The Mystery of Time
- Category: Religion
- Published: Thursday, 15 August 2013 16:44
- Written by Rev. Dr. Henry Vernon
Augustine points to the depth of this mystery when he says, “if nobody ask me about it, I know. If I want to explain it to somebody who ask me about it, I do not know.” There is something unspeakable about time, but this has not prevented the most profound religious minds from thinking and speaking about it. It is not vain speculation when the writer of the first part of the 90th Psalm confronts the eternity of God with the transitoriness of human existence. The melancholy experience of human finiteness drives him to utter the tremendous words of the psalm. (Psalm 90:1-6)
Time is as inexhaustible as the ground of life itself. Even the greatest minds have each discovered only one aspect of it. But everyone, even the most simple minded, apprehends the meaning of time—namely his temporality. He may not be able to express his knowledge about time, but he has never separated from its mystery. His life and the life of each of us is permeated in every moment, in every experience, and in every expression by the mystery of time. Time is our destiny, time is our hope, time is our despair, and time is the mirror in which we see eternity.
Let me point to three (3) of the many mysteries of time:
1) Its power to devour everything within its sphere;
2) Its power to receive eternity within itself; and
3) Its power to drive toward an ultimate end, a new creation.
Mankind has always realized that there is something fearful about the flux (flow & change) of time, a riddle which we cannot solve, and the solution of which we could not stand. We come from a past which is no more, we go to a future which is not yet, ours is the present. The past is ours only in so far as we have it still present; and the future is ours only in so far as we have it already present.
We possess the past by memory, and the future by anticipation. But what is the nature of the present itself? If we look at it closely, we must say, it is a point without extension, the point in which the future becomes the past; when we say to ourselves, “This is the present,” the moment has already been swallowed by the past. The present disappears the very instant we try t grasp it. The present cannot be caught; it is always gone.
So it seems that we have nothing real—neither the past nor the future, nor even the present. Therefore, there is a dreaming character about our existence, which the psalmist indicates, and which religious visionaries have described in so many ways.
Time, however, could not even give us a place on which to stand, if it were not characterized by that second mystery, its power to receive eternity. There is no present in the mere stream of time; but the present is real, as our experience witnesses. And it is real because eternity breaks into time and gives it a real present.
We could not even say “now,” if eternity did not elevate that moment above the ever-passing time. Eternity is always present, and its presence is the cause of our having the present at all. When the psalmist looks at God for Whom a thousand years are like one day (Psalm 90:4), he is looking at that eternity which alone gives him a place on which he can stand, a “now” which has infinite reality and infinite significance. In every moment that we say “now”, something temporal and something eternal are united.
Whenever a human being says, “Now I am living; now I am really present”, resisting the stream which drives the future into the past, eternity is. In each such “now”, eternity is made manifest; in every real “now”, eternity is present.
Let us think for a moment of the way in which we are living our lives in our period of history. Have we not lost a real present by always being driven forward, by our constant running, in our indefatigable (untiring) activism, toward the future? We suppose the future to be better than any present; but there is always another future beyond the next future, again and again without a present, that is to say, without eternity.
According to the gospel of John eternal life is a present gift: he, who listens to Christ, has eternity already. He is no longer subject to the driving of time. In him the “now” becomes a “now eternal”. We have lost the real “now”, the “now eternal”; we have, I am afraid, lost eternal life in so far as it creates the real present.
There is another element in time, it’s the third mystery, which makes us look at the future; for time does not return or repeat itself: it runs forward; it is always unique; it ever creates the new. There is within it a drive toward an end, unknown, never to be reached in time itself, always intended and ever fleeing.
Time runs toward the “future eternal”. This is the greatest of all the mysteries of time. It is the mystery of which the prophets, Christ, and the Apostles have spoken. The eternal is the solution of the riddle of time. Time does not drive toward an endless self-repetition, or to an empty return to its beginning. Time is not meaningless. It has a hidden meaning—salvation. It has a hidden goal—the Kingdom of God. It brings about a hidden reality—the new creation. The infinite significance of every moment of time is this: in it we decide, and are decided about with respect to our eternal future.
In conclusion my definition of time is this: “A temporary interruption in eternity.”
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