Growing up conservative evangelical, eternity often seemed like the only thing that mattered. The gospel was basically, "Jesus was God and died so you don't have to go to hell."
In high school, I remember standing in the grocery store check-out line and thinking, most of the people here are going to hell. The thought was so horrifying my socially anxious self briefly contemplated screaming out the message of Jesus.
Even in college, I was plagued by the notion that some of my best friends and roommates could die and burn forever. And I, being the shy and fearful introvert that I was, couldn't work up the courage to invite them to listen to the whole gospel. Talk to strangers? That I could do, but I could not talk to my friends.
I lacerated myself for my cowardice and even my introversion. How dare I be an introvert, how dare I need "me time," how dare I be private when people were dying and going to hell?
Still, I meant it when I declared that I would go to hell for my friends. In fact, I devised a plan to volunteer for hell in place everyone else in the entire world. Maybe that meant I loved others more than God, but I couldn't conceive of love, which is God, being immoral.
Yet, even as I panicked and prayed for their salvation, even as I tortured myself trying to pray for every random passerby I even saw - because what if no one else ever prayed for their salvation? - my beliefs on hell began shifting.
The gospel, insisted theologians and bloggers, with compelling evidence from the Bible itself, was about more than eternity. It included social justice, and it was good news - not terrible "most people will burn forever" news.
I'd always been an "inclusivist," indignantly dismissing the idea that God could condemn those who never heard the gospel. But then I began reading about annihilationism, Christian universalism, Calvinism and Armenianism, and more theories on eternity, and I realized that hell was not as clear-cut as I'd believed.
I cannot believe the gospel is good if I am saved but most people are tortured.
Because the more I reviewed the popular annihilation theory, the more repulsed I was. God wiping out the existence of people sounds like a cop-out. Oh, God won't torture people forever; He'll just take back the gift of life He's already bestowed. He'll undo his creations.
Annihilation removes the pain of eternal torture but not the pain of lost loved ones. And I cannot think that heaven is heaven without the people I love. My love for God should not erase my love for people, because, again, God is love.
Obviously, I lean towards an eventual Christian universalism - that everyone will be reconciled to Jesus in the end, although I suppose a temporary place for anyone who doesn't want God would have to exist. Because people being forced to love God would just be creepy. Then again, I am not a scholar and these are just ideas that pass through my mind.
I realize there is Biblical evidence for all the Big Three: eternal torment and annihilation and universalism, but I choose the one that presents a God who is actually good, the one that leaves infinite chances for redemption.
Now, my understanding of "good" is probably muddled due to my limited human understanding. But I don't see how rejoicing while another suffers or is gone forever could ever be good.
Still, despite my beliefs, I can't stop researching eternity.
People tell me it doesn't matter because no one can know (which is true). But then people tell me to focus on the here and now, and even if eternity doesn't exist, that's okay.
And that's when I yell hogwash.
If you say eternity doesn't matter, you say that it's too late for everyone who never got justice in this life. For the babies beaten to death to the victims of the Holocaust to those slain by serial killers, justice will never come.
That's disgusting. How can we live in this reality?
I mean, I can't. Maybe you can - and congratulations to you. I'm truly glad the concept of no eternal justice makes you want to work harder at justice now, and I wouldn't disagree with the notion that no eternity is better than an unjust one.
But we're still operating under a threat. Only the threat isn't a supernatural hell - just natural injustice and pain for everyone on earth for generations and generations.
For me, the idea that people could be gone forever, people who deserved to live, dammit, is so horrifying I want to first vomit and then invent a time machine to save them, and maybe die in their place because for them, justice will never matter. Maybe that's because I'm unhealthily sensitive, but that is honestly how I feel.
Justice must matter for all: past, present, and future, or it is not good. That's my firmly held belief, and you're free to disagree. And maybe I'm a caught up in fairy-tales or insane with hope and empathy. There are worse things.
But yeah. There you have it: why I think eternity must matter.