I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3, verses 10-12.
Last week, I was killing time (when I should have been working) and I came across a picture on Wikipedia that shocked me. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemuel_Cook and you’ll see the picture. It’s of a man named Lemuel Cook. He was ordinary in every way possible save one: Mr. Cook was the last remaining undisputed veteran of the Revolutionary War. He served with George Washington in the last years of the war and was with him at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered. His discharge papers were signed by General Washington himself and he remembered and knew the Father of our Country. Mr. Cook lived until the age of 106 and he died in 1866. Now, there’s really nothing very shocking about this until I took a close look at the picture and realized I was staring into the eyes of a man who actually fought in the American Revolution. It wasn’t a painting of him, something done to represent him: this was a real picture of a real person. He really existed as more than just a story and there is photographic evidence to prove it. The man has been dead now for nearly 150 years, but before he passed away, he sat for a photographer who recorded his existence on this third rock from the Sun. When you look at a picture, you’re looking at a real person as they were during the capture of a moment in time. All in all, it’s kind of amazing, don’t you think?
Knowing that, I then consider how this verse pegs me dead on. I can’t fathom eternity. I just can’t. I was sitting at my computer, wasting time that wasn’t wasted at all because it set the stage (at least for me) to absorb these verses today. A photograph of a man now gone for more years than he lived isn’t anything remarkable. There are hundreds of photographs of you and me, and maybe in 150 years somebody will look at them and think something remarkable about us. 150 years is a long time, though, and Mr. Cook had lived 106 years before that. In looking at the picture I was looking at a man whose life spanned the time when he was a British subject to the time when he had lived past the end of the Civil War. That’s a very long time, and it’s been nearly 150 years since then! 150 years, however, is nothing compared to eternity.
Think about a verse in “Amazing Grace:” “when we’ve been there 10,000 years…we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.” Wrap your noggin around that thought and noodle it for awhile. Albert Einstein deciphered formulas that explain the atomic structure of matter and ways that let us understand the vast expanse that is outer space. Scientists study photographs from the Hubble Telescope that peek back at stars, galaxies, and the outer reaches of the universe. They’re really looking at gleams of light that traveled thousands of years across unchartable distances just to reach the point where we can see them. And metaphysicists (and stoners) comprehend the vast reaches of what could exist outside our single dimensions of time, distance, and relativity.
In my opinion, none of those things understands the meaning of eternity quite as beautifully or perfectly as Mr. Wilburforce’s hymn. Or today’s verse.
In all my wildest dreams I don’t think I’ve ever pondered eternity and all that God has done in a way that I could even begin to understand it. We can understand how matter is comprised, and we can predict the movement of bodies in the cosmos, but we can’t explain how those things came to be. Sure, scientists try to explain our origins with a big bang (which sounds kind of cool but preposterous, I think) but none of us can explain what came before it. All our human explanations of the world – from our origins to how our behavior affects this planet – can be explained with science that is well thought through and meticulously researched…and it only breeds more questions (or conflicting science).
Perhaps this is part of the burden that the verse is talking about. I mean, just when you think you have learned everything there is about a subject, what happens when you learn something you didn’t expect? Isn’t your initial knowledge challenged? Maybe it means just a little bit more. Who, then, can say they know all there is to know about God and what He has done here? Who’s to say that ‘here’ is all there is? Who is to say that we could even comprehend the answer if ever it were revealed to us? Maybe that’s part of the beauty of heaven, being able to see God face to face, without the hazy filters of our sins, and in a place out of time where He opens our minds to dazzle us with the knowing brilliance of His love.
What’s more, it will last forever. Noodle that one too and when you’re done, come back here and see if you aren’t satisfied by the verse that says we have difficulty fathoming all that God has done. Then, be comforted again by Psalm 46:10: “be still and know that I am God.”
I could ponder that all my life and it would still be little more than a great but small beginning. Me, I’m looking forward to more.
My dad was a history major and he instilled a love of history into my sister and I. He died before the internet had really become a daily, useful tool. When I was looking at the picture of that Revolutionary War veteran, I thought of my dad because I think he would have been fascinated with learning about people like Mr. Cook. History is so accessible online: just type a few words into Google and more facts than you ever knew existed are at your disposal. Dad would have enjoyed that, yet since this past Sunday was Father’s Day, I also realize that he’s enjoying something much better right now. Dad has been gone for 15 years. He’s in eternity, where time and history are one. Perhaps he’s already met the soldier Cook, or maybe even General Washington. Certainly he’s already met the Almighty they served in their noble actions here on Terra Firma. I may not be able to grasp what eternity really means, but once I get there to join the others, I suspect that won’t really matter when we’re standing at the throne of the Father.