So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Ps. 90:12).
Foucault’s Pendulum (1989) is Umberto Ecco’s brilliant satire on conspiracy thinking, especially in its New Age forms. Its protagonist and his friends, book publishers by trade, devise a fictional occult conspiracy, come up with its goal, and plot its success—only to find that real conspirators now want to know what they know. Of course, they don’t actually know anything. Along the way, Ecco has one high-ranking conspirator say, “The belief that time is a linear, directed sequence running from A to B is a modern illusion.” Ecco here is repeating a theme common in New Age and occult literature: time isn’t linear. Though this may seem an odd (even impossible) notion it is wholly consistent with unbelief. Time that has no beginning has no Creator. Time that never ends includes no Last Judgment. And so, insisting that time bends back on itself in never ending cycles, unbelief heaves a huge sigh of relief.
But here’s the predicament of unbelief: Without linear time, regularity, predictability, and dominion become very real problems. Mathematics and technology depend upon temporal sequencing, upon cause and effect. Industry and technology depend upon rigorous scheduling and temporal coordination. But what if “tomorrow” doesn’t quite mean tomorrow? What if “before” and “after” are interchangeable? What if “first this, then that” no longer makes sense? When we lose linear time, we lose all rationality and our old friend cause and effect. Only random “spirituality” remains. In plain words, we are left with mysticism, magic and the occult.
Genesis 1:1 tells us that, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Notice that God created something else here besides heaven and earth. He created time. There was a beginning. God Himself exists outside of time. Eternity is basic to his being (Isa. 57:13). He doesn’t experience consciousness through a succession of moments. He doesn’t have to wait to see what will happen next. All of history is open before Him as His creation. And we see God using time for his glory. He honors the historical flow or sequencing that we all experience. And in the Incarnation, He actually immersed Himself in it. In His humanity, our Lord Jesus experiences the passing hours, years. He knows “yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). So time is a real big deal to God.
Now, God normally works through secondary causes when he “works” with time. He has ordained that A should lead to B and B to C. He brings the clouds so that He might bring the rain. He causes the sun to rise so that it might shine on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). Scripture is full of such temporal and causal sequencing. They characterize both providence and redemption. For example:
For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. (Mark 4:28).
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; he causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart. (Ps. 104:13-15).
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Heb. 12:11).
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:23-26).
Notice the words “first, then, so that, afterward, and till.” And notice, too, the verb tenses. As far as Scripture is concerned, time is real and only flows one way. It flows from creation onward. It flows forward toward the Last Judgment and into eternity.
Because time always flows forward, it is irreplaceable. We can’t get yesterday back. We may use or waste each moment that comes to us, but we can never push rewind or pause. There are no second takes, do-overs or “mulligans” when it comes to time. That’s why Paul tells us we should be busy “redeeming the time” (Eph. 5:16). That is, we should be busy finding ways to make our time more productive. The Psalmist prays, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). We ought to approach our days in faith with repentance and prayer. We need to rejoice in our opportunities and make use of them, knowing that God has the final word on all that we do. In other words, we must see time as a matter of stewardship.
We also have a way out when time seems to be a curse to us. Our past doesn’t have to be a dead weight, dragging us down in endless cycles. God’s providence is personal and covenantal… not mechanical. When we turn from our sin, God can graciously alter the nature of its consequences. That which we meant for evil, He can turn to good (Gen. 50:20). He can restore to us the years that the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25). This is His sovereign right. In the end, we don’t call the shots, He does. We can only ask, knowing that He is truly good.
As stewards of time, it’s our calling to be always looking forward. The truth is, a good steward does more than maintain his master’s goods: he improves them (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). And as God’s stewards, we ought to be both optimistic and creative. Because time flows forward, new things are always possible. And yes, we can and must labor to make a difference. Here’s why: If time were cyclical, we would always end up where we started (like a NASCAR race). What’s more, if time were an illusion, any progress we might seem to make would eventually be absorbed back into the illusion (Tom Cruise’s dilemma). But a biblical view of time allows for amazing possibilities: for change, progress, and geometric development.
Yet time from our mortal view seems unpredictable. We don’t know what the future holds (James 4:13-16). We can reason from the regularities of God’s providence and from the promises of His word, but the exact details of our future are hidden with Him. But here’s the good news: Since we know God “has kind intentions towards His people” we can and must step out in faith. We “cast our bread upon the waters,” as the wise man says. We sow our seed in the morning and in the evening, not knowing which God might prosper (Eccl. 11:1-6). He may, in fact, bless both.
And one thing you can bet the farm on, is that in the long run, time moves toward the victory of Christ’s kingdom. Remember: “He must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15:25) The kingdom of God is not in a box or frozen in time. It is not locked into cyclical pagan loops. Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth. (Matt. 28:18) His reign at the Father’s right hand means the victory of His kingdom on earth… as it is in heaven.
And so redemptive history has a goal. This means the Almighty has an end-game: the Last Judgment. In this sense, time for mortals is finite and the clock is ticking. We don’t have forever. Judgment is ahead. Before us lies eternal bliss or eternal damnation. And the choices we make now will echo to all eternity.