Results tagged “time” from Reformation21 Blog

Marking our days and God's eternity

As we come to the end of the year and stand ready to mark the beginning of another, it is good to remember that we mark time because time is intrinsically measurable, intrinsically finite. Not only is time itself finite, having a definite beginning in and with the creation of all things. Our times are also finite, limited by definite beginnings and definite endings: "The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty. . . They are soon gone, and we fly away" (Ps 90.10). The psalmist thus counsels us to gain a heart of wisdom by learning to number our days (Ps 90.12). 

But learning to number our days does not exhaust the wisdom Psalm 90 commends. Its opening verses declare with confidence: "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God" (Ps 90.1-2). As we mark the end of one year and the beginning of another, it is worth pausing over what it means to have the eternal one as our Lord and God. 

To say that God is eternal is not to say that God is very, very old. God's eternity is not an exceedingly long span of time. In fact, God's eternity is not susceptible to measurement at all (Job 36.26). Nothing in God's eternal being recedes into the past or rushes upon him from the future (to paraphrase Robert Jenson). Eternity is God's mode of being as God. As such, God's eternity precedes and transcends time, even as it is present to time as its ground and governor (Ps 90.2; John 8.58; Rev 1.8). God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever in the replete perfection of his eternal being (Ps 102.27; Heb 13.8).

As the eternal one, Psalm 90 tells us that God is the "dwelling place" of his covenant people (Ps 90.1). At a minimum, the psalmist identifies God as our dwelling place to signify that he is the source of our security in the midst of a world characterized by danger (Pss 36.7; 91.1-2) and to signify that he is the source of our supply in the midst of a world characterized by want (Ps 36.8). Security and supply, protection and provision, these are the traits of our "dwelling place."

And because our dwelling place is the Lord, our dwelling place is eternal. Ours is no temporary security. Our feeble days are enveloped by an eternal security that outbids the threats of any temporal assailant: "The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night" (Ps 121.6). Ours is no temporary supply. Our feeble days are enveloped by an eternal provision that is untiring, never slumbering, that is new every morning with the newness of God's own eternal life (Ps 121.4; Isa 40.28). In the shelter of the eternal one is "the fountain of life" and the light in which we see light (Ps 36.9). 

So teach us, Lord, to number our days in the year that lies ahead; it is good to remember that we are dust (Ps 90.3). And teach us to meditate upon your eternity: "Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love"--which endures forever (Ps 106.1)--"that we may rejoice and be glad all our days" (Ps 90.14).

Time heals all wounds?

There seems to be a common misconception among believers, at least in my growing experience as a Christian and as a pastor. It is a misconception that I have seen and felt from various directions. It shows itself among husbands and wives, parents and children, church members toward one another and toward the church as a whole, brothers and sisters in Christ in different churches, and various other relationships.

Some particular sin is committed, some specific greater or lesser offence offered or received. (I am thinking more of this than of the gradual accumulation of distress caused by ignorant or ingrained behaviour over time, although they may be connected.) Division is created, either hidden or open. That sin, that offence, is like a splinter in the flesh, creating a persistently sore spot, perhaps even a festering wound, sensitive to every pressure. If you have had such a splinter in your flesh, you know that you might, over time, forget that it is there, precisely because no pressure is applied. You can learn, in measure, to protect the spot in question. And then, in some way and for some reason, pressure is exerted once more, and - yoicks! - do you remember that you have a splinter! The only way to deal with the tenderness and soreness, perhaps with the growing infection, is to remove the splinter. That can be a profoundly painful experience in itself, but at least it solves the problem.

