One of the things I love about the rock group Queen is that they had this crazy way of going back and forth, between the profound and the absurd. Sometimes, they would sing about “Big Bottomed Girls” or “I Want to Ride my Bicycle.” Other times, they would work up this profound crescendo around bravery– even bravado– in the face of certain death, like in “The Show Must Go On.” My favorite, though, is when they found the sublime firmly rooted in the ridiculous: when they mixed them up, like some sort-of smoothie for the mind, made of equal parts silliness and profundity. Consider, for example, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The title evokes these high brow ideas and concepts. Where a lesser song would have a guitar solo, this thing has some sort-of operatic break. And yet, their is an awareness that is just a just a pop song, at the same time.
More to the point of the things I am thinking about today: “Who Wants to Live Forever?” This was on the soundtrack to that masterpiece of science fiction cheesiness, “Highlander.” Highlander is a lot like the band itself: an exquisite balance of pop culture and something so much deeper than pop culture. It’s an interesting song to be located in a movie about characters who don’t age. In some sense, they do live forever. The movie is about their quest for a different kind-of eternity. Somehow, they all know that they have to fight each other. When their is only one of them left, that immortal will receive “The Prize.”
I remember the first time I saw the movie. I assumed “The Prize” would be some sort-of set of extra super powers. I don’t know if this is connected to my own silly presuppositions or if the idea is planted in the movie. I don’t know if this is points to the assumptions I carry around, or the assumptions the screen writers do. But it doesn’t much matter.
I am thinking today, about living forever.
We Christians spend a lot of time thinking about that. We wonder what our lives in the afterlife will be like. We get so focused on the externals: mansions and feasts and all kinds of things that sound great.
I think that would all be great for a year, or a hundred years, or a thousand. But if it is only about the outside of me that is getting transformed… Then my heaven? It would eventually become my own personal hell. I don’t know about you, but me? I am kind-of a mess.
No matter how much my circumstances get better, there is a time that I forget how far I come, and I begin to take greatness for granted. No matter how much my relationships improve, there comes a time when I stop appreciating people.
In short, if you gave me the easy, obvious heaven, if you just extended my life indefinitely, I would be like those guys in Highlander. I would be a mess. Not aging, being nearly impossible to kill, having the resources of a fortune at my fingertips: none of it would mean anything.
Who wants to Live Forever? That suddenly becomes a pretty interesting question.
The lyrics of the song imply that we ought to go after love. And there is something to that. (Sometimes we make an idol out of our relationships, especially our romantic ones. That’s not what I am talking about. Bare with me.)
When we are at our best, perhaps deeply in love… Time stops meaning anything. We also have these moments, I think, when we are doing the things we are great at. For me, when I am my very best writing. Or I lose myself in the middle of the nature. Or I am teaching somebody, maybe something we have been working on for a while, and their eyes light up and they finally get it.
Joseph Campbell told his students to follow their bliss. I think we know we are following our bliss when time just slips away. It loses meaning.
When we talk about this kind of idea, we often point out the promise that the kingdom of heaven is already here. Today, I read something that really struck me. There is this lawyer, who approaches Jesus. The lawyer says, “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus’ answer is the parable of the good samirtain. His answer? Love on people, recklessly, unhesitatingly, uncompromsingly.
I think that the lawyer was asking about just extending out his days. Jesus answer wasn’t a formula for how to get to this eternity. It pointed the lawyer to the other type of eternity, the other way of conquering time. I think he was inviting the lawyer to sample eternity right here and now.
If we want to hold onto the idea of a loving God, we almost have to believe in both kinds of eternity. If he extended time out forever? Well? So what? That’s a little bit like going to a crappy restaurant. They bring out crapy food. To make up for the first crappy meal they served, they offer you a lifetime of crappy meals. More of something crappy does not make it un-crappy.
But on the other hand… if we just get these little tastes of losing ourselves. If those little droplets of eternities, those two minute, or two hour experiences are the best that there is… It’s all been a cruel joke, a tease.
The idea that I could spend an eternity in that wonderful state where I have lost all the worst parts of myself? That is a pretty cool thing.