“Time is like the sky. Wherever we look, there it is.” ~Zach Eswine
When asked: “What superpower would you most like to have?” more than a quarter of Americans said they would choose the ability to travel through time. They want to travel through time more than they want the ability to fly or become invisible.
Time unsettles us. It is always there, and yet it’s a commodity we never seem to have enough of. Maybe this is why we want to travel through time. We feel restricted by it and we worry about how to spend it. If “now is the time” what should I be doing now?
It’s a question women are asking a lot these days, so in between other topics here at girltalk, we want to look at the issue of a woman’s time.
The preacher of Ecclesiastes meets us in our frustration and fretfulness about time with a poem:
“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:”
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”
This poem, and the verses that follow tell us “what God does with time and, in light of that, what we should do in time with God” (D.S. O’Donnell).
God Sets Our Times
What does God do with time? For one, he controls it: “There is a time for every season under heaven” (v. 1).
In case we didn’t catch his drift, the preacher spells it out a few verses later, sans poetry: “God has done it,” he says, bluntly, and “whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor taken away from it (v. 14-15).”
God orders time. Whatever is done, God has done it. Time is in his hands.
And God has stitched down our time in seasons: To everything there is a season, in other words, “a fixed time, a predetermined purpose” (C. Bridges). So there is a fixed time to laugh and also to cry, to embrace and to hold back, to be born and to die.
This pretty poem has fangs. For as much as we enjoy the times of laughter and embracing, we cannot escape the times of loneliness, pain, and tears. Harsh times will come as surely as the kind. There goes our time traveling fantasy.
“This chapter has disturbing implications,” writes Derek Kidner. “One of them is that we dance to a tune, or many tunes, not of our own making; a second is that nothing we pursue has any permanence”:
We throw ourselves into some absorbing activity which offers us fulfillment, but how freely did we choose it? How soon shall we be doing the exact opposite? Perhaps our choices are no freer than our responses to winter and summer, childhood and old age, dictated by the march of time and of unbidden change.
Looked at in this way, the repetition of a ‘time . . ., and a time . . .,’ begins to be oppressive. Whatever may be our skill and initiative, our real masters seem to be these inexorable seasons: not only those of the calendar, but that tide of events which moves us now to one kind of action, which seems fitting, now to another which puts it all into reverse. Obviously we have little to say in the situations.”
Our poem concludes with this almost bitter, rhetorical question: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” (v. 9). The answer seems lost in the wind.
The teacher brings us face to face with our life in this sin-stained world. Time is subject to sin and we are subject to time. There will be weeping and war. There will be silence, loss, and loneliness. And as we toil underneath these times, no absorbing or fulfilling activity we pursue has any permanence.
So what’s the point of this life lived under the thumb of time?
God Makes Our Times Beautiful
“I’ve got bad news and I’ve got good news,” says the preacher. “And I’ve just given you the bad news: You are subject to time, and all your efforts within that time are futile.”
Now for the good news: “God has made everything beautiful in his time” (v. 12).
“[The preacher] enables us to see perpetual change not as something unsettling but as an unfolding pattern, scintillating and God-given. The trouble for us is not that life refuses to keep still, but that we see only a fraction of its movement and of its subtle, intricate design. Instead of changelessness, there is something better: a dynamic, divine purpose, with its beginning and end. Instead of frozen perfection there is the kaleidoscopic movement of innumerable processes, each with its own character and its period of blossoming and ripening, beautiful in its time and contributing to the over-all masterpiece which is the work of one Creator.
This is what God does with time: He makes it beautiful. Time is God’s masterpiece. He orders our sorrow and joys, our casting away and our gathering. He orders all of our seasons as part of his beautiful plan. Most magnificently of all, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Gal. 4:4).
So what should we do with God in time? We must as one commentator puts it, “embrace the beauty of God’s sovereignty.” Instead of wishing we could travel through time, we must travel with God through time.