So it is with sins and offences that cannot be covered with a blanket of love. Some pains and griefs will not die but keep creeping up into a relationship to turn it sour. The only way to deal with the pain and the division is to remove the splinter. Generally speaking, this does not just happen over time. But this is what many Christians seem to expect. A husband lies to his wife at a key moment, or insults her publicly, and the matter is never resolved. A wife steals from her husband under particular circumstances, or gossips about him, and the wound never heals. A parent strikes a child in sinful and uncontrolled anger, or indulges in a pattern of selfish neglect, and the matter rankles. A child hurls angry abuse at a parent, or betrays some particular trust, and the words or the deeds hang mouldering in the atmosphere. In such close-knit environments, the pressure is likely to be felt time and again, with the result that there may always be a simmering tension, an underlying rumble that suggests that the volcano might erupt at any moment. Another lie, another theft, another outburst of anger, and . . .  BOOM!

In other environments, the pressure may be less regular. A church member speaks harshly to another, and subsequently avoids that person for months to come. But then they are necessarily thrown closely together, and the wound is found to have festered and there is a spirit of bitter recrimination. A man leaves the church having sat with a face like thunder through countless sermons, hurling insults and abuses at the elders as he goes. Later, a pastor is preaching away, and - behold! - the face of the offender in the congregation, with the immediate resurgence of all the old pains for the man of God. And then, at the door, to be greeted like an old friend by that very man! A couple leave a congregation, having laid various charges against the saints and with significant and sore unfinished business. A decade later, there is a crisis in their life or in the life of someone to whom they used to be close, and they pitch up and expect themselves or others to pitch in as if nothing has happened. A pastor speaks cuttingly and carelessly and unrepentantly, privately or publicly, and a wounded sheep wanders from the flock. Months later, that sheep attends a conference and there is that man preaching on the love of Christ, and the bile rises in the victim's throat.

The simple passage of time does not heal such wounds. Even in the relationship of God with men, God's forgetting of our sins is a deliberate putting away - under specific circumstances and with good grounds - of that which has caused offence. It is not a gradual fog that gathers due to unavoidable gaps in the divine mind. The matter is there until repentance and forgiveness deals with it, and then it is cast into the depths of the sea. On a human level, the passage of time may dull the immediate pain of the splinter, only for it to flare up when pressure is re-applied. And yet how many of us seem to think or hope that if we just leave our sin or the sins of others alone, maybe the wound will heal? To be sure, it may temporarily scab over, but the slightest movement at that particular point will re-open the injury, and perhaps reveal not just the original cut but a developed infection.

How, then, do we remove the splinter? How do we heal the wound? It is not by ignoring it and hoping that it will get better by itself. It is not by pretending that nothing is wrong. It is not by mentally downgrading the offence and hoping that it all gets better. It is not by saying sorry (this may be a topic for another post, but there is a difference between being and even saying sorry, and seeking forgiveness - you can be very sorry that something has happened without repenting of your sin). It is not by positive thinking.

The way to address it is to identify the splinter, and then to remove it or to allow it to be removed. The wound must be opened, lanced if necessary, the balm of forgiveness poured in, and the whole injury properly bound up.

If you are the offended party, that may require that you graciously identify with the offender where the offence lies, as they may have genuinely forgotten it, may have no sense that they have sinned or caused offence, or may simply be hoping you have not remembered it, or that it will go away. You should consider whether or not it is genuinely a matter of sin against you, or if you simply have an excessive sensitivity at some point. Should the time come to address the matter, you would want to do so not in a spirit of vindictiveness or bitterness, but with a disposition of readiness to extend forgiveness when it is sought. And, should forgiveness be sought, that is the moment at which to extend it in a Christian spirit, fully and freely (Eph 4:32). If your sincere offer of forgiveness to any sincerely repentant approach is rebuffed, you can at least stand with a clear conscience (Rom 12:18).

If you are the offending party, it may mean first of all that you face up to your sinful behaviour. There may be something that is lying on your conscience, and has been for many months or even years, and you need to address it. There may be ignorance about the matter, but there may come a point at which it is pointed out to you, and you need to consider the charge. You may simply be too bullheaded to acknowledge your sin, and that needs to change. There may be something which you are, on your knees before God, persuaded was not sin, but which has still led to some degree of distance and difficulty in a relationship. Whether it is something that you need to raise, or something that has been raised with you, go and deal with the matter in all humility (Phil 2:1-4). Go and repent of your particular sins particularly, dealing with them before God and men, remembering that the blood of Christ cleanses from all transgressions, and sincerely seeking forgiveness not just vertically, in your relationship with the Lord, but horizontally, in your relationship with men. If your desire for and pursuit of reconciliation is rebuffed, you at least have a conscience void of offence.

