Last week we looked at the calling each of us has in Christ, a calling to “good works which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”1 This week we transition into a natural outcome of responding to that calling.
God and Time
I have two clocks by my desk at work, one hanging on the wall to my left, and another on the shelf to my right. I am not certain how I achieved this, but the second hand of each clock is ticking off the seconds in near-perfect synchronicity with the other clock, providing me with a pseudo-stereophonic reminder of the passage of time throughout my work day.
One of the greater challenges humanity faces in our struggle to wrap our minds around God is the reality of time. We are linear. We have what was, what is, and what will be. We view our entire existence in terms of time.
Our verbiage is laced with time terminology, speaking of past, present, and future events and activities. We measure time. We plan our lives in relation to time. We go to work at a certain time and work for a number of hours each day. We do this for years over a lifetime. We plan for retirement. We mark special dates on a calendar and cross off those dates that are behind us as we press forward toward those dates that are yet to come.
We sense time, talking about it moving too slowly, or by describing our day as flying by. Our children grow up much too quickly. We are time-bound creatures and while God, the creator, invented the concept of time and created us as linear beings, the passage of time is a reality by which God is not bound.
I cannot count the number of mind-numbing discussions I have had regarding the seemingly conflicting ideas of God’s omniscience and humanity’s free will.
The argument runs something like this:
If God is all knowing, then that means he knows my past, my present, and my future. And if God knows my future, he knows exactly what I am going to do for every second of the remainder of my life. He knows every word I will speak and every choice I will make. Therefore, I cannot be said to be acting of my own free will.
The fact that the debate continues is evidence enough that neither you, nor I, nor anyone else has the definitive statement to end that debate. But I can share with you how I prevent it from driving me insane.
The Eternal Now
It is critical to my ponderings of God that I understand him as living outside of time. It is a concept that a dear friend once described to me as “The Eternal Now.” It is always “now” to God. It is never “then,” or “yet to come.” It is now – always now.
As it relates to me, from God’s vantage point, I am being born right now, I am dying now, I am having my 16th birthday now, and writing this word right now. It is always now to the one who is outside of time.
If we can grasp that idea in even the smallest of ways, then we can begin to set our compass for Long-View Living in a Short-View World™, because the Christ-follower is constantly mindful that we have eternity in front of us. John Hamby describes this mindset as an anchor that has been cast ahead of us, that is constantly pulling us toward the future.2
Keeping the Eternal Perspective
The world is notoriously short-sighted and it just as notoriously self-sighted. The latter seems to feed the former, since it is difficult to take a long view on life when the scope of my worldview does not extend beyond my own personal space and my current moment in time. Life is viewed almost entirely through the lens of my own experiences and how those events and circumstances affect me right now.
Consider this blog comment from pastor Scotty Smith as he wrestles in prayer to hold onto peace within:
Some days, Jesus, I’m like Esau. My peace-pangs take over, and in the moment, I’ll gladly settle for a bowl of hot porridge over the hope of a future banquet. The provision of a snack-in-hand blinds my eye, deafens my ear, and dulls my taste buds for the sumptuous fare of the wedding feast of the Lamb — the Day when my longing and demanding heart will be fully set free to delight in you. “Maranatha!” Even so, Lord Jesus, come; hasten that Day.3
The reality of society’s “here and now” focus is a gold mine for marketing specialists who capitalize on our obsession with self by crafting catchy slogans that feed our egos.
Do these sound familiar?
“Obey your thirst.” Or the somewhat older, “You deserve a break today,” and “Have it your way.” A shot for our vanity; “Promise her anything, but give her Arpege.” And sometimes the appeal is more subtle, “Get the sensation,” from a peppermint patty.
Advertisers spend huge sums of money studying how to appeal to humanity’s craving for status, sex, convenience, and luxury. What they are selling is not food, clothing, cars, or jewelry, but rather a set of values, a way of viewing life. If they can convince us to buy into their worldview, we will almost certainly buy their products as well.
The Long-View reality that this short-view marketing misses is that the core desire of the human soul extends well beyond self-gratification. We may not always be aware of this reality, but it is nonetheless true, and this is evidenced in the way that feeding the self never satisfies us.
King Solomon knew the emptiness of self-gratification.
And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, ESV
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 5:10, NASB
We know the futility of self-gratification. Jesus knows it, and it is why he taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive.4 Note that Jesus did not say it is better to give than to receive, but more blessed. It is more satisfying, more fulfilling.
Jesus further taught us that the obsessive accumulation of “stuff” is pointless.5 He was not saying that material wealth is a bad in and of itself, but rather that it is so temporal that it becomes irrelevant at best and a distraction at worst.
My devotion to those things belonging to this world system is an investment of my life and my time into something that ultimately does not matter. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”6 Understanding this truth allows us to break free from the bondage of self-gratification and egocentric narcissism. This, in turn, allows us to embrace Long-View Living in a Short-View World™.
Here is how C.S. Lewis describes it:
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth and you will get neither.7
Similarly, Cornerstone University President, Joseph Stowell said:
When we begin to believe the reality of the other side, we start behaving differently on this side. This is what drove the disciples out into their world – they had seen firsthand the reality of the other side.8
It is Long-View Living that allows Joni Eareckson Tada to say, as she sits in her wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down:
I haven’t been cheated out of being a complete person – I’m just going through a forty- or fifty-year delay, and God stays with me even through that. I now know the meaning of being ‘glorified.’ It’s the time, after my death here, when I’ll be on my feet dancing.9
That is the perspective of one who has mastered Long-View Living in a Short-View World™.
It is eternity that gives meaning to time, to the now. Without it, nothing else really matters. Jesus’ implementation of Long-View Living enabled him to stay focused on his purpose. It is why he asked his parents the question, “Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s business?”10 It is the reason behind Jesus’ strange response when told, “Everyone is looking for you.” He said, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.”11 The only way I can live my life with true purpose, to live a life that counts, is to live it with the long view, the eternal view.
1. Ephesians 2:10b
2. Hamby, J. (2006) Living in the Light of Eternity. Retrieved 01/12/2015 from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/living-in-the-light-of-eternity-john-hamby-sermon-on-death-92712.asp
3. Smith, S. (2013) . Retrieved 02/15/2015 from https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/scottysmith/2013/02/07/a-prayer-about-our-unrelenting-longing-for-peace/
4. Acts 20:35
5. Matthew 6:19-21
6. Matthew 6:21, NASB
7. Lewis, C.S. (1943). Mere Christianity. (p. 118). New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.
8. Stowell, J. M. (1994, April 1). A Glimpse At The Other Side. Moody Monthly, 24.
9. Yancey, P. (1990). Where Is God When It Hurts?. (p. 139). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
10. Luke 2:49
11. Mark 1:38b, NASB