“To perceive the world in the light of eternity, to accept your death as a gift, to accept suffering as a path toward joy. All of those are in Christ on the cross.” – Stephen Colbert
I’m not particularly religious, but I do believe I’m a bit player in eternity. Is eternity God? Or is eternity timeless energy reshaping itself into various forms like planets and oceans and trees and sunsets and a cup of tea and people? It’s way above my pay grade to state a definitive answer. But like most humans I wonder about the universe and our place in it. If religion helps you sort this all out in an acceptable way, perhaps you’ve got an advantage over me.
Stoicism cuts to the root of my pragmatic approach to this eternity, but it isn’t a religion as much as a virtuous approach to life. Common sense laid out by people long dead, who remind us that it’s right around the corner for us too (so you might as well savor every breath and live the best life you can with what you’ve been given). Stoicism is thinking about eternity without fairy tales.
But reading this Stephen Colbert quote twice this morning gave me pause. Colbert lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash when he was ten years old. He’s Catholic and his faith is the foundation of his life. I’m Catholic and don’t give it much thought. We’re both trying to live a virtuous and good life. So who’s approach is better? I don’t believe it matters so much as the end result. Will all my deceased relatives be standing at the Pearly Gates telling me they told me so as I’m shuffled off to purgatory? You’ll know that answer someday yourself, and you can point out my sin of doubt when you see me. Religion uses stories to highlight virtue versus sin and the infallibility of God. Eternity is infallible. Put whatever name you want on it.
Colbert talks about the loss of his father and brothers as a gift from God that he didn’t want. That’s an extraordinary way of looking at a tragic event, but it makes sense to me. We’re all going to die and we’re all going to be challenged by the passing of those we love. The reality of death won’t change whether we like it or not. The question is what are you going to do with that reality? And what will help you find an answer? His mother’s answer was to look at that moment, as devastating as it was, in the light of eternity. And whatever you call eternity, that makes sense to me.