Read an Excerpt
Foreverwhy you can't live without it
By Paul David Tripp
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2011 Paul David Tripp
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHO STOLE FOREVER?
No matter who you are, where you are, and how old you are, you long for a perfect world and struggle with the fact that the address where you live is anything but perfect. The young couple getting married have visions of the perfect marriage free from the struggles that they have seen others have. The pregnant mom dreams of giving birth to a perfect baby, easy to parent in every way. We imagine the perfect meal, the perfect job, the perfect vacation, the perfect house on the perfect street, the perfect friendship, and the perfect retirement. The list is endless. We're all dreamers because we all have forever wired inside us. It's hard for us to be content with the world that is, because all of us have an inclination to crave for what could be. We're not perfect, the people we live with are not perfect, and the world around us surely isn't perfect, yet the dream lives on in unrealistic expectations and dashed hopes. We are forever people; it is the way we were designed. We were created to live in a perfect world where death didn't exist and where life would give way to life on into eternity. So we hope much, dream much, imagine much, groan much, sorrow much, and cry much.
Every human being recognizes that this is not the way things were meant to be. Children aren't supposed to grow up and never know their biological parents. Husbands and wives were not meant to leave one another in the heat of acrimony, hurt, and selfishness. Boys and girls aren't supposed to live in the daily fear of the mockery of peers. Pleasurable experiences and substances aren't supposed to have the power to addict us. The world shouldn't be scarred by violence and war. Your skin color shouldn't be a reason for being rejected. Human beings were not meant to use other human beings for their own pleasure. Government was meant to protect people, not to use people to consolidate its own power. Human lives were not meant to be cut short by hunger, natural disaster, or disease. Innocent peoples' futures were not meant to be destroyed by political and financial scams. A person's capacity to hope was never intended to be kidnapped by false hope. Daughters were never meant to despise their mothers, or sons their fathers. Siblings were never meant to spend their developmental years in daily conflict with one another. The soil of earth was never designed to grow weeds better than it produces food and flowers. No person was meant to go to sleep with tears or wake up with anxiety or dread.
In some way we all get it. At some level we all understand. No, we may not have stopped to meditate on it, and we may not be able to articulate the sense that we carry around, but we all know this is not the way things were meant to be. So we imagine, we dream, we hope and pray. We kick the chair in frustration, hang up the phone in anger, or silently cry in hurt. We have forever inside us, and it creates a natural disappointment with the brokenness of the here and now. Let me show you what I mean.
DREAMS OF A PERFECT WORLD
He looked out the window of his penthouse in Philadelphia onto the lush greenery of Rittenhouse Square, but he didn't notice it; Josh was too deep in his thoughts. The last five years had been a row house to penthouse ride. The pharmaceutical company that hired him had exploded with growth, and Josh was a benefactor. He had always dreamed of this kind of success, and he had worked hard to get where he was. From his clothes to his car to his penthouse, Josh had acquired all the accoutrements of success. But what occupied his thoughts and what drove him crazy was one inescapable fact: he wasn't happy and he didn't feel fulfilled. Sure, he enjoyed the things that he was now able to afford, and when he was out with his friends, he could laugh with the best of them. The quiet moments were what got to him. What he felt just before he went to sleep or when he was in that "still lying in bed, but I've got to get up" fog was what he hated. He had worked hard for many years. He had delayed getting married. He had been willing to alienate friends and crush competitors to be able to experience what he thought would be the good life, and now that he had it, it just didn't mean what he thought it would mean.
No, Josh wasn't about to quit his job and sell the penthouse, but he was tired of having it all and feeling as though he didn't.
Sally couldn't believe it was still dark outside as she was yanking on her sweats one more predawn time. The alarm had somehow fit into that final early morning dream before the dream evaporated and she realized she was being summoned to face another day. She could already hear the kid noises down the hall reminding her that there wasn't much time between putting on her sweats and putting the kids on the bus. Her mind began to buzz through the breakfast menu, a mental assembly of lunches, and an assessment of what clothes were clean and ready for each child to wear. She walked down the hallway, and as she stretched and yawned, she wondered how she pulled it off day after day.
