Recently I was contacted by a university student writing a paper for a Philosophy 102 course. The topic is the interconnectedness of time and suffering (fascinating!). Finding that I created a course called The Beginning and End of Suffering, she asked for my perspective. I’m sharing these ideas here as a series. I welcome your feedback and questions.
Part 1 • Time
Have you thought much about the nature of time? Does it have a beginning? An end? My reason and my faith tell me that there is a supreme being who created everything else in existence. My reason and my faith tell me that, by nature, that being must be eternal. If He weren’t, He wouldn’t be supreme. How could there be anything at all if there weren’t an eternal, all-powerful creator? If there’s an eternal being, time must have no beginning or end.
I’ve read and studied the Bible over the years, and it is the only framework of reality that makes complete sense to me. That’s why I look to it for answers and eagerly share those answers with anyone who has the same questions. What I share in this series is based on what I find in the Bible. Whether you trust the Bible or not, I hope that you’ll take a look and see if this makes sense and provides any worthwhile insight and encouragement.
God and what He is — love, goodness, etc. — are eternal (1 Timothy 6:15-16). One of His names is “Beginning and End” — “Alpha and Omega” (Revelation 22:13). He is described as the One “who is and who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1:8), expressing that time consists of past, present, and future.
Why don’t we live forever?
What God creates, He intends to have no end. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had access to the Tree of Life, which was a symbol of the eternal life they had when they were united with God. Humans would have lived forever if Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten from the forbidden tree — the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17). When they did, their access to the Tree of Life was cut off, symbolizing a disconnection between them and their Creator (Genesis 3:24).
Adam and Eve’s choice to mistrust God and what He said about the tree led to their death and the mortality of all humanity. This is not how God designed things to be, but He gave them the choice and respected it (Genesis 3). The good news: He didn’t let that be the end of the story.
God wants to get things back to the way He intended them to be — where humanity lives forever in peace with Him and each other, so He (in the form of Jesus) died as a substitute for anyone who opts in to that substitution (John 3:16).
Two kinds of death
The Bible speaks of two different kinds of death: the first death and the second death. The first death is compared to sleep, and God will wake us up from it (resurrection); the first death is experienced by everyone who dies. The second death is final; there is no resurrection from it — except for Jesus, who experienced both kinds of death on the cross. The second death is the full consequence of sin (Romans 6:23), so it will happen only to people who don’t choose for Jesus’s death to be a substitute for their own. The second death is known also as hell (Revelation 20:14).
What will last forever? What won’t?
Those who choose for Jesus’s second death to be a substitute for their own will “put on immortality” — the Creator’s immortality — and live forever (John 3:16, Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54). This will happen when Jesus comes back to earth to take to heaven everyone who has chosen Him.
After the second coming, a thousand years (the millennium) will go by, and then the second death (hell) will occur on earth (Revelation 20). Death itself will be destroyed in hell (Revelation 20:14), so there no longer will be any death (Revelation 21:4). Humanity again will have access to the Tree of Life, symbolizing that they have eternal life, endlessly reconnected to the Creator (Revelation 22:14).
I encourage you to read part two of this series, in which I begin to discuss suffering — how and when it started, and how and when it will end.
Note: If you want to see what the referenced Bible texts say, you can look them up on BibleGateway. To understand what the Bible teaches about any topic, we must look at all of the passages on that topic. Every puzzle piece must be in place to see the whole picture. In this series, I’m providing scripture samples for brevity. To learn more, please ask me by commenting below or contacting me privately, and/or do your own study with the help of BibleGateway or a Bible concordance such as Blue Letter Bible.