The passing of one year and the beginning of another has been a prominent event in virtually every culture throughout history. Even those of us not particularly interested in staying up to experience the tick of the clock that measures the start of the new year cannot help but think of the passage of time this event represents. We feel much the same sentiments on our birthdays but experience it with everyone else only at the New Year’s event.
Each new year reminds us of the passing of time, of things, and of people. It also reminds us that our life is moving quickly and that, before long, we too will pass.
The Valuation of Time
Time is often seen as an enemy to men without faith because it is often seen as a thief, something that robs man. Evolution has reinforced this frustration because it uses time, along with matter, as givens in the cosmos, effectively making them ultimate. Time as such is both infinite and, ultimately, meaningless, hence we see the prominent theme of overcoming the restrictions of time in science fiction.
The doctrine of Creation and the final judgment gives time a finite character lacking in evolution. The Christian has a hope within history that comes from beyond history. Because time is finite, we cannot make it ultimate (as in evolution); or we become present and, often, pleasure oriented. We cannot eternalize time. The past, therefore, should not be idealized (whatever its merits), romanticized, or lamented in an unproductive manner. If the present is seen as ultimate, we live in terms of it and fail in our work and responsibilities, which always direct us toward the future. Yet even the future must not be seen as ours to shape and direct, or we lose sight of the fact that it belongs to God.
Neither can we depreciate time for eternity. Our calling is not to contemplate heaven but to work in time and history with the confidence that our “labour is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58) because it is done in terms of the certainty of the victory of the Creator and His praise and glory.
Time is not to be made ultimate as it was by the Epicureans who said, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.” Because they devalued their own future, they repudiated the present by making its focus their own sensory fulfillment; all of time shrank to the moment.
The believer, however, can enjoy the moment and all time because he places them in a context larger than himself. He can “eat, drink, and be merry” because he lives and breathes and has his meaning in God’s eternal governance, which gives his life meaning, purpose, and hope. The man who knows that God rules all of time and eternity is able to value better and enjoy his every day and moment.
The Lesson of the Sabbath
The most prominent scriptural teaching on time is the Sabbath, which is both law and object lesson. As law it was a prohibition, a limitation on man’s use of one day in seven (as well as one year in seven and a Jubilee year every forty-nine years). As an object lesson it was a forced rest by man’s Master, a blessing that made clear He was also Lord over man’s time and work, and that even our cessation from work was productive of His purposes.
God gave us two reasons for the Sabbath rest, neither of which relate to health or economics. The first is in Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” This refers to more than the pattern of creation and man’s observance of rest; it refers to the fact of God’s creation of all things as a theological context of life. God commands our weekly acknowledgment of His creative act, one that extends beyond matter, for time and history are also God’s creation. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created …” meaning that time and history originated with God. We must reject evolution’s elevation of either time or matter as eternally existent. Time began with God, was measured by His instruments (Gen. 1:14–19), and the Sabbath was then sanctified by Him (2:3) as a permanent remembrance of His creative act. Scripture also speaks of the “end of time,” the “end of days,” (Dan. 12:9, 13) and that time will one day cease to be (Rev. 10:6). The Sabbath’s tie to the creative work of God gives it a theological touchstone in that its observance is a regular reminder that time, as well as all else, comes from God, is governed by Him, and may be used only on His terms. Man is called to dominion, to a life of work and service, but the Sabbath reminds him that God is the Creator of all things and that time itself is His. This is very different from the lesson of evolution. Evolution implies not a theology but an anthropology; if man evolved, he is still evolving and the future is only what he makes of it. Evolution implies the supremacy of man as the highest development of natural forces.
A second reason given for the Sabbath is in Deuteronomy 5:15, “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.” The exodus from Egypt was the most defining event in Hebrew history. It represented the supernatural salvation of God to the Hebrews, a redemption that today we express more fully in the atonement of Jesus Christ.
If the creation references God’s sovereign right in terms of what He made, the exodus from Egypt conveys His prerogative in terms of what He has done for fallen man. Both reference God’s gifts of grace, and we sin when we see the Sabbath in terms of its limits on us rather than as a blessing from the hand of our Creator and Redeemer.
