“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”
Walden; or, Life in the Woods, by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
I saw this title on our electronic reader (or whatever they’re called). It had been since grade school since the last time I read it, so I opened it and remembered. I’m sure I thought it deep once, but it was only this quote that grabbed my attention this time. Sadly, Thoreau didn’t spend enough time thinking about eternity.
“I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor - it is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-14). I got to speak at a Christmastime memorial service at a children’s hospital once, and spoke from 3:11. God “has also set eternity in their heart.” Our longing beyond our capability to grasp or even comprehend. A desire made even more bittersweet and acute when we are forced to sense just how brief time is. How could we ever purposefully aim to “kill time,” as the saying goes?
Where is the only peace in this often confounding tension between time and eternity? God’s got eternity in His grasp. For us. In Christ.
He was for us before time in Christ in eternity past: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, Who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:8-11).
He will be for us in Christ after time into eternity future: “…according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:13-18).
But what about now? What about Thoreau’s warning?
I’m mindful of this paradox: with eternity on either side extending forever, all of this thin slice which is time itself is so infinitely small that I don’t see logically how it can exist. But it obviously does (which is why I am no philosopher). I’m not the only one to think on this. Paul speaks of time’s smallness compared with eternity: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). I’m tempted to quote the whole chapter. In it the apostle and cohorts (Timothy, and perhaps others – 1:1) speak of having “this mercy” and “not [losing] heart” (4:1) despite the opposition of false teachers (4:2) and “the god of this world” himself, who through the false teachers blinds “the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God” (4:3,4). Ah, but the Gospel. It is what Paul teaches, what motivates him to be a “bond-servant” to the Church (both current members and the lost who will be brought into it through the preaching of the Gospel). It is for this that he is willing to be “afflicted…perplexed…persecuted…struck down…always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus” (4:8-10). “Death works in us” (4:12), he says. What’s Paul’s goal in this sliver of time? He tells the association of churches in Achaia that “all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God” (4:15). This is the goal. God’s glory. It’s worth making the most of this infinitely brief moment.
Westminster Shorter Catechism Q1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
Forever. And ever. And ever.
I’ll end as I began – with a quote from a classic (this time from a work I love and from a writer who has always moved me deeply).
“Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…”
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Over this momentary cup of coffee, it’s time to begin this day, not to “kill time” (for eternity approaches faster than light) so as to make for an injurious eternity, but for thanks and glory to the One Who holds it all in His hand as if it were as brief as the blink of an eye.