Bad timing drives me nuts.
The bus pulls away just before you reach it. The priceless opportunity disappears just before you can grab it. Just when that person finally gets back on their feet, something else goes wrong. Bad, broken timing.
Why does time feel so broken?
Don’t let those swish Swiss clocks confuse you: time does not run smoothly. It slips away, races past and—ultimately—runs out. But why? Why does it feel like our times are out of joint when there’s a perfect time Lord holding all our times together?
Our problems with time are not quick-fixes. Our time troubles run deep and their origins go way back to when the first humans stepped out against God (Genesis 3). Adam and Eve kicked off our ongoing rejection of what God wants and when God wants it. They brought their own clock into creation and our times have been out of whack in three main ways ever since.
1. Our time is misused
First, time is broken because time is misused. While God uses time wisely and lovingly… we don’t. We misuse our own time and that of others. We take things now that we should leave until later and put off until later things that would be loving to do now. Our issue is not time management (after all, who can ‘manage’ time?). Our issue is self-control. And that’s what we lack. I remember working in the city and realising how eagerly I’d leave it to the last moment to leave my desk to meet a friend or colleague for coffee simply because my selfish gut told me my time was more precious than theirs and so they could wait for me! Isn’t that awful?! And false! Like the kid hanging on to the pass-the-parcel way too long, sometimes our selfishness (or the selfishness of others) is the source of our time woes.
2. Our time is cursed
But, secondly, time is broken because it’s cursed. In the beginning, I take it, life was a perpetual string of perfect timings. ‘To do’ lists got done on time, every time. But not any more! As a right consequence for rejecting God, our work (and hence our time) is now cursed. Our activities involve frustration rather than smooth success. Lots of our #firstworldproblems fall into this category. The printer runs out of ink just when you’re about to print-and-dash. The internet drops out just as the essay submission deadline ticks over. They are all just little ‘thorns and thistles’—reminders that life in this world involves tough toil (Gen 3:17).
3. Our time is cut short
But for all the little ways that time is frustrating there is a much more sinister problem underlying it all: ultimately, our time will run out. This was the final consequence for Adam and Eve: “for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19b). The breath of life was a gift that was given and will be taken away. We no longer have life. We have a lifetime.
Singer-songwriter Sara Groves wrote of it this way:
I have a friend who just turned eighty-eight
and she just shared with me that she’s afraid of dying.
I sit here years from her experience
and try to bring her comfort.
I try to bring her comfort
But what do I know?
What do I know?
She grew up singing about the glory land,
and she would testify how Jesus changed her life.
It was easy to have faith when she was thirty-four,
but now her friends are dying, and death is at her door.
She lost her husband after sixty years,
and as he slipped away she still had things to say.
Death can be so inconvenient.
You try to live and love.
It comes and interrupts. (Sara Groves, ‘What Do I know?’, 2001.)
Death is not a natural next stage. It is a brutal interruption and disruption.
Job put his finger on this in Job 14. He cries out about the unfairness of a life cut short:
At least there is hope for a tree:
If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
and its new shoots will not fail…
But a man dies and is laid low;
he breathes his last and is no more. (Job 14: 7, 10)
But Job knows that what he needs is not just a longer life now—he needs shelter from God’s judgement after death. He pleads with God: “If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me!” (v. 13) That is, remember him and raise him back to life.
Job knows our time is cut short because of our own sin. So, desperately, he hopes for a day when God will not keep track of his sin, when his “offenses will be sealed up in a bag” and covered over (vv. 16-17).
Our problems with time run deep. My problem is not forgetfulness or time management or even just that life is short. It’s that I live a sin-shortened life in a sin-cursed world, and I’m a sinner! We don’t just need a better diary to work out time. I need God to tie up my wrongdoings in a sack and sink them to the bottom of the Pacific. I need to be forgiven and resurrected. And praise God, I can be because of Jesus. As we’ll see next time, this revolutionises how we use our time. But before we get to that, there are some crucial time travelling tips we can learn in light of the brokenness of time here and now.
1. Confess your contribution to time troubles
Some things are beyond your control—but not everything. It’s worth taking a long hard look in the clock-face and admitting sometimes it is our own selfishness or lack of self-control that’s the problem.
2. Name and blame the curse
Silly as it sounds, I find it quite relieving to name and blame the curse. When things don’t go to plan, there is something strangely clarifying and satisfying about putting the label on it: “that’s the curse”. It helps me adjust my expectations. I shouldn’t expect things to run smoothly. I should expect there to be hiccups and setbacks. I live in a world where time is broken. It’s much less frustrating when I acknowledge this rather than expecting perfect timing all the time.
3. Accept it: you’re a time-receiver not a time-creator
We don’t make the times. We are given them. As our pastor pointed out, this is the point of Ecclesiastes 3: there is “a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot” (etc. etc.). Wisdom comes from seeing the time or life-stage that God has placed us in, and honouring him and loving others as we travel through it. Have a read of Psalm 90. It is an incredible reminder that God is eternal the time-creator. We are travelling through. As the psalmist sings: “Teach us to number our days alright that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12).
4. Grieve with God
While we should expect time to be broken, we don’t have to love its brokenness. Death itself is the surest example of this. We don’t have to persuade ourselves into shallow or shortened grief. We can grieve deeply. Because we can do it with God. His efforts to destroy death by sending his own Son to smash it go above and beyond any we could imagine or attempt. Jesus’ resurrection enables us to grieve deeply, yet with a secure hope that runs even deeper than our grief (2 Thess 4:13-18).
We live in a world where time is broken. Seeing that will go a long way to helping us travel through time, and use time, wisely and well. But, as we’ll see, that’s not the end of the story. The best is yet to come.
Look out for part 3 of Annabel’s time-travel series next week.