Re-Visiting Daniel 12:2 – Eternal Life
Writing this series is a real challenge in a couple of ways. Beyond the obvious challenge of the subject itself, my intent is to try and keep the segments relatively “short.” This often forces me to rethink and rewrite a segment two, three or more times. The goal is a balance between articles that are concise and to the point and articles that include enough background material and explanatory notes to fulfill their purpose.
In re-reading the segments I had the feeling that we needed to revisit Daniel 12:2 and delve a little deeper into this phrase, everlasting life, which makes its appearance in the Bible for the first time in this verse. Past segments have shown that olam doesn’t mean forever, eternal or never ending but is better defined as indescribable, out of sight, beyond description and those all stem from the basic concept of beyond the horizon.
In the Daniel 12:2 segment I suggested to you that there was a possibility that the reason we see this phrase emerge in the book of Daniel may have to do with the exile to Babylon that the House of Judah experienced about 586 B.C. They may have been exposed to this phrase while in Babylon. The problem I now face is how to explain what I want to share without writing several pages.
Most of us aren’t all that well informed when it comes to ancient religions or the history of religions and that includes Christians when it comes to Christianity. I know that I certainly fall into the category. If I asked most Christians what they knew about Sabellianism, Docetism, Monophysitism, Adoptionism, Nestorianism, Apollinarianism, Arianism, Socianism, Donatism, Pelagianism, Gnosticism, Manicheanism, the Cathars, Universalists, etc., I doubt many would know much at all about any of these groups and yet, they are all part of the history of Christianity. Bluntly, the orthodoxy, i.e. those with the power and authority at the time each of these groups were in existence, declared them to be heretical and did all they could to eradicate these “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” It didn’t matter if they loved God and followed the teachings of Jesus according to their understanding and interpretation. In fact, it really didn’t matter if they were more “Christ like” than those in power. If you didn’t perceive God or Jesus in the same exact way that the orthodoxy did, if you didn’t accept the “orthodox doctrinal statement,” you were excommunicated or even worse.
What many people don’t realize is that for its first 300 or so years, the Christian Church functioned with a wide variety of beliefs existing within her. There were some major disagreements and yet Christianity survived. Many of those with different beliefs are included in the list in the paragraph above. That, of course, all changed over time and especially when the “Christian Church” acquired the power of the sword through Constantine and the Roman Empire. When it comes to authority, power and control few things compare with a state religion. Suddenly, the “Christian Church” had access to political power and could and would enforce the beliefs of whoever managed to be in control. Ultimately of course, it morphed into the Roman Catholic Church for centuries and centuries.
Political and religious power eventually became one and the same and perhaps it was inevitable, since it is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, that this culminated in the Crusades, Inquisition and witch hunts during which the “Church” went on a torture and killing rampage, all done of course in the name of God. Heretics had to be destroyed.
A Quick Rabbit Trail: It is interesting today how radical Islam seems to be repeating what took place in the “Christian crusades, Inquisition and witch hunts.” Perhaps the universal principle that what you sow, you will reap, is vividly at work today. [end of the rabbit trail]
When we go back and look at ancient civilizations and religions, we discover that there a lot of similar beliefs found in both ancient religions and Christianity starting with the idea of one uncreated entity, a supreme being who was/is the source for all creation. To many Christians, the word “God” is used to describe this being. Jews, Messianic Jews and Messianic Christians may use the word HaShem, Elohim or Yahweh to describe this supreme being. Someone following Zorastrianism could use the name Ahura Mazda. Within Hinduism, this supreme being may be indentified as Brahman. To the Mayans it was Itzamna.
When we believe that we possess the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we end up dismissing and disparaging other religions. We attach labels such as pagan, cult and counterfeit to them and want nothing to do with them lest we “catch” their diseases. When we “quarantine” the ancient religions for example and isolate them, we also cut ourselves off from learning anything from them and bluntly, they have a lot to teach us if we can get beyond our fears and paranoia. Please note that I am aware that lots of people don’t want to learn a thing from other religions and ancient civilizations. The only thing some people want to learn is just enough so they can “witness” to those who are in those “cults” and get them converted to their particular denomination.
