by Layton Friesen
I recently had my 50th birthday. Before I got out of bed that morning, I thought of something.
I imagined to myself that before I ever existed, God had a conversation with my non-existent self and said, “Mr. Nobody, I have an offer for you—take it or leave it. On the one hand, I could leave you in non-existence eternally. Forever you would go on being nothing. I know, Mr. Nobody, eternal non-existence is not a lot. But with this choice you have zero chance of any misery. There will be no possibility of anxiety, hemorrhoids, necrotizing fasciitis, or slowly suffocating from COVID-19. You will never love and thus never have to lose love. Your non-existence will be perfectly pain-free.
“On the other hand—and this is your only other choice—I have an opening coming up in a real-live family from 1971–2021. You will have exactly 50 years on a very good but very fallen earth. It will be 50 years of laughter, challenging work, and friendship. You will have a 27-year marriage to the most wondrous woman I have created, and together you will be gifted with two delightful children. And to spice it up, I will throw in two days at the Iguazu Falls in South America, complete with Brazilian BBQ for lunch.
“But there will also be many days of weeping, stinging hurt, and regular attendance at gut-wrenching funerals. Existence will mean the constant risk of depression, exhaustion, cancer, heartbreak and acne. Those are real possibilities if you accept my offer.
“And here’s the kicker: on your 50th birthday the clock will strike and you will die. You only get 50 years with this offer.”
Let’s stop there and ask: if God made you that offer, would you take it? What if the offer were reduced to 25 years? What if it was only five years? What if God offered you only three beautiful months in the womb? Is existence better than non-existence?
But then the offer continues, and God says, “There is something more. Mr. Non-Existent, when the clock strikes and you die, you will be awakened by the crystal blast of a trumpet. In that moment you will rise and run through a gate, into a city-garden so beautiful it will make Iguazu Falls look like a leaking sewer pipe. There you will meet me, and our days together will be endless and bottomless.”
Now what would you choose? Non-existence or existence? I would call that a bargain, the best I ever had.
Something like this is close to the Christian understanding of creation. For Christians, existence itself is a mind-bending gift. We did not have to be, but God gave us existence and, with that, the possibility of joy eternally. That whole offer gets no less exhilarating if you shorten the days on earth, or if you add to the pain of those days. Existence, plus eternal life, is the lottery win to the power of a lottery win.
The more we reflect on this incredible offer God has given us by
bidding us to be born, the more we are able to suffer, love with great pain, and give our lives to situations in the world where thanks is not forthcoming. This is our joy unspeakable and full of glory. We get all this and heaven too.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).