God’s goal for all human beings is always the same.

God desires that we may grow in love.

Paul articulated it well when he prayed,

may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. (I Thessalonians 3:12)

and in Philippians he described his prayer for those in the early church saying,

this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight. (Philippians 1:9)

Perhaps it sounds soppy and sentimental but love is what this whole thing called life is actually all about. We are created and given the gift of life in order that we might grow in love. And, make no mistake about it, there is nothing either soppy or sentimental about the biblical understanding of love. It is a challenging vision.

But life is designed to help bring us to that place of “perfect love”. To live in love is to have “eternal life” today.   I do not know how long “an age of suffering” may last, but I do know that nothing on earth can defeat the power of love which is everlasting.

Love never ends. (I Corinthians 13:8)

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39)

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. (Lamentations 3:22)

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever. (Psalm 136)

No enduring love would ever sit idly by and watch anyone perish in an eternity of suffering, unless that love is utterly powerless to do anything about it. The God of the Bible is not powerless; the love portrayed in Scripture cannot be defeated. Love does not fail. God never gives up on anyone.

Can a woman forget her nursing-child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.(Isaiah 49:15)

When we live in the “perfect love” that is God’s nature, the sheep in Matthew 25:31-46 is what our lives will look like. When we discover our true nature as beings created by love and carrying the Spirit of love within, we will live lives of compassion so naturally, we will not even recognize we are doing it:

37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”(Matthew 25:37-39)

These are not the actions of self-appointed, determined do-gooders seeking to avoid damnation by helping out the poor. These are spontaneous acts of love that arise naturally from those who live with hearts open to the presence of the God who is love. These acts of compassion overflow in the lives of those who have surrendered deeply to the power of love we see embodied in the person of Jesus and experience through the Spirit of Christ.

Jesus was more concerned with how we live today than he was obsessed with what may happen to us after physical death. Jesus came to call us back to our true nature in order that we might live as agents of compassion in this world today.

In John’s Gospel Jesus is reported to have said,

this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

Whatever else “eternal life” may be, it is first of all a quality of life that can be lived now, a quality of life in which we surrender deeply  to the power of love and live from that place of compassion and kindness that is our true nature.

“Eternal life”, just like the suffering that is translated as “eternal punishment” are experiences we have in our daily lives. Whether we suffer punishment, or experience the fullness of life that Jesus promised depends upon whether we live from the self-serving egoism that is only motivated by a desire to avoid suffering or are living in tune with the love and beauty that are the Spirit of Jesus at work in our lives.