As I have hinted, you cannot guarantee a righteous response when you seek to deal with these things. Perhaps some tenderness may remain if, from one side or the other, there is an unwillingness to seek and secure a righteous resolution. But you or I should do all that we can to remove the splinter, lance the boil, clean the wound, pour in the balm, bind up the injury, and go on in peace. Time alone will not accomplish this. It needs the tweezers of repentance to draw out the splinter, and the oil of forgiveness to soothe the hurt, not to mention the plaster of renewed affection to allow healing to go on. By God's grace, just as broken bones are stronger than before, so can such restored relationships be even sweeter and surer than they ever were.

What Time Is It?

What hath cyber Monday to do with eternity?  For starters, yesterday offered a $2 billion glimpse into where America's treasure is being stored up (cf. Matt 6:19-21). But the fact that mobile devices have become the purchasing organ of choice brings into view, too, the perspectives on this world and the next espoused by the famous duo whose fingerprints, along with our own, cover our digital companions. 

In an interview shortly after Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer last year, his biographer Walter Isaacson recalled a conversation with Jobs where the CEO discussed his views about God, the afterlife, and the design of his ubiquitous Apple products. "Sometimes I don't [believe in God]. It's 50-50," said Jobs, "But ever since I've had cancer I've been thinking about it more, and I find myself believing it a bit more." After a short pause, he added, "Yeah but sometimes I think it's like an on-off switch. Click, and you're gone . . . And that's why I don't put on-off switches on Apple devices." Strange, isn't it, that the very devices which tether so many to this world themselves embody their inventor's fear of death?

Bill Gates, Job's longtime rival in computerdom, offered a complementary remark (to TIME Magazine, of all things): "Just in terms of allocation of resources, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning." Small wonder that this quote, rather than the other, comes from the billionaire computer wiz who has never received a cancer diagnosis.

Of course, iPads eventually run out of juice and, just as surely, our Sunday mornings will give way to a cataclysmic and glorious transformation of all things. Both are terrifying prospects for those whose biological clocks are set according to the wisdom of this age. By contrast, Christians must learn to number their days aright (Ps 90:12); to refuse to count slowness as some count slowness (2 Pet 3:9); to hold onto their iPhones loosely (1 Cor 7:31); and to rejoice in the dawn of eternity in Jesus Christ (2 Tim 1:10). 

So, with the tragic words of Jobs and Gates still lit up on your screen, set your watches to this observation delivered in a sermon by Geerhardus Vos:

"Time, especially time with the wasting power it acquires through sin, is the archenemy of all human achievement. It kills the root of joy which otherwise belongs to working and building. All things which the succeeding generations of mankind have wrought in the course of the ages succumb to its attacks. The tragic sense of this accompanies the race at every step in its march through history. It is like a pall cast over the face of all peoples...

Now put over against this the triumphant song of life and assurance of immortality that fills the glorious, spacious days of the New Covenant, especially where first it issues from the womb of the morning bathed in the dew of imperishable youth. The note of futility and depression has disappeared, and in place of this the rapture of victory over death and decay, the exultant feeling of immersion in the atmosphere of eternity prevail . . . It is the prerogative of God, the Eternal One, to work for eternity. As the King of the ages he discounts and surmounts all the intervening forces and barriers of time. He who is made to share in this receives the highest form which the divine image can assume in its reproduction in man. Neither things present nor things to come can conquer him. He reigns in life with God through Jesus Christ, our Lord" (G. Vos, "The More Excellent Ministry - 2 Corinthians 3:18," in Grace and Glory, p. 46).