First and foremost, time is a gift. Time is a creation of God, right after the second creation of God — light, which marks time. In the very first chapter of Genesis, God separates light and darkness, calls one day and one night, and there was evening and morning — the beginning of time, which is declared good(Genesis 1:1-5). Time is one of creation’s “goods”. As Thomas Merton explains: “Time for the Christian is then the sphere of his spontaneity, a sacramental gift in which he can allow his freedom to deploy itself in joy.”
Do we receive time as a good gift from God, the matrix in which we can allow freedom to “deploy itself in joy”? Do we experience time as one of the many aspects of creation that we are to enjoy and to steward, or do we experience time as a taskmaster? Do we manage time, or does time manage us?
From God’s point of view there is lots of time, an eternity of it. It follows that there will be plenty of time for what God intends to accomplish. Personally, I have come to believe that God will give me the time to accomplish what is God’s will for me, and that is time “enough” for me.
The second reflection is that the Bible pushes us to understand time as the matrix of the sacred. The God of Israel, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, was not a God of place. Unlike the deities of other Ancient Near Eastern peoples, gods associated with temples, sacred springs, or groves of trees, the God of Israel was the God of events, of happenings in time. The fact that the Divinity is manifested in history means that time is holy. “The higher goal of spiritual living is not amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments,” Abraham Heschel writes. “Spiritual life begins to decay when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time.”
Living spiritually demands that we be “present tense” people. The enormity of the concept of ‘God now” bears serious reflection for people who think their relationship with God is important. Like Heschel, Paul Tillich believes: “There is no other way of judging time that to see it in the light of the eternal.” What is important about time, in short, is its “God content”.
The third aspect of time I want to discuss is that time is experienced differently in different situations.
According to John Donahue, “The quality of our experience always determines the actual rhythm of time. When you are in pain, every moment slows down until it resembles a week. When you are happy and really enjoying your life, time flies.” Time spent with loved ones flies by. Time spent on a deathbed drags almost unbearably for the loved ones gathered around it. Three hours in the hospital waiting room during critical surgery is in “real time” much longer than the three hours spent on one’s favorite pastime.
The final reflection or aspect of time to ponder here is the fact that the only time we really have is the present moment, now.
Now is a gift of God; that is why it is called the present. The old cliché is true: the past is gone; the future is yet to be.
If we don’t find God in this present moment, we are unlikely to encounter the Divine at all. Paul deeply understood this truth and wrote to the Corinthians, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2)
Time is more than chronology. Time is opportunity. The Hebrew prophets thought of history as a continuum of times, each filled with its content by God, and, therefore, each demanding a response from people. The writers of the New Testament clearly thought of themselves as writing in the time of history. And so we Christians have a particular reason to understand that time is a function of divine disclosure. It is the arena of salvation. It is “the means by which God makes use in order to reveal his gracious working.” Time is valuable because God has entered time and brought eternity into it.
From Ephesians, we must “make the most of the time” (5:16). What that will mean for each one of us is at the heart of the mystery of our individual and God-given vocation.