When we’ve been here ten thousand years

I was thinking about heaven today.  I’m terrible at the study of end-times and what happens after, but the Bible seems pretty clear that God will (1) remake the heavens and the earth, removing sin, decay, and corruption, and (2) His children will live with Him for an eternity.  The second part is what has captured my attention today.

What does that mean?   I understand “eternity” as it pertains here to mean time without an end limit.  In my studies I have run across two types of infinity.  Infinity can be found in mathematics, and it’s very useful to yielding practical results, but as soon as you bring infinity into the real world so that it becomes an actual infinity, logical problems crop up.  If you have a library with an infinite number of books and remove every other book, you still have the same number of books!  It’s also impossible to traverse an actual infinity:  if you start at the present and trace backwards, you cannot arrive at an infinite past by incremental steps.   So an actual infinity cannot logically exist.

Potential infinity is much more amenable to logic in the real world because it is not actually an infinite but finite.  If you keep adding one to a number, forever, you will create a potential infinite, but you will never actually reach infinity.  You’ll have an insanely large number but you will always still be able to add one more to it, it is still finite.

I understand an eternity with God to be a potential infinity of time.  No matter how long we spend with God, we will still be able to count backwards to our first day with Him, and further back to our time on the corrupt Earth (our time now).  Looking the other direction, we see an unbound temporal future, limitless, but finite.  It was put well in the song Amazing Grace:

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Frankly, my mind is having difficulty fathoming that.  There are more repercussions of a potential infinity:  the number of people in the new heavens and new earth will not be a potential infinity since only a finite of people have lived on Earth who’s names are written in the Book of Life.  Suppose there are ten billion people in the new heavens and new earth.  An individual here will actually have time to meet—and get to know very well—every single one of them, even if he makes no effort to do so.  The probability of pure happenstance meetings will melt before such a long timespan.

I can imagine myself making no effort to meeting others but bumping into them eventually.  I can imagine there being one last individual I haven’t met, and eventually meeting him thousands of years later.  Moreover, I can imagine saying “see you later” after bumping into him, and lo!, crossing paths with him again in another ten thousand years.  After a million years, I would have bumped into him enough times to get to know him pretty well, but even here, as the great hymn says, we’ve just begun!

This is the power of a potentially infinite future.  It blows my mind, never mind knowing God personally and intimately for such a length of time!  Honestly, my heart trembles at such a thought, but I need to remind myself that this time spent with God will not be in my corrupt, sinful self, but in a clean, holy, remade self that can withstand such deep, intimate, personal knowledge.


Comments

  1. Jim says:

    Apparently that verse was not written by John Newton (I got to this site by “Googling” Amazing Grace), but of course that does not change the truth of it.

    Regards

  2. EricS says:

    Good catch, Jim! I’ve fixed the article. Thanks!

  3. Julie says:

    “No matter how long we spend with God, we will still be able to count backwards to our first day with Him.” I love this idea. That, no matter how far removed we are from Day One, we will never be removed from the wonder of the first day we set foot in His presence. I was always taught (with not a ton of scriptural evidence) that we would not be thinking about the corrupt Earth in Heaven. How could God wipe away the tears from our eyes if we’re able to think about pain and suffering? Thoughts on this?

    I’m blaming you for my lack of sleep tonight. My mind is just going to go around and around this infinity concept.

  4. EricS says:

    I’ve thought about that too, Julie. You are right that there is no pain or crying in the new earth. Yet, can we rejoice with God while being obviously aware of loved ones who are not with you, who are not praising God? It tears at my heart now; I would think more so in heaven.

    I can’t imagine God erasing our memories, though, and I’ve got scripture to support that! Look at the Psalms. As Martin said last Thursday, many psalms lament the troubles the author is in, but usually turns it around at the end and praises God. The lowly estate is juxtaposed with God, His nature, and His plan, from which we derive hope. The “praise” psalms praise God for who He is (e.g., Psalm 33). The “gratitude” psalms praise God for what He’s done (e.g., Psalm 136). By forgetting what other could be or what God has done (a big problem for me), we reduce the amount we are able to praise God. A more modern proverb: how good is the Good News if we don’t know of the bad news?

    So how can we bear the knowledge of loved ones not among us? I don’t know. I imagine God’s royal sovereignty and perfect justice will outweigh. Tough question. Anyone else have thoughts?