People often ask two questions when they find out you are writing a book: What’s it about? and Why are you writing it?
The answer to the first question comes easily: This book is about eternity. With people I know, this response has frequently brought a puzzled look and another quick question, OK, what part of eternity?” or something similar. We know that just thinking about eternity can be mind boggling, so my response has been, “Just the part that’s going to affect us.”
The second question is more difficult to answer. Searching back to uncover the motivation for writing a book requires some thinking. Reading Os Guiness’ book, Dining With The Devil, surely stimulated me. I believe the major premise of his book is to help us see how much church activity in Christendom is an appeal to the world using worldly rather than spiritual tools. And the Devil is in the details! That got me thinking about Christian formation.
Sometime earlier I had seen a video developed by Joel Barker, “The Business of the Future—The Power of Vision.” That put eternity right in front of me and I started looking for books on that. I found few books dealing with the subject of eternity, although there were a number of titles with reference to the future.
Here is what I found in looking at the summary points from Joel Barker’s “The Power of Vision” video:
A positive vision of the future is what gives meaning to life.
Vision without action is merely a dream.
Action without vision just passes time.
Vision with action can change the world.
While Barker is making the application to business organizations, I think there is great value about vision for Christians in the 21st Century Church.
To back up his thinking about the power of vision and the future, in the video Barker reads from a book. The story here grabbed my attention and moved me to think about writing. He read from Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, where Frankl records his experiences in a German concentration camp during World War II. From those experiences, he wrote:
“Almost in tears from pain (I had terrible sores on my feet from wearing torn shoes), I limped a few kilometers with our long column of men from the camp to our work site. Very cold, bitter winds struck us. I kept thinking of the endless little problems of our miserable life. What would there be to eat tonight? If a piece of sausage came as extra ration, should I exchange it for a piece of bread? How could I get a piece of wire to replace the fragment that served as one of my shoelaces? Would I get to our work site in time to join my usual working party or would I have to join another, which might have a brutal foreman? What could I do to get on good terms with the Capo, who could help me to obtain work in the camp instead of undertaking this horrible long daily march
“I became disgusted with the state of affairs which compelled me, daily and hourly, to think of only such trivial things. I forced my thoughts to turn to another subject. Suddenly, I saw myself standing on the platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! All that oppressed me at that moment became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of Science. By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past.”*
To summarize his thinking about the power of the future, Dr. Frankl wrote, “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay.”
Finally, he defined what was the common denominator of all the survivors he knew about at Auschwitz and Dachau. Frankl said that “all had something left they wanted to accomplish.” For Frankl, it was the idea of seeing himself in America, lecturing in a full, warm and well-lit auditorium about his experiences in the German concentration camps.
Somewhere in Barker’s video the Christian church in America came into focus. It occurred to me that Viktor Frankl might have identified the primary issue that make sour Christian faith so normal in today’s world. Frankl, in as desperate and horrible a situation as can be imagined, was able to transcend his circumstances by looking into the future. For him and thousands of others, the future was not at all certain yet its power reached them in the depths of the German death camps.
For the Christian the future and the eternal are certitudes exceeding present realities. Nonetheless, the cultural compulsion of the present so absorbs our thinking and our energies that the power of the future (eternity) fizzles out like a giant rocket unable to rise from its launching pad. Rather than being those who turn the world up-side-down we are swayed by every fad and whim of a culture gone mad. We have exchanged the power of the Eternal for the paralysis of the present, waiting for the next fad.
This book’s major premise is that we are already living in eternity. At times we don’t know it or we forget it. In either case, eternity can’t influence our lives. By taking the basic teaching of Jesus in the gospels, I have tried to picture eternity as (1) real, (2) present now, (3) the dimension Jesus intends us to live in, (4) the perspective that will radically change people and the church as we know it today.
Christians individually and the church collectively are God’s instruments in the world for reconciliation between God and mankind, and between people in conflict. If God’s people don’t bring eternity into the present, it isn’t going to happen. And it’s not going to happen unless we have living contact with the Eternal. Living in eternity requires daily connecting with the Eternal!
Our encounter with the Eternal begins with a non-negotiable reliance on the Word of God as our guide to life. While our culture has discarded God’s Word, it remains our opening link to eternity. The very first Psalm identifies that connection: The blessed person, the writer says, “meditates daily on God’s Word.” He concludes by declaring that person “will eternally live in God’s presence.” (Psalm 1).
Now, about this book—how can you use it? There are two ways. To provide a general understanding about living in eternity, read through it as you would a newspaper. The text provides enough Scripture to support the key points. A more comprehensive way for reading the book is to use it as a study guide. Additional Scripture references are listed throughout to encourage either individual or group study. I have tried to be faithful to the context of passages so that positions are honestly presented. In many cases, several texts are identified to show the uniform nature of God’s revelation about living in eternity.
Ultimately, it is God’s power and grace that will bring radical change to lives and to the church. The intended impact on readers is to have you see and accept God’s purpose from creation forward that we should live in eternity. Individuals and churches can be controlled by our culture and our times. For important reasons, then, we have to identify ourselves as children of eternity.
To challenge your thinking as you read, I would like to suggest that much of what we hear from Christian media is about what is between today and the horizon. That is what we can see. We like the here-now stories and how to maximize what we have and what we can get. This book will lead you to the here-after, to what is beyond the horizon and what we can’t see but what God has for you. That is where the power of vision will change your life and your church. I hope you’re not afraid to venture into the great experience of living in eternity.
Don Parker Decker
San Gabriel, California
*From Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl. Copyright 1959, 1962, 1984, 1992 by Viktor E. Frankl. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press.