By Ben Swift
Once a man is united to God how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die? (C.S. Lewis)
With every beat of our heart, with every tick of the clock, the time we have in this life edges closer to the finish line. If nothing else, this realisation should have us thinking about what it all means; this life we have as a human being.
If there’s one thing shared amongst western cultures, it is perhaps their relationship with time. As human beings so often do when it comes to making sense of life, things that are abstract or incomprehensible are reformed to reflect something more acceptable. They are moulded or created into something that better reflects finite human thinking. Perhaps this explains how the character, ‘Father Time’, came to be; an elderly bearded man with wings, seemingly depicting ‘time’ itself.
In this scientific age, it’s reasonable to believe that most people would not take seriously the idea of time having any link to a god, let alone the Christian God. But can God really be removed from this concept without losing real perspective on how we are to relate to time and to God himself? And if God is the Creator of all things, unbound by time, then wouldn’t that make time simply another aspect of creation with a beginning and an end?
It is often said that many aspects of God will always be hidden from humanity, at least on this side of Christ’s return. What God reveals to us about himself through Christ, The Scriptures and in the general revelation of creation is all we are able to comprehend about what He is like. Regular human beings can only perceive what exists in four dimensions – one being time. The dimension of time certainly leads to many questions causing us much philosophical angst as we journey through life.
I can still hear the voice of my high school headmaster trying to impart his knowledge based on life experience. “If only we could put an old head on your young shoulders, you could all be saved from learning things the hard way.” Ironically the youth never heed this advice but continue to hand it over years down the track to the next generation.
How often do we hear lyrics that yearn for the ability to control time? After all isn’t this exactly what humans seek, to control everything for their own purposes? When The Rolling Stones once suggested that time was on our side, they probably weren’t reciting popular opinion. It’s more probable for individuals to relate to Cher in wishing to turn back time. Perhaps one of the songs that speaks most deeply to our lives came from the Australian band ‘Powderfinger’. Consider their words from the song ‘These Days’:
“It’s coming round again, the slowly creeping hand, of time and its command… These days turned out nothing like I had planned.”
And isn’t this the case for so many of us? I suspect that the moment our older experienced head sits firmly attached to our older body we can only reflect on what might have been if we’d only done things differently; if only the shackles of time could be loosened and we could have just one more roll of the dice.
“But the day comes when you’re lying in the bath and you notice you are thirty-nine and that the way you’re living bares scarcely any resemblance to what you thought you always wanted, and yet, you realize you got there by a long series of choices.” (Francis Spufford)
The writer of Ecclesiastes made it his mission in life to try out everything under the sun but often concluded all to be meaningless and warns those who are young that time has us all in its grip; life should not be wasted.
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
Without God and the hope that exists in his grace, life in the review mirror can sometimes appear meaningless or plunge us into a pool of regret. Our hope in Christ should remind us that the keys to the shackles of time are not in the hands of Father Time but rather in the hands of the one who created time in the beginning. He will bring time to an end and with it the consequences of our poor decisions that seem to hold us to ransom each day. If our lives are really like sands through the hourglass, that hourglass has been given an expiry date. Christ has promised to set us free from the decay of this cursed life. Those who belong to him will no longer feel the need to dwell on the past but will live in his presence eternally in the absence of time and its command.
To overcome the temptation to look constantly into the rearview mirror of life – as Lot’s wife did when she was transformed to a pillar of salt – it is a difficult thing. It goes against our natural way of thinking and in fact our tendency to focus on ourselves rather than Christ. As we remind ourselves as to who we belong to and the truth about time, perhaps we can join with the Psalmist as he prays:
“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.” (Psalm 39:4-5)