My family paced the labor and delivery waiting room like dancers before a performance. We chattered about the little one we were yet to meet—my niece Beatrix, the first baby to join our family in 18 years. We wondered together what color her hair would be, who she’d look and act like. Nearly 14 hours after my sister-in-law’s pains began, Miss Bea came. And the wait had felt like nothing at all.
At one point during that joyous night, I snuck away and traveled up to the neurological floor of the hospital, where I’d been an unwilling resident nine years before. I had been admitted with numbness and tingling in my lower body, and one week later, I emerged a multiple sclerosis patient. For seven painful and frightening days, I prowled the halls of that hospital like a caged panther—unable to escape, each hour an eternity. This time I walked at peace, contemplating events both past and present, and realized time is a funny thing. Without our say-so, it ticks on, seconds piling up to create days and years. However, our perception of it is far from straightforward. In our minds, it can pass in the blink of an eye, feel sluggish, or seem to stop mid-second. It becomes even more perplexing when we consider God’s relationship to—or rather freedom from—time.
According to Gregory E. Ganssle, a philosophy professor at Biola University, “God does not experience temporal succession. God’s relation to each event in a temporal sequence is the same as his relation to any other event.” Essentially, “God does not experience the first century before he experiences the twenty-first. Both of these centuries are experienced by God in one ‘timeless now.’” It’s a reality that—as a temporal being based in and bound by time—I cannot fully fathom, and whenever I try, it well and truly bakes my noodle.
“God does not experience the first century before he experiences the twenty-first. Both centuries are experienced by God in one ‘timeless now.’”
Now that I’m 41 (and knocking on the door of 42), I find this mind-boggling concept comforting in a way I never could have in my salad days. Back then, time was something I had in spades, all my decades tucked safely away in silos until I had need of them. And I flung my hours around carelessly like a rich man losing chips in a high-stakes poker game. Why worry they’re gone? I’d tell myself. There’s always more where they came from. But age changes that, doesn’t it? Along with the crow’s feet and the unwanted extra pounds around our midsections, we learn a distressing little fact we’d sometimes rather forget: Time is indeed finite, and no matter what we do, it will one day run out.
It’s a knowing ascertained in ways both large and small. When we’re children, a day feels endless. When we’re grown, however, no matter how quickly we work, there never seem to be enough hours to get everything done. Our kids grow up before we know it. We lose family members and friends to old age, accident, and disease. Because of these realities and a thousand more besides, we feel time sliding through our hands like water and are utterly incapable of stopping its flow. It’s the reason Hollywood continues to make far-fetched movies about time travel (I’m looking at you, Avengers: Endgame) and why organizational systems and planners that promise to optimize life still sell like gangbusters. It’s why people diet and exercise, cram themselves full of vitamins and slather faces and limbs with moisturizers that promise to erase the wear of years. In one way or another, we all bruise and bloody our knuckles in an attempt to beat back the decades, even though we know every effort is futile.
This reality has driven many to despair, but for those who know “the invisible God” and Jesus, the one through whom “all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible” (Col. 1:15-16), the situation isn’t so dire. Though we can never grasp it this side of heaven, eternity has been placed in our hearts, and even if biology and logic say otherwise, we know there is a world beyond time for which we’re made (Eccl. 3:11; Eph. 3:11). A. W. Tozer says it brilliantly in his classic work The Knowledge of the Holy. He writes, “Life is a short and fevered rehearsal for a concert we cannot stay to give. Just when we appear to have attained some proficiency we are forced to lay our instruments down. There is simply not enough time to think, to become, to perform what the constitution of our natures indicates we are capable of.”
We all bruise and bloody our knuckles in an attempt to beat back the decades, even though we know every effort is futile.
Why would we possess this “constitution” if it can never be fulfilled? The nihilist would have us believe it proves everything is pointless, including ourselves. But Christ-followers should know better. We are indeed “made for another world,” as C. S. Lewis puts it—an eternal one where time is made irrelevant, where we will be free to step into the fullness of our true nature and eternally worship the One who created us. Rather than panic at the brevity of our days, we can rest in the knowledge that God’s never in a hurry. Once again, Tozer says it well: “There are no deadlines against which He must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves. For those out of Christ, time is a devouring beast; before the sons of the new creation time crouches and purrs and licks their hands.”
We who understand that God is present in every aspect of our lives are asked to hold two seemingly antithetical realities in our minds at once: temporality and eternity. But rather than condemn us to a lifetime of cognitive dissonance, the Lord grants us a deeper understanding of the truth. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus called it “the unity of opposites.” His theory, in essence, is this: Opposites (night and day or heat and cold, for instance) are interconnected and inseparable. They depend on one another for their identity, and we comprehend one because of the other.
We know what light is because we understand dark, its opposite. The same is true of death. Because we know the abundant life available through Christ (John 10:9-10), we also possess a more robust and honest understanding of life’s end and the drumbeat of years that brings it to our door. Time isn’t ours to control; it is folly to think we ever could. Recognizing this, we gain a humility of spirit that unclenches our fists. We cease our endless strivings and accept our end—knowing all the while that, for those found in Christ, it is also the beginning of a world without end. Amen and amen.
Photograph by Kevin Van Aelst