Book 3 Chapter 9 Section 1-6
2.5 billion – that’s the estimated number of heartbeats of someone who lives until they are age 70, at 35 million heartbeats a year. That means if I live until 70 I only have some 1.2 billion heartbeats to go. That’s all that separates us from eternity – just the thump, thump, thump of our cardiac muscle. Obviously many never reach the ripe old age of 70, and a few find that their tired heart can keep going for a few more million beats.
Calvin’s message in Chapter 9 is that Christians should look forward to the end of this life, not from a morbid fascination with death, but because this is when life really begins. He’s not just saying this to make us feel better, he really believes that the best is yet to come. It reminds me of CS Lewis’ play The Great Divorce, when the people in heaven were more real and joyful than they had ever been on earth. There is something coming on the other side of death that will make this life seem like a rainy bank holiday weekend in Llandudno (no offence meant, but you can’t argue with childhood memories!).
Calvin ties this topic into the theme of bearing our cross that we were looking at last time by pointing out that one of the effects of the many afflictions that we bear is that they make us despise the present life. We yearn for an end to our sufferings that sometimes almost make us hate our earthly life. Calvin says that this is one of the legitimate goals that God would has in giving us a cross to bear. The cross is our remedy to an over-indulgence in this life, Calvin recognises the danger that “our minds being so dazzled with the glare of wealth, power and honours, that they can see no further.” In fact, “the whole soul, ensnared by the allurements of the flesh, seeks its happiness on the earth.” So God shows us the “vanity of this present life, by a constant proof of its miseries.”
But alongside the danger of becoming too besotted with the glitter of earth, is the other extreme of becoming so disillusioned that we begin to hate our life on earth. As someone once said, we risk becoming so heavenly-minded to be of no earthly use. Calvin warns against ingratitude to God who has given us numerous divine blessings in this life that we should be thankful for. These are a foretaste of what is to come – “before openly exhibiting the inheritance of eternal glory, God is pleased to manifest Himself to us as a Father by minor proofs – i.e. the blessings which He daily bestows on us.” We must never let our weariness of the troubles of life become a weariness of life itself.
And yet how few believers truly live in the light of these realities, having a desire to depart, while also having proper thankfulness and joy at the simple pleasures of this temporary life? How infrequently we meditate on the reality of the brevity of this life and the certainty of our future life. As Calvin says “there is no fact which we ponder less carefully, or less frequently remember.” But our attitude in this area is a sure sign of the depth of our Christian maturity, for “no man has made much progress in the school of Christ who does not look forward with joy to the day of death and final resurrection.”
Chapters 9 & 10 form two bookends of the Christian life – the former driving us to meditate on the glory of the future life, the latter reminding us of the importance of our stewardship in the present life. It’s vital we hold the present and future life in balance. Without a right focus on both we will become inbalanced and unstable, either becoming intoxicated with the futility of this present life or overly comfortable with our temporal blessings. How hard it is to be both content with what we have, as well as eager to leave the body and be with the Lord. There are many times when I have been more than ready to go, but now with the blessings of a young family and a faithful companion my heart desires to see them grow.
How little we ponder these things, even as Christians. Do we dwell on the reality of the temporary nature of everything we see? Have we grasped that one day, even though none will realise it, there will be the last ever Premiership season, the final Wimbledon Championship, the final season of Formula 1 (this may be nearer than the others!!)…there will be the last house sold but never lived in, the last person poked on Facebook, the final Twitter tweeted. Our task is to live in the constant reality of these truths, while simultaneously finding joy and delight in the momentary sparkle of creation.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.” 1 Peter 1.3+4
Father, we know our lives are fleeting in our heads, but we sometimes convince ourselves us we are here to stay. Help us to number our days aright and avoid either extreme. Inflame our hearts until we meet, that every heartbeat would be full of love for you, Amen.