How often do you really think about eternity? While I hope that many of us would answer “quite regularly,” the way we live would certainly suggest that whatever thought we do give to eternity doesn’t really impact our lives. Why is this? Why have we forgotten this fundamental reality of the Christian faith? In his latest book, Forever: Why You Can’t Live Without It, Paul Tripp argues that we may have succumbed to what he describes as “eternity amnesia,” and in this book’s 14 chapters, he seeks to remind us why we can’t ignore “forever.”
While there’s no strict division within the book, readers could roughly break Forever up into two (ish) parts. The first five chapters primarily lay the foundation for why a healthy view of eternity matters in the Christian life. Tripp’s work is exceptional here as he identifies the issue and the solution. The problem, he says, is that while God has made us for eternity (Eccl. 3:11 says that God “has put eternity into man’s heart”), we have “functionally discarded the once widely held belief in an afterlife, a reality we cannot embrace without it influencing the way we live” (p. 22).
Without forever in the center of our thinking, our picture of life is like a jigsaw puzzle missing a central piece. You will simply not have an accurate view of the picture without the piece of the puzzle entitled “forever.”
This is a powerful—and, I believe accurate—assessment of the problem. We might give assent to the idea that there is an afterlife, yet we act as though it doesn’t make a difference. We live like now is all there is and it wrecks us as we struggle with unrealistic expectations, being too self-focused, asking too much of others, becoming controlling or fearful, questioning the goodness of God, living lives that are more disappointed than thankful, lacking motivation and hope, and often living as if life has no consequences (see pp. 24-26 for Tripp’s summaries of each of these symptoms of eternity amnesia). The result, he argues, is that we have become schizophrenic. “We are forever people who have quit believing in forever…. The forever-ism that is hardwired inside you collides with the now-ism that is everywhere around you, resulting in a lot of carnage” (pp. 26-27).
Chapters two through five unpack these ideas in greater detail, confronting readers repeatedly with the reality that having a healthy view of eternity leads to a different kind of mentality. It’s one that seeks not to pack everything into this life, but to prepare for the one that is to come (which, incidentally, does include enjoying the good gifts God has given us in creation). It helps us recognize the unnaturalness of death and recognize the consequences of sin and how the grace of God frees us from our “amnesia” to begin to live in light of eternity. Tripp’s addressing the consequences of sin is perhaps one of the strongest areas of the book. He writes:
We have the ability to look at sin and not see it as sinful at all. When we do this, we are in grave danger. The fact that we think eternal punishment is harsh and makes God less than fair demonstrates how far we have strayed from the biblical understanding of how evil evil is and how gloriously holy God is…. Perhaps the biblical description of the torment of hell is one of the only accurate mechanisms we have been given to weigh the magnitude of the sinfulness of sin (p. 62).
This should force us to consider how we view the holiness of God. Do we think that God is unfair if hell exists? Do we act as though God is somehow a moral monster if He chooses to show mercy to some and justice to others? These are not questions that are easy for us to answer, but they are well worth our consideration. A right view of what Tripp calls the “dark side of eternity” forces us to take sin that much more seriously and to marvel at God’s grace much more significantly than perhaps we do. “When you minimize sin, you devalue grace as well” (p. 64).
Chapters 6 through 14 start dealing heavily with the practical implications of a right view of eternity. A right view of eternity rescues us from a miserable faith. It gives us hope not in temporal things, but in Christ and His future return. It grounds our perseverance so that we can suffer well. It transforms our relationships, how we parent and how we work, preventing us from trying to find our hope in our spouses, kids and jobs. And a right view of eternity gives us lasting joy—joy that is based not in the fleeting pleasures of this world but in the God who created and sustains all things. This is a vision of which we all need to be reminded!
When it comes to issues with Forever, you won’t find many quibbles from me with regards to content. My frustrations are primarily structural. This book is sure to frustrate some readers as it succumbs to “conference-itis.” This is a pattern I’ve noticed in recent releases from other authors that at best has mixed results. You get really good content, but it can be frustrating as you’re not really reading a book so much as you’re reading what appears to be a series of related, but ultimately stand-alone essays. Because of this, there is a great deal of overlap in content that borders on repetitive. Again, the content is terrific, but I’m not sure that the presentation matched the material’s strength.
In Forever, Paul Tripp offers readers a practical, helpful, and (most importantly) biblical look at the importance of eternity. I trust that readers will be blessed and challenged by it and will embrace a healthy view of forever.
Note: This review was first posted at Blogging Theologically and is re-posted with permission of the reviewer, Aaron Armstrong. You can also read his original post at Blogging Theologically.