Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lost time, lost space

The first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:3) is obviously structured around the seven-day week, and that gives it the theme of time.  The goal of creation in this account is the seventh day, the day of rest.  God rests from his completed task of creation; humanity, by implication, rests with him.  The seventh day is sanctified: the Sabbath.

The second creation account (Genesis 2:4-25) is geographically structured, and consequently we can reasonably say that the theme of the account is space.  The goal of creation in this account is the garden-sanctuary of Eden, the place where humanity is to dwell in God's presence.  The Lord walks in the garden which Adam keeps and guards.

Time and space - and concretely that means this particular day or hour and this particular location - are seen in these two accounts as gifts of grace.  And by 'grace' here we mean grace in all its fullness: which is to say, time and place are given so that in them relationship with God can be given.

And yet for us time and space are experienced as frustrations and limitations.  Time slips away too quickly, and we feel that something of ourselves slip away with it.  "The past tempts us, the present confuses us, and the future frightens us.  And our lives slip away, moment by moment, lost in that vast, terrible in-between."  Or then again, time drags, and we wonder how it can be so vast and empty.  Meanwhile, we find ourselves in one place wishing we were in another, staring at our screens as if they could transport us to the places they show.  People we love are scattered around the world.  We all have cars, which means we can go places, but instead of liberation that creates a new network of responsibilities: we really must visit so and so and get to such and such a place this year.  We find ourselves bewildered and rootless.  We want to belong to a place, but we don't want to be tied down.

In Deuteronomy, Moses describes the curses that will come upon the people of Israel if they are faithless and betray God's covenant.  It is striking to me that those curses include these verses:
“And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.  And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting-place for the sole of your foot, but the Lord will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul.  Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life.  In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see.
Space as a curse - the land of other nations, with not so much as a place to put down your foot.  Time as a curse - longing for night during the day, and for morning in the night.  What Moses is describing here is just life, fallen life.  Life outside Eden.

Until the redemption of creation, this is going to be our experience.  But I have been thinking about what we might do, as Christian communities, to find time and space as a source of blessing again.  Sabbath, of course, whatever that might look like for us.  (Can I suggest that it needs to be communal if it's to be anything - which is naturally difficult in a world which never stops.  We will need strong church cultures of rest here).  And perhaps a commitment to be present, to be here.  Did it ever occur to you that the biggest encouragement you can be to Christian brothers and sisters on a Sunday is just turning up to church?  Being there matters.

One day our time will be caught up into God's time, and our space will be sanctified again by God's direct presence.  Until then, we can enjoy God's good provision best by living as witnesses to the fact that in Christ this is already so.


  1. Michael Baldwin9:51 am

    I think this is deeply profound & insightful, Dan!
    I love the insight into time being central in Gen 1, and hadn't thought of connecting the Deuteronomy verses – but it totally makes sense.
    I'm interested in how the trajectory of sacred time gets reconfigured when it comes to the New Covenant. I'm sure there's a good book to write there!
    You mention the 'not yet': "Until the redemption of creation, this is going to be our experience."
    What about the 'already'? Christ fulfils the longing & need for sacred space, but he also fulfils the longing and need for sacred time...i.e., he fulfils the festivals and feasts of the Torah (e.g. John 7) just as much as he fulfils the sacrifices, and in him we, the corporate body, offer our individual bodies as living sacrifices. I can't help but feel some great attraction to the Anglican church's calendar as a wonderfully 'fitting' way to reconfigure the sacred time/feasts & tabernacles of the Torah in light of Christ. Yet I'm a Reformed/Evangelical 'baptist' - my tradition tends to do away with that and keep hold of the Sabbath. I believe you're not a Sabbatharian either but do you, like me, struggle to see how that also doesn't have a minimal fittingness when looking at the theme of 'sacred time'?

    1. I'm not a Sabbatarian (although I think keeping Sabbath is crucial; puzzling, huh?) - but I do observe the rhythm of the church year and would encourage anyone else to do so. This is not because it makes time sacred. In fact, 'fulfilled time' (Barth's phrase) is the time of Jesus Christ. What the ecclesial year seeks to do is to relate our (fallen) time to Christ's time, as a sign and symbol. So we don't experience the reality of sacred time (or space) in this life, but we can have symbols of it. (This is also why I am pro-church buildings, and believe these should be 'sanctuaries' of sorts).