Time: The third point on the Cosmic Triangle

In Greek lore, Cronus, old father time, has a long, white beard and appears with a sickle. This symbol reveals the Greek ambivalence toward time; a benign old man on one hand, but with the sickle of the grim reaper on (in) the other. The 18th Century Enlightenment, which went back to the classical world for inspiration, shared this ambivalence. The deism of the time viewed the world like a machine, a clock wound up by some remote deity that ran by on laws of its own. This is thoroughly pagan; time is cyclical and going nowhere, a rather depressing thought. Hegel tried to inject meaning for time in the 19th century by making time and culture itself divine. This coincided with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Time is progressing, and German culture itself (or English if you were British), was the crowning achievement of the human/divine march toward perfection. As we know, it all ended in the world wars of the 20th century, and the western world again lost its enthusiasm about time. As a culture, we have little or no hope in the future.

It is in this context that we ought to revisit Genesis 1-2. These glorious opening chapters of the Bible provide the three great building blocks of a Christian cosmology, or, using the imagery of the cosmic triangle, the three points of transcendence, space/matter, and time. We cannot help but see that creation comes into being in the context of time, days of a week progressing to a grand conclusion, the seventh day of rest. This taught the ancient Hebrew something that the pagan world around them did not know, that time is not only cyclical like the seasons, but it is also linear, with a beginning and an end, and has a conclusion where all will be made right. What we do in time we are accountable for, because in the end there is God.

For the pagans, there were two ideas of time, sacred and secular. Sacred time was the time of sacred festival tied to the seasons. Their cultic rituals were magically connected to the ancient myth of the fertility god battling the chaos monster. They had to be re-enacted or the rains will not come for the growing season. Sacred time was real time to them, a pristine time of power and meaning. Secular time was painful and sorrowful, dominated by the mundane task of survival. This linear time was not real to them. In fact, it was threatening, for this time is going nowhere and will eventually swallow them up. The pagan tried to live as much as he could in sacred time.

The Bible opens up a whole new cosmic view of time. God breaks into secular history and transforms it by His presence with us. This was true in the Old Testament, but is especially true in Jesus Christ, who because of the incarnation and defeat of sin and evil becomes Lord of Time. Jesus fills each day. To be bored in time, or to fear it because of the effects of aging and eventual physical death, is not to live in reality, not to live in truth. In Jesus the “secular” become sacred!

With this we conclude our little talk on the cosmic triangle. The Bible affirms the reality and goodness of transcendence, space/matter and time. Here is the beauty of this simple cosmology. You can study any religion, theology, or philosophy, and ask yourself the simple question: what does this worldview have to say about transcendence, space/matter and time? Every cosmology will affirm the reality of one or perhaps two, but none except Christianity will affirm all three. For instance, Platonism, Islam, and Eastern cosmologies in general will affirm the reality of transcendence, but it does so by dismissing the ultimate reality of space/matter and time. The materialism of the west obviously recognizes only the reality of space/matter, but has little idea of true transcendence, and does not know what to do with time. When space/matter and time is disconnected from transcendence, then we humans become jaded, and the very matter we worship becomes onerous and unreal to us, and everything then seems to be an illusion.

Dear friends, my son Jeremy and I will be going to Kenya, leaving Tuesday, June 26 and coming home July 15. We will therefore not have any blogging for two weeks. Please pray for us.

May Jesus be with you!

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