21. We are surprised by time in our joys and our sufferings
It is said that Christ “was chosen before the foundation of the world”, and that “eternal purpose and grace were given us in Christ Jesus, before the beginning of time”.1 Peter 1:20, 2 Timothy 1:9. Our minds cannot fathom “before the beginning of time” - before Adam, before The Fall. God knew there would be a need for redemption well before His creation, and before this earth existed. There was no hastily thought up contingency plan when sin came in.
We understand eternity as a continuing of our time, and to our credit, we can be reminded of that. We know the past, as we contemplate it from the present and ruminate about how we could have done better. We can only contemplate the eternal future from this now as we see the circle of the earth contained in space, from a window as we travel by air. But we, seeing the end of the journey in view, do not comprehend a never ending future like an eternal present. God helps us in this remembering about eternity, by referring back to His past record, where He has thoughtfully provided us with reference points. He does try to encourage us to do His will in the future, by recording what He has done in the past, but we have not the faculties yet to see outside our own experiences, so our efforts only have context with our own experiences. And so in our ignorance we may continue to see God’s responses as unfair, His hiding, turning His face away, seemingly silent. But He has “hedged us in”, Job 23, for our sakes.
God does not enjoy keeping us in the dark about His future with no facilities or faculties to see the bright eternal light ahead, but He recognizes our limitations. We only see in the glass darkly. We are time bound, and will only make sense of the overall picture when our bodies are changed, when history has run its course. “All things work together for good”, is only true from the big picture for everything does not now work together for good. From the small picture of our time bound lives, good things are not working together and producing more goodness, for we see goodness assailed on every hand by evil. The teaching, Romans 8:28, is a comfort for us now, but the earnest is in the future, for we realize that then we will not be running about in chaos in this world. We do know that now Someone is guiding us toward that order of goodness and eternity, when all things will work together for good. Isaiah in 7:14 and 8:10 explains to us that He will be with us in His son. “Immanuel”, or “God with us”, until that day when He “shall quicken mortal bodies”, by his Spirit which dwelleth in you”. Romans 8:11.
Why are we constantly surprised by time? It goes slowly as we wait out an evil torment. Nothing seems to change and our lives are twisted like the tortured willow vine. Or it “goes quickly”, we say, when we know it does not. We marvel at growth. “That‘s grown quickly” we say, or “look how she’s grown”. So our present measurement of time still puzzles us. We have either a paucity of time or plenty of it, but that is our reflection on it, and experience of it, not the quality or quantity of time itself. Time remains constant and measured and never changing. No one can put into words how and why our perception of time changes, from when we are young to when we are older. It is a self experience and no one else’s. Perceptions continue to change, either in jolts or gradually, and our perceptions of it do change. Time is flexible, but inevitably more precious as we age.
Job, Abraham, Joseph, David, all had divine communication from God and then with the seeming silence they worked through the testing times. We are told about the end of some faith people in Hebrews 11, for example “stoned” and “sawn asunder”. It seems that they hung on to the divine connection with the promises until they died, even though it might seem to us that He had abandoned them. They seemed to get their strength from the unseen world and regarded it as solid as the visible world, which often seemed to be caving in around them. “The world was not worthy of them” and “God is not ashamed to be called their God”. There are bewildering times for all His saints, when God seems silent. But when there are doubts then faith slips in. So if there were not the doubting times, then the faith times could not slip in, to give faithfulness time to prevail, and therein is the joy.