It seemed at times as if her life was living her rather than her living her life. Her husband's voice yanked her back to reality, announcing that he had an early meeting and was about to leave. Sally yelled an "I love you" as she chased their son Jared down the hall, carrying the clothes he didn't really want to put on. She could probably make breakfast and lunches with her eyes closed, and it seemed that was exactly what she was doing this morning.
After the final kid was on the final bus, Sally sat slumped on the big leather couch in the family room with the requisite cup of Earl Grey tea, and she had trouble remembering the morning she had just been through. Had she been patient with the kids? Were they all dressed appropriately? Did they all eat breakfast? What in the world was in their lunches?
Often on these frenetic school mornings, Sally's head wasn't in her own life. She had begun to feel that most of the time she was elsewhere. It was not that she was unhappy or that she wanted out. Sally loved Jack, and she had always wanted children. The routine was what got to Sally. It felt like the proverbial roller coaster that never stops but goes and goes and always ends up at the same place. Is this what life was about—repetitive routines on an endless stream of similar days?
Sally didn't want to change anything, but as she got up to restore order to the kitchen, she told herself that she was not satisfied with what she was feeling.
Josh and Sally, two people who seem to be different from each other, are deep down very much the same. They share the same dream, and they are in the middle of the same struggle. Hardwired inside each of them is a desire for life to mean something, for it to be going somewhere. Hardwired inside of each of them is distaste for meaninglessness. Hardwired into the very cells of their personhood is a thing called eternity. Deep inside them is a cry for forever.
The curse of the old man at his inability to get his leg to do what it was meant to do is a cry for forever. The hurt inside the teenager who has been mocked by a peer is more than adolescent angst; it is a cry for forever. The whimper of the toddler who has had a toy wrenched from his hands by his older brother is more than a scream of protest; it is a cry for forever. The tears of a mom at the end of a talk with a lost and wayward son are more than tears of parental grief; they are the tears for forever. The anger of the man who has just been laid off by a boss who didn't seem to care is more than anger at a career injustice; it is a plea for forever. The sad silence around the casket of a dear one is more than the silence of the bereaved; it is a wordless longing for forever. The frustration of the erstwhile gardener that weeds grow faster than the flowers is more than a fight with the forces of nature; it is a wish that forever would come.
Forever is more than a hope and a dream. It is more than a theological formulation. It is more than a distant spiritual expectation. The Creator placed forever inside you. Longing for eternity doesn't mean you're spiritual; it simply means you are human. Life that never ends was the Maker's original plan.
Now, I'm not saying that we all live with a consciousness of forever or with an intentionality about life that is formed by a belief in forever. I'm not talking about forever as an essential piece of our theological paradigm. I'm not talking about how you are thinking about eternity or what you are doing about eternity. I'm talking about something God wired inside you when he made you. If you are a human being, you are a forever being. So much of your distress at what is, is really a hunger for what will be. It is just the way you were made. You may not have been aware of it, but this longing for paradise is an essential part of what makes you human and on a moment-by-moment personal quest. Yes, paradise has been hardwired inside all of us.
You may escape formal religion. You may avoid signing on to some theological system. You may question whether there is such a thing as life after death. You may think that the concept of a heaven and a hell should be left for naive, unscientific Christians. You may never call yourself a Presbyterian, Buddhist, Lutheran, Hindu, Mormon, Baptist, or Muslim, but you will also never successfully escape forever. It is inside you. It has been constructed inside you by your Maker. You and I didn't have a vote. We were hardwired for eternity. We were made to live forever. This is not first a matter of what we believe; it is first a matter of who we are. Eternity lives and longs inside us; there is simply no escaping it. This is why Josh and Sally struggle. This is why you and I struggle. Deep inside each of us is a cry for forever. It is every human's struggle this side of eternity. That is why the whole world groans. (If you have a Bible near, read Romans 8:18–27.)