Time and History
If we think in Darwinian terms, we distinguish between time and history. Time will be seen as a constant, even eternal, given and history as a recent story within its bounds. In the Bible, time and history coincide; both began in Genesis 1:1 and will end at the final judgment. The Christian can view all time, and his time, within the context of God’s creation (including its dominion mandate) and redemption. We are not given revelation as to our particular role in history, but we do have a context in which we can exercise our faith and obedience.
The Bible gives us an overview of history; it even lets us read how the story ends. The Bible starts us with the origin of time, history, and the mature world that God declared “very good,” and it is into this God-given context that man is placed. From the day of his creation, Adam could only find meaning and purpose in terms of God’s purpose. The fall into sin was man’s seeking to establish himself in a phantom reality outside God. Subsequent history is then twofold: the outworking of man’s sin and the outworking of God’s grace in redemption.
History as a Shaking
Hebrews 12:18–29 refers to the providence of God in history as a shaking, a judgment. The people of God are described as coming before a mountain from which God speaks. We are not come before Sinai, but Sion, “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (v. 22), which is the entire church of all ages (v. 23), and before His Christ and the testimony of His blood (v. 24).
Before this company we are told to expect a voice and are warned, in effect, to “Listen up!” If those who refused this voice on earth could not escape, we are told, surely those of us who now hear this voice from heaven will not escape.
The voice of God from heaven, we are told, repeatedly shakes heaven and earth (v. 26). The purpose of this shaking is specifically stated: “[T]hat those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (v. 27).
The church is being told it has received a Kingdom from God, who is described as a consuming fire (v. 29). Both shaking and fire represent judgment, but what will remain firm is that which we have received, “a kingdom which cannot be moved” (v. 28). The Kingdom of God shall stand.
This is not a promise that believers will be insulated from the impact of God’s shakings throughout history. It is the “kingdom which cannot be moved” (v. 28), not its citizenry. Godly men can and do suffer for the Kingdom, and we need look no further than the prophets and apostles for examples. As in personal sanctification, the sanctification of the church in history is a difficult, even painful, process. False doctrine, secular philosophies, syncretism, compromise, and abstract theology, not to mention blatant rebellion against the law, cannot stand in the Kingdom of God. Augustine’s analogy was that of the City of Man fighting the City of God. Too often the visible church has taken up the banner of the enemy. Thus, Peter reminds us of the unpleasant certainty that “judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Pet. 4:17). Lest we feel God might better direct His justice elsewhere, Peter also told us the lesson we were to desire from this truth: “[W]hat shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” The shaking of the church is its purification so that in time faith will remain.
How ought we to respond to the shaking of God, to this knowledge that we stand before all the witnesses of heaven and earth to the progress of His Kingdom? We are told that we are to “have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28–29).
We serve God in our lives and calling because He is a consuming fire. We are confident in His judgments because we believe in His justice, not our own. We seek first His Kingdom because we know all else shall be consumed.
The Bible must be our primary history book because it gives time and history a meaning, a direction, and an end. All other theories of history are attempts to replace what is repudiated in the Biblical message—that God controls both time and eternity and man must not only conform his thought but his heart and his life to that Providence, or he shall be shaken until he can no longer stand.
The psalmist believed that history involves an eschatology when he wrote, “My times are in thy hand” (Ps. 31:15). Our view of the future is very much a part of our view of the past and present. The future we envision shapes our life today. It is no accident that all of Scripture is in the context of human history. The Bible does not give us a religion as a spiritual exercise we add to life, but an entire world and life view in which every second of every moment, every nation and every individual, is part of the purpose of the Sovereign God.
As creatures, we are subject to the movement of time. Each passing day brings us closer to our death, and each birthday and each passing year reminds us of this limitation. We can decry this certainty or rest in the assurance that God reigns and that our responsibility is not to lament our mortality but to praise the immortal God.
There is little in our lives that cannot be shaken. Whole civilizations have come and gone. Mass murders and starvations have been common throughout history, as have been the uprooting of people emotionally and physically. The future may hold great challenges; certainly the artificial prosperity of fiat money is coming to an end before our eyes. The direct consequences of man’s evil are part of God’s shaking.
Our faith must be unshakable no matter what our circumstances today or tomorrow. Our faith must not only be in the promises of God, but also in the justness of God, even when He shakes our culture, our times, and us.