In and beyond time

April 30, 2013

in The Future Church

We live in a century when it seems like we might literally live in the final days of our planet’s existence, or at least the human race’s. We have invented technology that could possibly wipe out a large portion of the human population. We call them WMDs. Nuclear and biological weapons. At the same time, we may also be modifying the climate on the planet, to the point where the entire biosphere may heat up in global warming, leading to widespread death and destruction. And scientists tell us that, periodically asteroids have collided with the earth, destroying all life, the last time about four hundred million years ago. But this isn’t what “last days” means in the Bible.

Biblical time

We have become so ‘scientific’ in our view of time that it is very difficult for us to imagine that Biblical time transcends past, present, and future. God is timeless, yet God created time. God entered human history as Jesus and as the Holy Spirit — and gives us hints of a different kind of time.  The Gospel of John says that the Word “was in the beginning with God.” [John 1:2] “The Word became flesh and lived among us” as Jesus. [John 1: 10] And Jesus said, “If I do not go away, the Advocate (Holy Spirit) will not not come to you.” [John 16:7b] Besides the usual time dimensions implied in these references, there is God’s timelessness that exists beyond created past, present and future, which touches us and shapes us. We are already but not yet completely in God’s timelessness because we are transcendent beings. These are difficult ideas to grasp. So what does the “last days” mean in God’s timelessness?

Peter tells us that the Holy Spirit is being poured out on all people in the last days, not just Christians. As Paul said, God’s plan has been revealed to Christians – “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” [Ephesians 1:9-10]  God has performed a second great act of creation, after the first ‘Big Bang’ and entered space-time in Christ to transform everything and bring it back to himself through the action of men inflamed with the Holy Spirit. The question is, how exactly is God doing this? What is the Christian role in God’s time?

In Christian belief, mankind is deeply involved in what happens to reality and are the co-creators of the future with Jesus, according to God’s eternal purpose. Christian belief is a basis for action. It says that we are responsible for transforming the world.

Chesterton describes the Christian belief this way. “I had always believed that the world involved magic; now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician.”  Many scientists and Psychologists don’t believe that there is any magic in the world. Everything is explained by the actions of energy and matter evolving to more and more complexity, even the increase in human consciousness. There is no magic and no need for a magician. The last days are just like any other period of galactic history except that consciousness has evolved to the point that it knows there is something going on. Thousands of years ago, primitive man realized that he had consciousness, so gods were invented (so the scientists and Psychologists theorize). Now scientific man believes that natural forces like evolution can explain everything they observe, in their scientific view of time.

Contrast that with the Christian explanation. Two thousand years ago, God (the magician) changed the rules of the space-time continuum. After a long period of preparation, God entered His creation as a man like us. His name is Jesus. He is the eternal timeless Word and the man Jesus in time. God’s purpose is evident in his life, his teaching, and his death and resurrection. Now, in the last days, time itself is unwinding on a different scale. Scientists may theorize that the universe will take another fourteen billion years to stop expanding and contract back to the original state of nothingness. Christians believe that we are in the last days, when God is acting to bring all created things back to himself in a new glorious state through Jesus and his brothers and sisters — us. In terms of ordinary time, we have no idea when that will finally happen but we believe that it is ongoing right now. Our role, and our privilege, is to use our freedom to participate in God’s great adventure and plan, both in ordinary space-time and in God’s reality of timelessness.

Extraordinary everyday time

But there is an even more powerful way of saying what living in the last days means. Before Jesus, mankind was in a cocoon, of religious distance from God. Even Israel was afraid to approach God, or even say his name. Then God acted, and changed everything. Man’s cocoon was cracked by Jesus’ love, and a new man began to emerge into history. Jesus freed men to fly like butterflies, to escape the limits of myth and religious impotency into intimacy, even sonship with God. And we know that this reality is the deepest truth of God. “God has done great things, meeting our deepest hungers. All is God’s doing. We walk in the flow of divine creativity, even when we think it is all our doing. God’s promise is received and fulfilled in the slowness of our daily learning . . . faith, born of love and giving birth to love, is the God-intended crown of our long journey toward a fullness for here and hereafte.” [Michael Paul Gallagher, Faith Maps]

As Chesterton might put it today, there is ‘divine music’ in the world in the last days – and a musician more wonderful than we dare imagine is playing a love song that many in the world cannot hear, as yet. We Christians have not been left alone to teach the world to sing that love song. In the last days, the days of the church, we are learning to sing in harmony; we are ‘one’ as God is one. We have been given the glory that Jesus received, which brightens our singing, and attracts and lures the world into singing God’s love song. All this is what Jesus promised. The critical question is what will we do, right now, here in our local church, in the light of this astounding reality in the last days?

 

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