Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Integration (#4) — Taking Time

Time is a strange phenomenon. From the “natural” end, Einstein’s theories of relativity become part of a discussion that quickly goes beyond my abilities. Yet the bit I do grasp has drawn me into reflection on the “spiritual” implications (remembering that the “natural” and the “spiritual” are two facets of a whole, and the division is more of a testimony to our limitations than a description of reality.) I’ll go further with that in the next post, developing some of the implications in light of the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

For a starter, we should keep in mind that God is not bound by time but exists outside of time, and our understanding of time is part of the whole created order that is beyond us. Yet even as those things are true, we do live in a consciousness of past, present and future.

This particular topic was refreshed in my mind recently when I read the currently popular novel by William P. Young, The Shack (Windblown Media, 2007). The main character, Mack, is having a conversation with Jesus, who asks whether humans were designed to live in the present or the past or the future. Mack correctly guesses the present, but then Jesus presses a second question and wants to know where Mack spends his own mind-imagination time: in the present, or in the past, or in the future. Mack truthfully confesses that he spends very little time in the present, but rather in the past or trying to figure out the future. And Mack is no different than most people.

Many people live in the past because they see it as being (through some white-washed hindsight) so good. I have known people who are always harkening back to some “glory” days of college, or when the kids were young, or even to high school. Other people live in the past because it was so bad. Abuse and tragedy can so damage a person that the pain takes over as an identity. For people of either motivation, glorified or horrified, the present is always overshadowed by the past.

Some people live in the future in an unhealthy way. They think their lives will be “fixed” and happiness will come “when I can get this” or “when I can move there (or at least away from ‘here’)" or "when I can do that.” This makes an idol of some idealistic circumstance (which usually never comes, and if it does, cannot deliver the projected promise). This also breeds chronic dissatisfaction with the present.

There is one way that a future look is good and biblical. I call it the eschatological perspective, which focuses on what God has promised His people so that we can live in the present in the hope of a reality that goes beyond temporal limitations. This means, however, truly believing that the Lord is with us now — Immanuel — God with us.

God has redeemed our past and secured our future so that we can be close to Him in the present — now. This point — made in the novel by Jesus as the conversation with Mack continues — is based on the implications of the word "today" throughout the letter to the Hebrews (e.g., 3:7,13,15; 4:7; 13:8). God dwells with us in the present — the eternal present — when we begin to comprehend the integration of time with eternity.

One contemporary musician whose compositions edify me has written the following lines (as if spoken by the Lord):

My joy is in the journey, not in the journey’s end.
If you seek tomorrow, well then you have missed the lesson.
Be present to the present and your eyes will open wide;
At that moment you will see me by your side, by your side.
(from: “I Am Beside You” on the album, Be Still, David Kauffman, Good for the Soul Music, San Antonio, TX, 2002)

There is an integration of past and future into the present so that we live in a consciousness of walking with Jesus in the now. God made us for an intimate relationship with Himself, and intimacy is always lived in the moment — the eternal present, which is one way to understand salvation.

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