If we can overcome our fear of catching dreaded diseases such as “falsa doctrinitis,” we just might find that we can learn something, including something about “eternal or everlasting life.”
Long before and certainly during the time of the Jews being exiled to Babylon, the term “eternal or everlasting life” could be found within the ancient religions and ancient mystics. Just as the Bible refers to “One God” [capital “G”] but also mentions other “gods” [small “g”], we find the same thing in other religions and religious writings as well. One major characteristic that set apart the supreme God over the lesser gods was “time.” The lesser gods were subject to time whereas the uncreated god was not. If all other gods were “created” then they had a beginning (time related) and they may also have an end (time related) whereas time was non-existent, for the uncreated God. These other gods functioned to some degree, within time, whereas the uncreated God functioned outside of time.
The supreme God created space, matter and time but exists outside of all three. To describe the uncreated God who created everything else as “eternal” didn’t mean that God existed for all of time but in fact, it meant that the uncreated God exists in the realm of “TIMELESSNESS.”
There is no “TIME” in the realm in which this God exists. There is no past, no present and no future if we define these as moments on a linear time scale. We could perhaps say that there is only the NOW but the NOW is not the present as we may describe it. We use the term present or now to define a point in time that lies between all of the past and all of the future. The “Now” that we often speak of is a point in time separating all that was before and all that will come but TIMELESSNESS has no past or future and there is no “present or now” dividing them. They don’t exist in timelessness.
To put it another way, there is no time; there is only “being.” There is only “I AM.” To describe God as the God who was, is and will be is simply a way of describing God based upon our finite subjection to time. God has no “was” or “will be.” God is simply “I AM.”
If that leaves you scratching your head a bit, join the crowd. We are trying to describe something that is indescribably indescribable. We are trying to define divinity and infinity with finite words. We are trying to describe a realm that is beyond all other realms. It is a realm or state of being that is truly olam olam or olam v’ad.
Words fail us and yet we must try. Within Jewish mysticism the ultimate “Name” of God is Ayn Sof. Ayn Sof is said to mean “Infinite No-Thingness” or “Infinite Divinity.” I would suggest to you that it is telling us that “God” is ultimately impossible to name or describe.
In Greek mythology, there was a god who personified time. His name was Chronos from which of course we get chronology, chronic and chronicle. To be subject to time, however, was a sign of “imperfection.” To be the supreme God, God would have to be able to transcend time. Eastern religions saw the need to differentiate between two forms or aspects of time. There was “infinite time or timelessness” and there was “time of long dominion or duration.”
2500 years ago people had trouble trying to find words to express this life that transcends time. Nothing has changed by the way. More often than not we define infinity or eternity as never ending time but time is part of the space, time and matter continuum, all of which are creations of God, but are NOT God. There is no “time” in God. There is no beginning or end in God, there is only being.
Timelessness is basically inconceivable to our finite thinking. We have great difficulty in separating “Being” from “time.” When we talk about something “being,” when we say something “is,” it is virtually automatic that we “extend” that “being” or “isness” and when we “extend” something our minds jump right to space (presence) and/or time (duration). It is very difficult for us to think of something existing without it taking up space (presence) or being subject to time (duration). Intangibles that seem to take up no space like happiness or sadness are subjected to time/duration. Even our wedding vows express this extension and are subjected to time limits.
"To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part."
The ancients had to find a way to describe, as best they could, the life that transcended time, a life of “being” that was indescribably indescribable since it was, in essense, the life of the indescribable Supreme Being, God. It was a life that death had no hold over, that time had no control over. It was the life of living in the NOW when the NOW was more than just the present separating the past and the future.
It is not unusual today to hear someone talk about a timeless moment. We even have the expression that time stopped still. Well, if you take that and make the leap so that you are not talking about a moment (time based again) but can somehow perceive it to be a life lived in timelessness, you are starting to understand what the ancients described as “eternal or everlasting life.” It had nothing to do with time be it of a long, long duration or even never ending time.
It was a timeless life. That is what “eternal life” is all about.
Blessings, shalom, namaste