Most philosophical and religious thinking is predicated on the assumption that the world and the life within it had, at some time in the distant past, a beginning. The individual human mind, having had a beginning itself, finds it difficult to conceive of anything material as having existed from all eternity. We are accustomed to thinking of eternity as extending only into the never ending future.
In a cosmic sense, what we term a beginning was merely a transformation. Whether we think of the world as being material, or of matter in its ultimate division as simply energy, the fact remains that it is eternal in the sense that it always existed in some form. If we think in terms of time as we know it, then eternity extends in both directions from the present moment of our existence: into the past without beginning and into the never ending future. It is no more difficult to think of the world in these terms than it is to assume that it came into existence in the distant past from nothing and out of nowhere.
The problem with our conception of eternity stems from our habitually limited viewpoint. To gain a broader view we must unlearn a lot of things which impose these limitations upon our minds. Thinking is subject to progressive evolution just as much as is the organic world. Just because our forefathers handed down to us certain information from the dim past does not impose upon us the duty to accept that information without question. The moment we blindly accept tradition as absolute truth we limit our progress toward a better understanding of life.
Our thinking on the subject of eternity is still influenced by the traditional concept of the origin of the world and our existence. We are still thinking in terms of a special creation when we speak of the creation of the world. And when we say world we usually confine our definition to our earth. The story of creation in Genesis opens with the sentence: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." After that the story concerns itself mainly with what has happened on the earth. No further thought is given to "heaven" in the scriptures except as an abode for the departed.
We must widen our horizon of the world and creation in terms of the entire cosmos and eternity. Eternity is defined as the state of things in which the flow of time has ceased. Time, in terms of earthly things, is simply a device by which we determine the duration of certain processes. The yardstick we use is the duration of the revolution of the earth around its own axis and the period it takes to complete its orbit around the sun. If we lived on Mars the year would be equivalent to approximately 686 days and our day would be about 24 hours and 37 minutes. The year on Mercury would be 88 of our days and on Neptune over 164 of our years. The moment we include the cosmos in our thinking our conception of time becomes quite an arbitrary measure.
When we think in terms of eternity we consider no beginning and, of course, no end. There is only change. When our solar system came into existence it changed from a gaseous mass to a group of solid bodies. No one knows how many of our years it took to complete this phase of the creation of our solar system. The best estimate is about one billion years. The sun, the core of our solar system, is still only 1.4 times as dense as water. The material which composes our solar system may have been, at one time, a part of an entirely different system. It must have existed always, if not in an active state, then latent. If not, then how did it come into being? We know that some time in the distant future organic life on the earth must cease. Or our earth may explode and become again a gaseous mass. Then the same cycle would repeat itself. The theory of present day scientists that all energy in the cosmos will ultimately be spent and that all celestial bodies would become dark, cold and inert is philosophically unthinkable. Where would God be then? Would He die with the world which is His means of manifestation? Questions such as these cannot be answered mathematically. Yet the reasoning mind must find an answer.
It is evident on all sides that an Intelligence is active in the entire cosmos and in every particle of matter. It is unthinkable that there ever was a time when this Intelligence, which cannot be anything but Divinity, ever was not or that it will ever cease to be. God as well as eternity is timeless. Time, which is now considered the fourth dimension, applies only to transitory existence. The form and properties of matter are transitory and subject to external influences. The laws which govern the behavior of matter, which give matter its properties, the life principle, all are phenomena attributable only to an Eternal Power which some call the hand of God. Language is still too poor in symbolism to describe adequately the sublime grandeur of Divinity at work.
Ever since life appeared on the earth or, in the words of Genesis, since "the beginning," there has been a progressive development in all forms of life. The tendency has ever been from the simple toward the complex, from imperfection toward perfection. This is the general direction of the course of evolution. Even atheists admit that evolution moves in an upward direction, but they admit of no reason or cause for this tendency. There have likewise been retrogressions, but always there have been adaptations to changing conditions. Entire species have been wiped out when conditions changed too rapidly for adaptation to the new environment. The reconstructions of the huge prehistoric monsters in our museums are mute witnesses to an age when cataclysmic changes took place and when life for humans would have been impossible. The mastodons buried in eternal ice in the tundras of Siberia, and which are today in a perfect state of preservation, indicate that in the distant past a sudden change took
place from a tropical climate to temperatures constantly below freezing. These are mutations in the general cyclic progress of the evolutionary process.
Whence came life? This question has occupied the leading minds in all ages. Some think the germ of life came through cosmic space from some other planet. If it did then it must be in some form unknown to us. And if this theory is correct then life could pass from the earth to some other body in space. In any event we must conclude that life exists on other planets as well as on our earth, and that such life exists in different stages of evolution depending upon the conditions existing on the respective planets. We may further conclude that when conditions on our earth become such as to make organic life impossible it will then continue elsewhere in the cosmos where conditions are conducive to life. It is conceivable, although highly improbable, that there may be cycles when conditions on all planets are such as to make organic life impossible. In such an event we may be certain that life will reappear the moment conditions become favorable.
We may well ask ourselves if perfection will ever be reached. The heart of every normal human has yearned for the so-called millennium ever since the time when man learned to recognize good and evil. In his despairing moments man has created in his mind a perfect world, a hereafter, where there is permanent peace and perfect understanding among men. This thought gives solace to those of us who find life a burden. Heaven is our compensation for having been "good" during our life on earth. It is a blessing to those who are satisfied with an easy answer to a difficult question. But the searching mind must find a more satisfying solution. We must lift ourselves into space and think in terms of eternity. As long as we are earthbound our vision will be limited.
We came into this world out of our mother's womb as individuals, in due time conscious of life, equipped to struggle with life's problems. Instinctively we contribute to the propagation of our kind and strive in all things toward perfection. We will leave out of consideration for the present the so-called forces of evil. In the natural course of events our body wears out; we cease to live. The life within us came out of eternity and again passes into eternity. We must remember that individual existence is transitory. For a brief period we were conscious and glimpsed a beautiful world or an ugly one, depending on the nature of the window through which we looked. In any event it was an opportunity consciously to contribute to the creative effort of the all-pervading Spirit which breathed in us during our sojourn upon this earth.
From this broad viewpoint we come to realize that this brief period of consciousness is a phase of eternity. We measure it in terms of years, but actually time must not enter into our speculation. When we consider the billions of galaxies of stars, each consisting of uncounted solar systems and celestial bodies like our earth, it is most unlikely that our little earth is the only one inhabited by organic life. Our individual life, which is so precious to us, diminishes in importance as a factor in the universe. And yet, having lived becomes more important to us, because life has taken on a new meaning. Instead of living to save our individual souls for eternity, a really selfish reason, we are living because we are contributing to the eternal effort toward perfection. Even the atheist and agnostic are unable to escape from the overpowering creative drive which animates our lives and all things living.
Perfection, like happiness, is a state which is forever pursued but never quite reached. All things in nature have a duality. We would be unable to recognize perfection were it not for imperfection. All of our effort is a striving from chaos toward order, from imperfection toward perfection. It is a fundamental law of the cosmos. It is the striving toward perfection which makes us the instruments of the almighty Creative Effort. It is the degree of our effort which determines our value in the scheme of things. It is this realization which makes our life worth living and gives us the power to carry on in the face of all obstacles. No effort becomes too great, no task too difficult when we know that "God is our staff and rod." We need not wait to die for our compensation for it is with us every living moment, for during our present earth life we have a glimpse into eternity.
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We wake, and find ourselves on a stair. There are other stairs below us which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight. ??? Emerson