The problem of eternity

Peter J. Leithart illustrates the problem with eternity. I read this as my train passed by Baltimore’s Cathedral and Western cemeteries. Specifically he illustrates the problem of imaging how we (our being) can survive the end of our existence:

In his essay on “The End of All Things,” Kant analyzes the “pious language” that speaks of “a person who is dying as going out of time into eternity.” Kant finds no comfort in the thought. On the contrary there is “something horrifying” about it.

The end of time must mean the end of all experience. We cannot conceive a life that does not involve temporal succession; we doubt whether it counts as life at all: “that at some point a time will arrive in which all alteration (and with it, time itself) ceases—this is a representation which outrages the imagination. For then the whole of nature will be rigid and as it were petrified: the last thought, the last feeling in the thinking subject will then stop and remain forever the same without any change.” For human beings, who are conscious of “existence and the magnitude of this existence (as duration) only in time,” a timeless existence “appears equivalent to annihilation, because in order to think itself into such a state it still has to think something in general, but thinking contains a reflecting, which can occur only in time.”

Timeless eternity is not only inconceivable; it is self-contradictory…

The problem is that eternity is only comprehensible relative to time. Eternity describes what is totally outside of time and apart from time, not simply more than the greatest amount of time conceivable.