I know that many universalists take the tack that the words translated ‘eternal’ should actually be translated to mean only ‘age-enduring.’ I do not necessarily dispute this but I take a different approach.
Namely, that ‘eternal’ means something entirely different than anything having to do with time, just as the late theologian and teacher Oswald Chambers said:
“Eternal Life has nothing to do with Time, it is the life which Jesus lived when He was down here.”
Nor could eternal life be satisfactory if it were merely endless time, just as George MacDonald said:
“his idea of eternal life I do not know; I can hardly think it was but the poor idea of living for ever, all that commonplace minds grasp at for eternal life–its mere concomitant shadow, in itself not worth thinking about, not for a moment to be disputed, and taken for granted by all devout Jews: when a man has eternal life, that is, when he is one with God, what should he do but live for ever? without oneness with God, the continuance of existence would be to me the all but unsurpassable curse–the unsurpassable itself being, a God other than the God I see in Jesus…”
(The Way, Unspoken Sermon Second Series)
We also see that this assumption creates illogical blunders, such as thinking that eternity can ‘begin’ - by this definition, if a person is eternally punished, does this not mean that he was punished from the beginning of time as well as to the end? - not to mention that when we confine ‘eternal death’ to mean ‘age-long death’ we confine ‘eternal life’ to mean ‘age-long life’ - don’t we?
Do we really believe the scriptures and the apostles and Jesus himself supported such poor ideas?
Or should we take a different route, and think that perhaps eternity means something completely different?
For, when we even say ‘eternal truth’, do we mean a truth that has merely existed from the beginning of time to the end, or one that is timeless, that is not even touched by time and cannot age? We betray our very own meaning when we imply or even say outright that eternity is a state of timelessness.
But how can we concieve of something outside of time?
Perhaps we mean something original, a pure and saturated essence - something not run ragged by the cycle of death which this world seems to experience; a life straight from the Source of life himself, God our Father through his Great Son Jesus Christ!
This would explain why Jesus and his beloved apostle spoke of eternal life as something that can be attained in the life here and now.
Again, Oswald Chambers:
“The real meaning of eternal life is a life that can face anything it has to face without wavering. If we take this view, life becomes one great romance, a glorious opportunity for seeing marvellous things all the time. God is disciplining us to get us into this central place of power.”
“The bliss of the animals lies in this, that, on their lower level, they shadow the bliss of those - few at any moment on the earth - who do not ‘look before and after, and pine for what is not’ but live in the holy carelessness of the eternal now.”
I feel that I have experienced this, this state of timelessness which has no conception of anything but God’s pure glory infusing everything around until one is only aware of a supernatural presence, making one vividly aware not only of the earthly realm but of the heavenly.
But only at moments at a time before my mind slides back once more into abstract thought and worrisome cares. God help save me from myself!
This, then, is the true, and very much needed in our world, definition of eternity - unwavering pure essence, a quality of being rather than a quantity. (Not that it does not jive with the concept of an age - I may explain this further later.)
What, then, of those punished with eternal destruction?
I answer - the destruction is eternal but not the sentence. There may be eternal damnation, but no eternal damnees - that is, the essence of that which destroys is pure and will never end, because it is the very presence of God which destroys all evil - but the destruction cannot be forever, or it would forfeit its own cause and be a self-contradictory notion.
Yet eternal life is to be enjoyed for as long as existence ensues, for life is much stronger than death.
Feel free to post your reflections on this.