Answering questions about eternity and embryology
Published: 25 November 2017 (GMT+10)
At CMI, we answer a wide range of creation questions. First, an interesting question about eternity.
Eric B. from the U.S. writes,
I have a sincere question. I’m a Christian but have always been unsettled by the paradoxical feeling of eternal life. The idea of something never ending for us should be joyful, but I’m constantly horrified by the thought of there being only a limited amount of things one could possibly do for eternity, since there can’t be an infinite amount of them. At some time everything possible to exist will, and there will be no new things to experience. How could anything stay satisfying forever. As horrible as it is, it would seem like the only way to not suffer anymore is to not exist after death, but we exist and have desires and love for people, and for all that to end isn’t desirable, even though you wouldn’t know that you don't exist anymore, so shouldn’t be harmful. It also concerns me that there’s a lot of people who have no problem believing you don’t exist after death because you can’t know it if that happens, and if belief in God and eternal existence are needed for peace and joy.
Lita Cosner responds:
Thanks for writing in. Wow, that’s really honest to admit these feelings about eternity. I would first really recommend that you talk to your pastor about this, because I think you could benefit from the sort of discipleship that you can only get in a local context. But I can offer a few thoughts that might be helpful in the meantime until you can meet with your pastor.
It’s true that there are only a limited number of created things, and if all we had were created things to occupy us in eternity, we might eventually get bored. But the wonderful thing about eternity is that we will be in the presence of God, who is inexhaustible in His glory and His goodness. Millions of years after we are resurrected, we will still be discovering new heights of His glory and depths of His goodness, and we will have new things to praise Him for. God is what makes eternity joyful for us. He created us with a need to have new things to learn and discover, and in the resurrection that need will be fulfilled in ways that we can’t even imagine in this life.
We can imagine if this life went on forever, that would be horrifying, because this world is fallen, and we are fallen, and our relationship with God, even though we are reconciled with Christ, is not yet what it will be in the Resurrection (or at least, it is not manifested as it will be).
God will be satisfying to us as believers forever, and as we will always have more to discover about His character, we will never run out of new things to experience. But as I said before, I really do recommend that you speak to your pastor.
I hope these few thoughts are helpful.
It is a common myth that all of us start our development as females. Victor S., Brazil, writes:
Hello friends form CMI! I have some doubts here. In a post in your site, the author said that it's myth to say that embryos “start off female”. However, I came across an articule that says: “Although all humans fetuses, whether genetic males or females, begin fetal development with a female form, it is at the seventh week of gestation that the bodies of unaffected genetic males begin their masculinization” I wish to know if the author didn't know about it, or the other site is wrong.(or I misunterstood both) And I want to know how should I treat a person with CAIS.
Lita Cosner responds:
Thanks for writing in. It is actually untrue that the embryo starts out female. Rather, males and females share the same early developmental pathways because the structures being developed are not sex-specific until a particular point in development. As the Wikipedia page for “Sexual differentiation in humans” puts it, “A fetus doesn’t develop its external sexual organs until the second month of pregnancy—seven weeks after conception. The fetus appears to be sexually indifferent, looking neither like a male or a female. Over the next five weeks, the fetus begins producing hormones that cause its sex organs to grow into male or female organs.” In fact, in the very early development of the embryo, both the müllerian (female) and wolffian (male) duct systems begin to develop, with the presence or absence of testosterone at a certain point in development determining which one predominates.
This is just good design economy for baby boys and girls to develop along the same pathways as much as possible (this is also why symmetry is a good idea in the design of a body plan). So the early embryo is not ‘female’, he or she is at an undifferentiated stage of development, although every cell already has an XX (for a girl) or XY (for a boy) chromosome pair which will determine the sex-specific development of the little boy or girl.
A big part of the development of the embryo is the presence or absence of testosterone and the body’s correct response to its presence (i.e. making the body more masculine). There are problems when there isn’t enough of it in a genetic male (or when the genetic male's body can't respond properly to it, as in CAIS), or when there is too much of it in a genetic female's body. Individuals affected by intersex conditions should be treated with dignity and compassion, and affirmed as image-bearers of God as all people are. Incidentally, there has been activism against early childhood operations to ‘normalize’ intersex children before they are old enough to understand and give consent. How interesting that one group of people is fighting for the right not to be operated on as children, while transgender people are fighting for ever-earlier medical interventions! Incidentally, transgender activists often try to co-opt the plight of intersex individuals to argue against the gender binary altogether—but this is not valid.
