Some concepts of immortality may be reminiscent of the proverbial carrot, hung in front of the donkey's eyes to keep the animal moving forward. The promise of a future immortality may furnish incentive to keep people doing good, hoping to receive their reward in due time.
It's better to do good, even on this basis, than not to do good! But good deeds prompted by the desire for a future reward may tempt us just to go through the motions, without feeling the sincere love that should animate our actions. For instance, it is possible to accumulate an impressive rsum of charitable works without stopping to make sure we really care for the people we're helping. Or, we may think of regular attendance at a church, synagogue, or mosque as helping us "qualify" for heaven, rather than as offering the opportunity to embrace within ourselves the spiritual love that makes the worship itself a holy occasion.
If an honest investigation of our motives indicates that the desire for future reward is the incentive for our good deeds, it may be worth asking ourselves why we think God is unable, or unwilling, to give us good right now.
We may reach a conclusion similar to that arrived at by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper. She wrote in the textbook of Christian Science: "God, divine good, does not kill a man in order to give him eternal Life, for God alone is man's life. God is at once the centre and circumference of being" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 203-204).
Eternal life and all the good that characterizes it-such as peace, joy, harmony, happiness-are truly ours already! The Bible says in Genesis that the real identity of each one of us is that of God's likeness (see 1:26). God is immortal. God is good. You and I are the individual, spiritual expression of His immortal goodness. This is the truth that Christ Jesus proved in his mission of healing the sick and reforming sinners. This is the fact we can progressively prove for ourselves through prayer, opening thought and heart to understanding God.
The teachings of Jesus chart a standard of goodness to follow. To the degree we conform our thoughts and actions to this divine standard of goodness, we come to understand and witness more of the immortality each child of God has. This understanding impels actions that are sincere; we do good because we know we are good, as God creates us. And in this way we overcome irritability, anxiety, or any other negative tendency that is not of God and that robs our peace.
One night an elderly relative was annoying me with chatter that I wasn't interested in hearing (as was often the case!). As I listened impatiently, it suddenly came to me that I was almost unconsciously anticipating the time when this relative would finally be gone and I wouldn't have to put up with these conversations anymore. I might have appeared to be doing good by listening. But measured by Jesus' standard of sincere, unselfish love, my motives were a million miles off target! The Bible describes death as "the last enemy," which in every case needs to be overcome (see I Corinthians 15:26). My thoughts expressed exactly the opposite viewpoint.
Realizing the wrongness of this thinking, I shook myself mentally, then and there. I prayed to recognize the immortality of everyone, including this relative. The spiritual fact that God makes each of us like Him, immortal, dawned on me. The irritation I was feeling vanished. The relative's topic of conversation hadn't changed; I just suddenly felt free from impatience and selfishness. More important, I felt a real love for this individual. I was glimpsing something of his immortal identity, as well as feeling more of my own nature as the loving reflection of God. I've had to pray to find that immortal view of my relative again since that time, but my feelings of impatience have ebbed.
Our immortality is a fact. Proving this through prayer, moment by moment, is the best means of gaining a deep assurance that we reflect God forever.