The Theology of Time
The Theology of Time
Unless man accepts that the creation of the world was by the divine act of a sovereign God, he will have problems with certain concepts, one of those being time. The limitations of our creaturehood are clear when we confront concepts that are beyond our control.
God decreed that man should have dominion over the creation, so our study of its science, when done in obedience to Him and his calling, is a rewarding and fulfilling pursuit. When we seek to transcend our creaturely limits and seek by reason what we are given to accept by faith as a gift of God, we frustrate rather than further our understanding. Some concepts, like those of the nature of life or time for instance, become more difficult. We can identify the characteristics of life vs. non-life, but defining life itself eludes us. Likewise, we can accept time as a given and study its passage and measurement, but we have difficulty coming to terms with time itself. We do not have dominion over either life or time: we can only use them as God prescribes. When man rejects God, such concepts do not become any easier. In fact, they become diversions and the source of dismay for those who refuse to acknowledge them as the creations of God.
Defining time is a problem for autonomous man. In fact, fallen man sees time itself as a problem because it is a constant limitation on him. Men have gone to extremes in trying to come to terms with time. Existentialism rejected it in favor of the moment, while evolutionary thought has given it extra force by replacing the infinite and eternal God with infinite time and eternal matter and energy.
The Christian accepts a transcendent God who decrees the terms of the realm of nature. A transcendent God allows us room for limited understanding; we can accept that certain aspects of reality cannot be fully comprehended. Belief in our creaturehood can allow us to use and study the elements of the universe without the felt need to have dominion over them all.
The naturalism of modern science after Darwin has given man a felt need to understand the nature of time and, in some cases, to pursue its conquest. Time then ceases to be a given, a moral parameter of creation, and rather becomes a metaphysical or philosophical problem.
The alternative to eternalizing time and matter is to accept them as the creation of God. In Genesis 1 we are told that God established the 24-hour day and that He gave us the sun, moon, and stars to help us measure time. In Genesis 2 He established the week and the regularity of both work and rest. Then, in Daniel 12:9 and 13 we are told of the “time of the end” and the “end of the days,” while Revelation 10:6 looks to when time will cease to be.
Time is not something we need to define as a scientific inquiry. Like life, it is easier to accept than to define. Man is a moral being of a holy God, so man has to accept time in this theological context. It is only when man tries to reject God that he has a problem with those things he cannot control. Autonomous man is a frustrated, obsessive, and, at times, fanciful observer of both the natural realm and life.
Scripture gives us a transcendent meaning to time and history. Time is, without God, at best meaningless. At worst it is our enemy because it leads us to death and dying. Without God we lose perspective on time. The contempt for time leads to contempt for history, which becomes, at best, empty pages on which men impose meaning. This is why the non-Christian does not hesitate to rewrite and propagandize history; he sees it of no importance and his own present goals as paramount.
Fortunately, the God of time and history is their final judge. He has given us a clear overview of their beginning, course, and end. The details of our own lives are unknown to us, but we know enough to live by faith in Him who knows all. He is a God of total meaning and total purpose, and in terms of Him, all of time and history, including our own times and our own lives, have purpose. It is precisely because we believe in the meaning of all time and history in terms of God that we believe our own life and history have meaning.
Note: For a more complete discussion of the theological meaning of time, see R. J. Rushdoony’s Systematic Theology, Vol. II, Section XVII “Time” (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994).
Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony is president of Chalcedon and Ross House Books. He is also editor-in-chief of Faith for All of Life and Chalcedon’s other publications.