“Is this real life?” David After Dentist is a hilarious viral video of a 7-year old boy fresh out of a dental procedure who is clearly still feeling the effects of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. David’s father assures him that, yes, this is real life. But for Christians, this is also eternal life. We’re living in it now.
Eternal life is knowing God
In John 17, Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God:
1 Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. 3 This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ. 4 I have glorified you on the earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with that glory I had with you before the world existed.
John 17:1–5, CSB
This passage is the beginning of the longest recorded prayer of Jesus, and it’s filled with love for his disciples—all of us throughout history. As Gary M. Burge notes,
John 17 gives us a glimpse into the heart of Jesus unlike any other chapter in the four Gospels. (The NIV Application Commentary: John) Dane Ortlund takes it further in his book, Gentle and Lowly, when he describes Christ’s bottomless well of grace:
Jesus Christ is comforted when you draw from the riches of his atoning work, because his own body is getting healed. Jesus desires for his people to not only be with him eternally, but to come to him now, in this age, for grace.
There’s a lot to unpack in just these five verses, but one phrase that is often overlooked is, “This is eternal life: that they may know you” (v. 3). Louis Berkhof describes the nature of eternal life in his major theological treatise:
The reward of the righteous is described as eternal life, that is, not merely an endless life, but life in all its fulness, without any of the imperfections and disturbances of the present, Matt. 25:46; Rom. 2:7. The fulness of this life is enjoyed in communion with God, which is really the essence of eternal life, Rev. 21:3. They will see God in Jesus Christ face to face, will find full satisfaction in Him, will rejoice in Him, and will glorify Him.
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology
Eternal life is not simply living forever, nor does it begin once the faithful believer dies. The gift of eternal life is complete and everlasting union with the fullness of God in Jesus Christ, face to face. Even better, it begins in this life. If eternal life, as defined by Christ himself, is to know God, then those of us who know God are experiencing it now. Eternal life for the Christian bleeds backward into time. Just as a door can be opened to let in the sunshine while a person is still inside, so too, can the Christian experience the warmth of the Son in this present life. And how much better to finally pass through that open door into the fresh air of God’s full glory? (Philippians 1:12)
Obstacles to experiencing eternal life now
There are many obstacles to experiencing the warmth of Jesus in this present life. To continue with the open door analogy, there’s a lot happening in this room. Life gets busy and distracting. Our bodies and minds are imperfect, plaguing us with physical and mental sicknesses. Anxiety, depression, cancer, eating disorders, insomnia. Evil abounds, striving always to turn our eyes and hearts away from Jesus.
These “imperfections and disturbances,” as Berkhof calls them, can be seriously heavy burdens. It would be dismissive to suggest that the person struggling with depression simply have more faith, though. God chooses to work primarily through his creation, and we’re not meant to live the Christian life alone.
Carry one another’s burdens, (Galatians 6:2, CSB) and allow others to carry yours. Seek professional help, if needed, to manage the things that might prevent you from experiencing the Son of God presently. It is not a weak faith that treats fill-in-the-blank with health providers, prescribed medication, or licensed therapists.
Look to the second coming
As Christians, our hope is found in Jesus and his second coming to restore all things to perfection. We are told to watch and pray in anticipation of the second coming of Christ,
waiting expectantly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. (Jude 21, CSB)