SOMEONE STOLE SOMETHING, BUT WE DIDN'T NOTICE
If we understood this reality and lived as if it were true, much of our discontent would disappear. But it isn't that simple, because we don't believe in eternity anymore. Sure, if you poll average citizens in Western culture as to whether they believe in an afterlife, most respondents will tell you that they do. The problem is that eternity doesn't mean anything to most people. It's not formative in the way they live their everyday lives. As a culture, we believe in eternity the way we believe in God. Most people say they do, but you wouldn't know it from observing the way they live. Most people live in a constant state of eternity amnesia.
We have abandoned a self-conscious allegiance to the reality of eternity that structures the way we think about and approach the here and now. The functional philosophy of the modern person is simply devoid of eternity. Forever isn't a topic written about much in our newspapers and magazines. It isn't a topic of interest in our popular entertainment media. It isn't a serious topic of interest in the university or in the halls of government. The thought of forever simply isn't a thought many of us carry around anymore, at least not in a way that makes much difference. We're forever people who have lost sight of forever.
Is it odd to think of eternity as being a topic of interest in the university classroom? Yet this was once the case. The finest institutions of higher education in America—Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, for example—were all founded by people who held firmly to a biblical worldview that has eternity as its final hope. Yet today eternity is not a category that our culture takes seriously when we think of what life is all about. Consider, for a moment, the huge philosophical transition that has taken place in the way the average person thinks about life. We have gone from the words that Ben Franklin penned for his own epitaph:
(Like the cover of an old book,
Its contents torn out,
And stript of its lettering and gilding,)
Lies here, food for worms.
But the work shall not be lost,
For it will, as he believed, appear once more,
In a new and more elegant edition,
Revised and corrected
To the bitter words of bestselling novelist Frank McCord: "I had to get rid of any idea of hell or any idea of the afterlife. That's what held me, kept me down. So now I just have nothing but contempt for the institution of the church."
In our functional worldview, we have traveled from the eternity-driven lyrics of Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic"—
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my condemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on."
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave;
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.
—to the content of popular entertainment and social media that has little sense of reality beyond an obsession with the pleasures and comforts of the here and now. Consider the words from a blog post by University of Minnesota professor Paul Zachary "PZ" Myers: "That is the godless view of death. It's an end, not a transition. It deserves all the sorrow the living bring to it, and the absurd attempts of believers to soften it with lies are a contemptible disser vice to the life that is over."
This change in worldview does beg the question, "Who stole forever?" No, there is no bunker where a group of nefarious philosophers are plotting the philosophical demise of Western culture. But the functional worldview of Western culture denies a belief in the hereafter.
The shift has been subtle but nonetheless seismic in its impact. This life-altering change didn't begin a few years ago. It has been percolating for generations. The movement away from a biblical view of life coupled with the materialism of our modern scientific culture has affected the way we think about who we are and what is important.
The larceny of forever shapes our lives more than we realize. Eternity amnesia grips us all, making it hard, if not impossible, for us to imagine living forever. We find it hard to believe in anything that contradicts the "here and now is all you get" perspective that rules the day. So we have functionally discarded the once widely held belief in an afterlife, a reality we cannot embrace without it influencing the way we live. Without forever in the center of our thinking, our picture of life is like a jigsaw puzzle missing a central piece. You will simply not have an accurate view of the picture without the piece of the puzzle entitled "forever."
This void has had an enormous impact on how we think about ourselves and the struggles we daily face. When it comes to the university classroom, the public square, and popular media, the concept of eternity is fundamentally absent. You will never hear Katie Couric close her nightly news broadcast by saying, "I know things often look bleak and chaotic, but remember that this is not all there is. We are all heading for eternity, where all that is broken will be finally and forever fixed. This is Katie Couric, CBS News. Good night." Children watching morning TV have been robbed of forever. Junior high kids studying history will not be taught how to examine history through the lens of forever. University students in a psychology class will not be assigned an essay on the impact of eternity on a human being's emotions and behavior. Most business people investing money don't have eternity in their minds, let alone in the way they think about their portfolio.
Excerpted from Forever by Paul David Tripp Copyright © 2011 by Paul David Tripp . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.