A Severe Mercy eternity
“Your Life Through Heaven’s Eyes”: The Eternal Reality of the Human Person6:00:00 AMRose Deemer
In the movie Prince of Egypt, a musical rendition of the Exodus story, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro tells (or rather sings to) the young hero, “...How can you see what your life is worth / Or where your value lies? You can never see through the eyes of man / You must look at your life...through heaven's eyes.” Truth. But how? Sounds easier said than done. Well, there are many ways you could view this quote, but there’s one quite literal way in which a person could learn to view himself and others “through heaven’s eyes”: by looking at each human being from--as far as is possible in our state as creatures--the perspective of God himself.
In metaphysics, we learn that God is necessarily eternal, existing outside of time. Therefore, while God is often imagined to be a sort of benevolent spectator who watches our lives unfold in time much in the same way you’d watch the actions of the characters in a movie, he really knows us and our doings in a much more complex way. Time is a linear--an unfolding sequence of events--but God is outside of the sequence. He is completely untouched by the movement of time. Therefore, he sees everything that has ever happened, is happening, or will happen, in its fullness at every moment. To him, all of history, past, present, and to come, is one great eternal “now”.
This understanding of God’s knowledge is also the “viewpoint” from which he sees the human person: as a whole, in the entire eternal reality which is each human soul. He doesn’t see each person the way we do, in fragments at each particular moment. While we see a person in his or her transient state at a given moment in time (young, old, depressed, joyful, sick, healthy, etc.), God sees all moments of their life as one and in one eternal “moment”. Of course, he respects and takes into account our state as temporal creatures (hence the second chances he gives us, allowing for repentance and the amendment of our lives in the future), but ultimately his vision of time and temporal creatures is not affected by time, unlike ours.
In his autobiographical study of marital love and the Christian Faith, A Severe Mercy, American author Sheldon Vanauken touches on this very concept of God’s eternal knowledge of the human person as he experienced it. Married for eighteen years to the love of his life, Jean “Davy” Davidson, Vanauken recounts his grieving process following her death in one of the most poignant sections of the book. As he works through the pain of her loss, Vanauken decides to carry out what he terms an “Illumination of the Past”; he goes through every journal, letter, picture, and piece of memorabilia from every moment of their lives together, in order to relive the memories of each experience shared with her. As Vanauken himself describes,
“Now I was discovering...anew...Davy, going through the years: I was touching her soul, the very essence of her being. I described earlier how all the Davys began to flow back to me shortly after her death, and I recovered the wholeness of her. Now with the Illumination of the Past the process was completed. It is sometimes said that the fourth dimension is time or duration: one does not see a person or thing in any one instant of seeing. And I was seeing Davy in all her years...as nearly as a lover can do, I was seeing the whole of her--a wholeness I would never lose--and knowing her soul.” (195-96)
In this beautiful way, Vanauken as a bereaved lover came to know his beloved in the fullness of her reality as a person, as a summation of every one of her states of being. Since she was no longer present to him in time, he was able to contemplate her as a complete whole, a summation of all the moments of her life, and no longer in the context of an unfolding, linear sequence of events. In other words, he began to see her from a perspective similar to that of God.
To illustrate this beautiful truth of the eternal reality of the human person even further, I want to close by sharing a personal story. A few years ago, a friend of mine--we’ll call her Anna--suffered a serious traumatic brain injury. Against all odds, she survived and began the process of making a full recovery. As time went on, however, it became clear that the injury had changed her, and she wasn’t quite the same old Anna we knew before the injury. She was different, somehow, when she woke from the coma in which she had been since the accident. In a letter to all those who had supported their family during the months following the accident, Anna’s mother touched on this change in a very profound way. She shared with us the beautiful reality that God sees Anna as whole, as herself, always. He doesn’t see baby Anna, teenage Anna, Anna before the accident or Anna after the accident, one at a time and in a linear sequence, as we do, but Anna as she is eternally, a summation of every one of her moments of life and states of being. God’s vision of Anna included Anna’s life after her brain injury, as well as every other part of her life, from the very moment of her conception. To God, every moment of her existence is a part of the beautiful thought in His mind from which she sprung, and which is, in a unique and unrepeatable way, eternally her.