Breathe the fresh air of eternity

People are creatures of habit. I, for example, drink three-and-a-half cups of regular coffee a day. I drink one cup when I get up, one around ten o’clock, one after lunch, and a half-caf around mid-afternoon.

I wake up at the same time, according to the day of the week. After I pour a cup of coffee, I go into my study and close the door. I read Scripture and meditate and pray. I then walk two miles with my wife (except on Tuesdays), and then eat oatmeal for breakfast – blueberries every other day, apple, raisins and cranberries on the day in between.

On Friday mornings I leave my house within a minute or two of 6:17. I usually see no other cars on our country road. When I reach the main north-south road, I turn left and almost always reach the speed limit in front of the same house. I usually have not encountered any cars by then, though looking a half-mile down the road I see a school bus approaching.

On a recent morning I left the house at least a minute later than usual. As I drove down our country road I saw a car approaching with its bright lights on. When I came to the main north-south road, I had to wait for four cars to pass before I could slip in, the fifth of a six-car train.

I wondered where all the people had come from. There were more cars on the roads than I see in a month of Fridays. The bus that I usually meet just south of the business loop was missing, apparently having already passed. Did a minute or two really make such a difference?

If I were to leave a minute or two later every Friday morning, would I meet many of the same cars in the same places and have to wait at the same stop sign? I suspect I would. People are creatures of habit. But a slight change of perspective – in this case a temporal change of perspective – can bring a different world into view.

As I drove on it occurred to me that humans are fettered by time. We are as confined as any prison inmate, only our confinement is temporal rather than spatial. We are in temporal lockdown, incarcerated in the present. To us the past is fixed – we cannot reenter it or change it – and the future is inaccessible. So we live out our days imprisoned in the moment.

God’s experience of time is like ours in some ways, but differs dramatically in others. Like us, he does not live in the past or in the future, but in the present. But unlike us, his present includes all of time – past and future – simultaneously. What we call past and future are part of his present experience. He can walk through time the way I walk through the rooms of my house.

When theologians say that God is eternal, they have something more than his perpetual existence in mind. They mean that every moment of time, past and future, is always immediately present to God. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, who “announces the end from the beginning” and is present “with the first of them and with the last.”

Because life comes to us in a succession of moments, we are often surprised by things that happen. God never is. Though Scripture states that he can be grieved, he can never be surprised. His expectations are never undermined. Whereas we see life in snapshots, he sees it in panorama. He knows what’s coming.

The upshot for the Christian (or the person contemplating Christianity) is this: We are in lockdown, imprisoned in the narrow confines of the present, but we have a wise and trusted friend on the outside. He sees what’s going on and, in the light of what he sees, can tell us what to do. We cannot see what he sees, but we can choose to trust him and do what he says.

But that’s not all. The rumor is going around through the pages of Scripture and in the talk of his people that someday we will be let out of our temporal prison to breathe the fresh air of eternity. It is a reality beyond our comprehension, but not our hope.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 11/15/2014

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