See the following articles for more information:
- Male and female He made them …
- Are women genetically superior to men?
- Transgender arguments hinge on sex versus gender—can you choose?
- Celebrating gender confusion
The Eternity question seems rather common these days. A lot of people are worried they will have to sit around strumming harps amongst the clouds, as it were. But I would suggest that if the creation is any guide, then God is dynamic and favours variety. Have we seen all that there is? Of course not. Let us not limit God with our own imagination. Nothing is impossible for him, including keeping us happy for eternity. Think about the size of the universe for example,
what else can he do if we give him more than 7 days! But why stop at the physical? There is an amazing mode of existence awaiting us, but we are not yet able to fully understand it (Rom 8:17-24). We were destined for eternity after all, and thanks to Jesus we have a chance. Why would God go to all that trouble if we would be miserable for all eternity? I'll tell you what would be miserable: stuck in sin for all eternity. No wonder God didn't let Adam and Eve eat from the tree of life at that time. You know, we all feel bored or jaded at times, but that human outlook should not inform our ideas of eternity. It is useful to take a moment to remember that it is all so much bigger than us "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (Eccl 3:11) "..everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away." (Is 51:11). Sounds good to me.
When I was younger, I was also rather uncomfortable with the concept of eternity, to the point of worrying myself sick trying to understand it! Talking about it with my parents and my pastor helped; as did realizing that as a finite being, infinite matters may simply be a bit above my head. We can understand some aspects of it, but we have limitations to our understanding. One thing that helped a lot, though, was more fully recognizing my faith as a relationship with God.
As an analogy, I've been blessed with a wonderful family that I get along with very well. When I get together with my sister/cousins/etc., we're just enjoying time together, regardless of what we're doing. We have fun playing games or watching movies, of course, but the primary joy is simply being around loved ones. When it's time to part, there's always a sense of sadness.
In Eternity, there will be no parting. We'll be fellowshipping with the Lord, as well as seeing many brothers and sisters in Christ that we don't even know we have! Further, there will be none of the sin that causes us to get irritated or annoyed with family here on Earth. I don't know exactly how God will keep it fresh forever, but I do know that if I can enjoy seeing family in this fallen, sinful world, how much more joyful will it be to see God and fellow believers without our character flaws?
Thank you for the answer to the second question (whether all embryos begin as female). Recently, while consulting with my doctor about the cause of my gender-specific birth defect, he said we all start out as female, and later conditions affected my development. I knew instinctively this was wrong but I didn't argue with him. I reasoned that we are conceived with either XX or XY chromosomes and so our gender is determined immediately. You helped to solidify my convictions with sound evidence. Thank you!
I know some find the thought of no life after death comforting. I think they just haven't thougth it out so well, for if we are not going to live after death, then we didn't have much of a life to begin with. Either we are god's living imagebearers with immortal soul or were nothing more than chemistry. Other options, while thinkable, are not, I think, truly possible. Not that it really were possible to have no life after death.
I think we would all need to remind ourselves from time to time of what Lita says about Gods infinite greatnes and wonder. We easily misunderstand God's greatness when we speak about how great is god because we have to use the terms meant to describe some size. But God's greatness has the same relation to any size as His eternity has to any amount of time.
Thank you for another thought provoking article.
You say in this article in response to the first question, "Millions of years after we are resurrected, we will still be discovering new heights of His glory and depths of His goodness, and we will have new things to praise Him for." But this is temporal thinking. My understanding of the matter, as limited as it may be follows. God is in Eternity, and Eternity is outside of time. There's no 10,000 years, or millions of years. "When we've been there ten thousand years" makes great singing, but a poor reflection on eternity, where time isn't a thing.
Thanks for this Joshua. However, as created beings, we are 'time-bound', so we will always experience time as one moment after another. How we measure time might be different in eternity, but we won't experience timelessness.
One can sympathize on questions about eternity, of which there are many - certainly the Sadducees struggled with it, over the seven brothers and the one wife they each had in succession in this life. Jesus answer to them also speaks to these questions; as also when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, of the things we can only 'see' with the renewed mind: for, by their very nature, they are beyond the grasp of our fallen, carnal minds. When Paul was caught up to the third heaven, he says he was shown things that it would not be right to speak of. I take this to mean that it would be impossible to do justice to them. As he says elsewhere: '...as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him' I always think that if this present, fallen creation is glorious, how much more so the restored creation! Also, when we think at what great lengths God went to, through the sacrifice of his Son, how much we should trust him for the eternal things we cannot now understand.