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06 January 2012

Pressed for time

Pressed for time

Is it really 2012? Is it me, or does time seem to fly by faster with each passing year?  

New Year is often seen as an opportunity to reflect upon life in very general terms. Marking a common point of reference for the closure of the old and the opening of the new, we get to take stock, take the pulse of our lives, and assess what we have achieved or not achieved. This self-analysis can take the form of measuring happiness, or wealth, or relationships, or career etc. Although there is no doubt that it can be a helpful exercise to pause and review life, it is worth remembering that it can also sustain an unhealthy preoccupation with the problem of 'progress'. For most people in the West, progress is assumed as being natural and inevitable. As the idea that today is better than yesterday just because it's today, it derives from the idea that human nature is essentially good and even perfectible - despite what every history book tells us to the contrary. 

As a pale copy, a counterfeit of the teleology of the Kingdom of God, it could be said that this idea of human progress points to a deeper, more fundamental problem that we all have with regard to time itself. Namely, that we are all conscious to varying degrees that it is slipping away from us, and that there is nothing that we can do about it.  

Perhaps most significantly, we fail to see time as a consequence of sin. We forget that, prior to Adam and Eve falling, time was infinite. The Book of Genesis recounts seasons as cycles, but they are without an end. Our failure to remember this obvious truth has profound implications for our relationships with God and with each other. 

Most notably, despite that fact that we all have the same hours in a day, we feel increasingly pressed for time. Seldom attributed to our human condition, this underlying anxiety is a powerful driver for all human behaviour. We may well be wired for the infinite, but we have become so accustomed to the finite that we assume it as the norm.

The writer of Ecclesiastes observes that there is a time for everything, and also that God has placed eternity in the hearts of all (Ecclesiastes 3). Outside of Christ, this apparent mismatch between the reality of the passing years and a God-given inner desire for infinity can present us with deep anxieties. Giving us a felt need to cram our lives with activity and achievement - and to leave a legacy, it fuels ambition and disturbs the peace. 

Today, it seems that many of us are now so thoroughly disconnected from eternity, that we struggle to imagine an alternative to our three score years and ten. Once, while selling one house and buying another, I found myself without a mortgage for about six weeks. I was disturbed by how unburdened and liberated I felt. Time operates in a similar subconscious way. Paul's prescription is clear: "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4: 18)

For the Christian, time is so yesterday - it's so last year. We are promised, in the renewal of all things, not only a restoration of our place in the infinite but also a foretaste of it now. The Kingdom of Jesus is a non-time reality that has a real-time effect. When and where this Kingdom breaks in, there is a taste of eternity. Our role is to preview this new life in words and deeds - unhurried, with the light of eternity switched on.

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 2: 1-3)

Time is not against us, it's on our side - so Happy New Year.

Dave Landrum, director of advocacy, Evangelical Alliance