In Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues, the jazz trumpeter Bleek Gilliam, played by Denzel Washington, pokes fun at the vapid lyrics found in pop music in his own song called “Pop Top 40.” He is as cynical as his name suggests and criticizes pop music not just for its banality—every song is a love song—but for the kind of love that these songs represent: “lustful, selfish, end-of-the-world love.” I remember chuckling out loud the first time I heard the lyric, “Let me spend the rest of my life with you…tonight.”
Bleek was right about popular notions of romantic love. It really can’t fulfill its promises, and when it’s combined with selfishness (as seems most often the case), it seems to end in contradictions. But while we find contradiction in modern romance, we find beautiful, paradoxical harmony in God’s love: His children experience eternal life in the present moment.
The Apostle John had a lot to say about eternal life. In writing his Gospel, he mentions it 18 times. It motivates much of his writing: towards the end of his first letter, he writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). However, in His Gospel, he fails to give much description about what eternal life will be like in terms of the afterlife. John is focused on the present realities of eternal life, or to put it in theological terms, on how God’s children can experience the “age to come” in the present age.
In the new heavens and the new earth, “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). Knowledge of God—that is, intimate relationship with him—is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, such as in Habakkuk 2: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” But Jesus says that the knowledge of God and the intimacy with God that we will experience for eternity is something we have in the present: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Do you know God? Personally, intimately? You may have firm beliefs about him, but do you experience a relationship with him? During this season of introspection and repentance, it may be easy to shy away from him as we see the ways we have failed him. Instead, make these moments doorways into deeper intimacy with him: Each time we confess our sins, he rushes to us, wraps his arms around us, and declares his undying, eternal love for us. Doubt that? Look to the cross, the place where his love is made most clearly visible. He loves you, forever, right now.
Dan Beilman serves as Advent's Pastor of Worship Arts and Spiritual Formation. He and his wife Jen live with their four sons in Cheverly.