Seek What Will Last

Based on the scientific law that energy and matter can be converted from one form to the other, I used to mistakenly believe plants turned sunlight into the matter that vegetation is made of. The truth is no less impressive. The only use plants have for the sun is using its energy to grow matter from preexisting matter. They do so by splitting the molecules CO2 and H2O to recombine their atoms into new molecules. God is quite the chemist. He’s also a brilliant nuclear physicist, as seen by the efficiency of solar power. The sun produces energy by fusing hydrogen atoms to form the heavier helium atoms, and this is where the interchangeability of matter and energy comes into to play. Nuclear fusion converts far more matter to energy than nuclear fission, so our energy problems will be solved if someone figures out how to control it in a manner suitable for generating electricity.

The sun provides nearly all the energy that’s converted to electricity, with nuclear power plants being an exception. Instead of fusing atoms together as the sun does, they split atoms apart to generate the heat that boils water that spins turbines. Coal is burned to do the same. The difference is the energy stored in coal came from the sun, which is also an energy source for wind turbines. Different areas are heated more so than others, and since air expands and rises when heated, cooler air moves in as wind to take its place. We speak of the sun as an energy source that will last, but it won’t really. It’s estimated to run out of fuel five billion years from now, and long before then the rate at which it consumes its fuel will have increased enough for it to boil the oceans. With all of the other problems to worry about, it’s optimistic to think life on Earth could survive even near that long. Some scientists hypothesize that in the future our species will figure out how to stop aging and also travel to a habitable planet orbiting another star, allowing them to live “forever.” But they don’t mean forever by its true definition. The longest-lasting stars will last for trillions of years at best.

It’s hard to contemplate the time needed for the universe to go dark; it’s harder still to contemplate living that long and being no closer to death. That’s how it will be in Heaven, where there will be eternal bliss. (The other option is an eternal existence rather than eternal life.) Some people who think about their future are wise enough to prepare for retirement, and that’s great, but the greatest wisdom is held by people who prepare for eternity. I can think of no better role model than the apostle Paul, known as Saul by Jews (not to be confused with the Old Testament’s King Saul). He wasn’t one of the original twelve but had been a Pharisee who persecuted Christians and had a conversion experience while on his way to persecute more of them (Acts 9:1-19). He then became the greatest Christian missionary and made himself a target for the same kind of persecution he used to carry out. Yet persecution didn’t stop him, and he rightly declared “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). No amount of suffering in your temporary life can compare to eternal joy in Heaven.

The early Christians were persecuted and imprisoned for doing God’s will in the Roman Empire, yet they couldn’t be silenced. Right after getting out of prison for preaching, the first apostles were right back at it and then reminded that they had been forbidden to do so (Acts 5:17-28). The apostles boldly replied, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Paul was imprisoned as they were after he became an apostle himself, and he too continued to do God’s will. He was in prison when writing his letter to Philemon, his second letter to Timothy, and his letters to the cities of Ephesus, Philippi and Colosse. And the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation from Patmos where he was exiled “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:9). Kind of like Australia was an island where the British sent criminals in the past, Patmos was an island where the Romans sent political criminals. The good news is that none of the apostles, or any persecuted Christian for that matter, will be concerned about the past once they’ve entered their eternal destination.

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