1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let Israel say, "His steadfast love endures forever."
14 The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
15 There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: "The right hand of the LORD does valiantly;
16 the right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly."
17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18 The LORD has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Christians have a variety of twists on the Lordís Prayer, especially trespasses/debts/sins. Palm Sunday, in an Episcopal Church, I was reminded of their preference for an extra ďeverĒ just before the Amen. Why the preference, I donít know; but, judging by the luxury of the neighborhood in which the church is situated, power and glory for ever and ever seem like Paradise.
Forever is, as I am overly fond of saying, a very long time. It is the antithesis of this mortal life, measured as we are by the hours and years, birth and decay, waxing and waning. I mean, what in heavenís name does one do for an eternity? Life as we know it is bearable only with variation, the times and seasons thing Ecclesiastes and the Byrds have taught us to sing about. Change, newness or the appearance of it: food, activity, entertainment, personal relationships.
Consider this last category, personal relationships. Elizabeth Taylor (God bless that survivor!) described herself as a serial monogamist, by way of explaining her many marriages. Which (marriage), without the constraints of limited finances and sensitivity to the good opinion of others, Lizís experience would be the biography of many of us. Let Gian Vittorio Baldi say Amen. He is the movie director for whose young son our daughter worked one summer in Italy as an au pair. He could not imagine how Gwenís mother and father could have remained married to each other for twenty-five years. And that was thirty years ago. Variety, they say and Baldi insists, is the spice of life.
How in heavenís name could it (marriage) be managed for ever? Even Jesus has his doubts (see Matthew 22:30). It takes the kind of patience only my dear Barbara has achieved.
That predicament pales, however, by comparison with the impossibility of living with oneself forever. Sure, there are some who are endlessly fascinated with themselves, charmed by every felicitous utterance which issues from their lips. More power and glory to them, but this fellow, the one with his own website, forever hurling words into the ether, finds himself more often than he might care to admit, just plain tired of listening to himself. To be stuck with this identity, this mind, these needs, my own personal history for ever and ever seems, from this mortal perspective, an unbearable punishment. And I, often accused of arrogance and conceit, am by no means filled with self-loathing!
Forever is a very long time to be yourself.
I fasten, therefore, on the opening lines of Psalm 118, an Easter lection, that God is good and his steadfast love endures for ever. The King James Version says it more to my liking: ďO give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever.Ē Mercy, a hyperlink in the online Bible reference tells me, is defined as compassion for the miserable. And that gives encouragement to those of us who identify with the Calvinist slant in the 1928 Book of Common Prayerís confession: ďHave mercy on us, miserable offenders.Ē Like the poor man in Jesusí parable, once begging for crumbs at the rich manís door, cradled now in the bosom of Abraham, our misery with ourselves is embraced by the everlasting arms. Swaddled in the compassion of the Lord?
Not that I think personal identity is swallowed up in the immensity of God. Believing in the resurrection of the body, as confessed in the Apostleís Creed, proscribes the borrowing of the Eastern religionsí idea of nirvana. We are what we were, but transformed. Thatís where Godís enduring mercy comes in. Bob Howard, thanks to God, will be a much nicer fellow, the kind of company even he could endure for ever. Such is the content I invest in the assertion in I Corinthians 15: Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.Ē Time and its vicissitudes vanish. Our meaner impulses evaporate; the kinder remain. We shall, as Paulís Letter to the Philippians proposes, possess the mind of Christ. Let your imagination run to sweeter, kinder thoughts and you can propose your own scenario for forever. Something like that. Something not just endurable but enjoyable for an eternity.