I think it is time we redeem this word “eternal” and let it actually speak in a healing and loving way into the context of our daily lives.
The Greek for “eternal” is aiónios (see definition below).
Aiónios: age-long, and therefore: practically eternal, unending; partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting.
This word is used multiple times by Jesus in a few different contexts. One example is in John, when talking to the woman at the well, we see Jesus referring to eternal life using water as an analogy.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 4:13-14 NIV
“Welling up” is a process.
It takes time to come to completion, to a fullness.
The same can be said of our spiritual lives. One prayer does not bring us to this place, but rather a life lived pursuing love and grounded in the knowledge that you are worthy, you belong, and you are enough.
In this passage Jesus is making a comparison: the satisfying feeling of quenching your thirst versus a sustained state of contentment. Jesus is telling this woman that she can pursue satisfaction and contentment in such a way that provides it in a temporary and fleeting manner or she can choose to listen to his teaching and live into a mode, a posture of being that lends itself to a life of contentment.
A divine rhythm.
This idea of eternal life may not be referring to an eternal consciousness after death at all. It very well may be referencing a way of living that allows you to experience life in its fullness, in all things, in every moment rather than the fleeting moments of temporary pleasures.
Jesus came that we may have LIFE and have it to the full. If you believe in his message, you will obey his commands. You will choose to love those who persecute you, deny the myth of redemptive violence, be grateful for the gift of life that you have freely received, become aware of the ocean of grace surrounding us all, and this will surely bring you “eternal” life; that is a life where you experience the divine in everything you do, in everyone you meet, and in every circumstance life can throw at you.