The eternal life that God offers to human beings is participation in the very life of God, to be one with God as Jesus is one with the Father. God loves eternally, and he wants human beings to love eternally too, not just like him, but with him and in him. And yet he cares about who we are and what we want. To be part of God is not to be swallowed up, to be lost in a greater whole, as a river is swallowed up by the sea, but to be beloved, each as ourselves, a unique person, loving and being loved. It is to love God and be loved by him, not from outside, but from inside, from where Jesus is, in the very heart of God. But how? Human beings are finite creatures, not divine in their own right; how could such as these become one with God? Even worse, we human beings are fallen, sinful creatures. For human beings such as us to become one with God seems impossible, perhaps even contradictory. Then how can God possibly offer us eternal life like this?
We look to Jesus for an explanation. When his apostles ask him, “Then who can be saved?”, Jesus tells them that “For mortals, it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” [Matthew 19:25-26] Jesus explains how:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:16-17]
Consider this carefully. To save human beings, God sent his son into the world. This is not a metaphor or a principle, it is an event. Jesus, the only Son of God, at a particular moment in time, was conceived within a specific human woman, Mary. Let’s look more closely at what happened:
The angel [Gabriel] said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus… Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God…. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. [Luke 1:30-31,35,37-38]
Let’s unpack this. Mary, a virgin, is told by an angel that she had been chosen by God to become the mother of Jesus. When she, quite understandably, asks how this can happen, given her commitment to virginity, the angel explains that the child, instead of being conceived in the usual way with the aid of a man, will be conceived through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, and therefore the child is God’s son. Mary consents, the angel leaves, Mary conceives (for nothing is impossible with God), and nine months later, she gives birth to Jesus.
When we combine this event with Jesus’ explanation, we get this: God so loved the world that he sent the Holy Spirit to a virgin, Mary, that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear God’s only son, Jesus, so that everyone who believes in Jesus may not perish, but may have eternal life.
Now let’s shift our attention to the second part of Jesus’ explanation, where he talks about eternal life being given to those who believe in him. Jesus explains a key aspect of this to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you…. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. [John 14:15-17,26]
This Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will be sent to them forever by the Father, is God, the very same Holy Spirit from Jesus’ conception. So let’s put this all together: God so loved the world that he sent his Holy Spirit to a virgin, Mary, that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear God’s Son, Jesus, so that everyone who loves Jesus and keeps his commandments may not perish, but receive the Holy Spirit, to be with them forever, to abide with them, to be in them, to teach them everything, and remind them of all that Jesus has said to them.
See, here is the very answer to our question! The eternal life God gives is God himself, the Holy Spirit. Moreover, God, although infinite and eternal, does not overwhelm or absorb human beings, but instead he gives himself to them, to be with them forever, to be in them, and to teach them everything. This is how the eternal life that God offers is participation in the very life of God, this is how we as human beings can be one with God as Jesus is one with the Father: God himself, the Holy Spirit, comes to abide in us forever.