Christians and many others hope that their deaths are not the end of their stories. They hope that there is some afterlife which will be much better than the life we now enjoy. Two features distinguish the hoped-for afterlife from this present life: it is completely blessed, with no spot of pain or sadness; and it is neverending.
It is trivially true that a completely blessed life is desirable. But is a neverending life desirable? I think it is, but I don’t think it’s obvious that it is, so I’ll try to show that it is. Specifically, I’ll try to show that having a never-ending life is a necessary component of a completely blessed life, such that however blessed a life is, if it will cease to exist (whether or not the person enjoying such a life knows that she will cease to exist), then it is not a completely blessed life.
At first glance it seems that if you were very blessed but are destined eventually to come to an end, to cease to exist, then by that very fact you could not be completely blessed. The fact that you would eventually cease to exist would cloud somewhat your present life, making it somewhat less blessed than it would be if you were going to to live forever.
But suppose that you don’t know that you would cease to exist, and suppose that you will have no anticipation of the moment of your annihilation. Here it may not seem quite right to say that you couldn’t be completely blessed. Every moment of your life, suppose, was filled to the brim with blessedness; qualitatively your life was extremely enjoyable, as enjoyable as your life could be. Why not suppose that this is a completely blessed life? It is true that there could be a life more blessed than yours. Someone who had a life qualitatively as enjoyable as yours but lived an extra day would, I suppose, have had a more blessed life. But, like two cups of different volumes each filled to the brim, both lives would be completely full of blessedness even though one had more than the other.
But we, who live in the valley of the shadow of death, we could never have such a life. Once touched with the thought of the possibility of annihilation—and we have all been touched—we cannot hope to achieve the state of complete ignorance about this possibility.
Perhaps, though, we could view our annihilation as benign. Perhaps we could walk through our long blessed life knowing that it will eventually come to an end but also knowing that at no time will we ever suffer a decline. Since, as Epicurus reasoned, we won’t be around to be bereaved by our own annihilation, we could imagine coming to view our annihilation neither as an improvement nor as a decline of blessedness.
But this is solipsistic, or at least selfish. If my blessed life is social, if there are others with whom I enjoy my blessed life, then my annihilation cannot be benign. Even if we suppose my whole community to be equally reasonable about their own annihilation, the loss of one member of the community will detract from the blessedness of everyone else. Even if we wouldn’t suppose that they’d be sad by this loss, still, inasmuch as that person added to the blessedness of the others, the loss of that person detracts from their blessedness.
But suppose we all go down together. Imagine that our annihilations are perfectly synchronized so that no one continues to exist even for a moment without any member of his community. Then maybe we could regard our ceasing to exist as benign.
Still, it’s hard to see how anyone really could come to see their end as completely benign. You would be aware of the possibility of living beyond your allotted time. You would reason that your life would be more blessed, even if just a little more blessed, with even one extra day. You could pose the question to yourself, “Of the two, a life of n days and a life of n + 1 days, each of which is as qualitatively enjoyable as the other, which is to be preferred?” How could your answer not be n + 1? And if you knew that you would eventually come to an end, you would know that no matter how large your n, there would always be an n + 1. You would want, and reasonably want, the longer life.
Moreover, the completely blessed life is not static. You are doing things in it: learning, creating, sharing. So ceasing to exist involves the interruption of these projects—the unsolved equation, the unfinished painting. You would reasonably want to continue these and other projects. But there is no end to the acquisition of knowledge and there is no end to creative activity. There is no possible time at which you could say truthfully, “I have learned all I want to learn; I have made all I want to make.” So the moment of your corruption is an abortion of some ongoing activity. Remember, we’re not imagining growing old, where diminishing powers lead the reflective person to settle accounts and bring their affairs as much as possible to a natural close. We’re imagining a postmortem life without natural decay or weariness, with unfailing mental and affective powers. There would be in this life, therefore, no natural summing up point, no reason to put away the brushes and paints. If, in such a life, we knew the day and hour of our annihilation, we might tidy things up before our departure, but it would be an artifical cessation. “Well, okay, I guess it’s time to stop.”
Again, it’s hard to see how God could ever have a good reason for annihilating any completely blessed person. He does not get bored, He does not stop loving, He does not get too busy. He would want this blessed life just to go on being blessed. He created this life and in creating it wills its good, not its good for a few years or centuries, but its good. To annihilate such a life is to cease to will its good; but there is no good reason for God to do such a thing.
In sum, it seems to me that being neverending is a practically necessary constituent of being completely blessed. So being completely blessed entails being neverending.