inhabit a period of time smaller than the smallest measurement of time. Time without end will inhabit the same “space” (for lack of a better word) as a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a nanosecond.
Eternity in a mind-numbing paradise might be better understood as a mind-numbing torture. Either way, the concept of eternal bliss is meaningless, and we might be better off not existing at all.
In some Christian canons, hell is either a place where the Israelites burn garbage or a place where human sinners go to die a second death. Other religious (including many Christian) canons view hell as a place of eternal punishment. (The correct answer, according to the bible, is hell is a place where people go to die a second death, not eternal punishment).
Either way, if our existence is an eternity of suffering, then it should be safe to assume we experience no success, but instead eternal failure. If every act we take represents a totality of pain and a totality of failure, then it’s completely meaningless. Objective pain needs to be subjective to our other experiences. So what’s the base line? Infinity again would inhabit a tiny speck of time.
No. I don’t think there’s one to offer. Believers should have a difficult time with this one outside of complete conjecture. To illustrate this point, there is not a single verse in the Christian holy book that describes life beyond this one. Not one. Some verses call heaven “a city,” which doesn’t tell us anything. Others refer to it as a place where god sits on a throne and makes “all things new.” And some refer to heaven as a giant mansion. But there is no verse that says anything about eternal bliss. The best the bible says is that do-gooders will receive everlasting life, which we can only conceptualize as a life filled with the same problems we already have — not a life of eternal bliss.
But that too would be rather tedious. If we have an eternity to complete our chores and solve our problems, there’s no problem too big to solve and no chore too complicated to finish. We would either have no incentive to complete chores and solve problems, or we would get no satisfaction from doing so because, even with minimum effort, it would be a given that we wouldn’t fail.
Instead death is the reality that makes our memories and accomplishments meaningful. Death is a compelling motivator.
Finitude, not infinity, gives us meaning.