Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rethink: Time

I watched a special in which Stephen Hawking was going to disprove the necessity of God. Basically, his argument is that we can account for every second of time since the Big Bang and thus there is no time left in which God could have created the universe. I'm not a theoretical physicist but I know enough theology to know that God does not live in time, which is simply another creation of his, but in eternity. And even physicists say that there was no time before the Big Bang and they cannot go back farther than the beginning of the material universe. So God could have front-loaded the singularity at the heart of the Big Bang with all the material, energy and natural laws it needed to unfold precisely as he designed it, the way a fireworks maker can design a rocket so it will deliver different kinds of explosions and colored lights and even whistles at various intervals. Then then there are physicists who feel time as we experience it does not exist but each moment is eternally present and we travel through them. Some feel that there are multiple universes in which every decision we could have made is played out. It looks like there's a lot of room for God to reach out from eternity and intervene in time, the way a reporter in a helicopter can visit any and every point in a parade, several times and from several angles, without being subject to its flow.

We, however, do live in time. How did Jesus make us rethink this vital piece of creation? By reclaiming time for God. We think our time is ours to do with as we please. But it does not belong to us. Time existed before us and will continue after our earthly existence is over. We cannot stop it or replay it. In fact, according to Einstein, the only kind of time travel possible is to get into the future faster. We are already doing that. In fact the world seems to be traveling too fast. First artificial lighting, then TV and now the internet have tempted us to spend time we should be resting in pursuits both worthwhile and decidedly not. Sleep deprivation and overwork are epidemics, destroying health and lives.

God knows we need rest and so he commanded us to observe the Sabbath, one day out of seven when people are to rest. From sunset Friday to sunset Saturday the Israelites were to cease work, as were their slaves and animals. The Bible gives 2 purposes for the Sabbath. One is to commemorate the creation of the heavens and the earth, after which God rested. Another is to remember how God liberated his people from slavery in Egypt.

A third purpose of the Sabbath, given by rabbis, is that it serves as a foretaste of the Olam Haba, or the world to come, the Messianic Age. For that reason meals prepared before the Sabbath but eaten during it are festive. It is a time for socializing with family and friends, singing songs, reading, studying and discussing the Scriptures, praying, and napping. Rabbis also think it is a fine day for married couples to spend time together, to put it delicately. The Sabbath is a day to enjoy the goodness of God's creation. As one rabbi put it, the Sabbath is the day we recover Eden.

Jesus could always be found in a synagogue on the Sabbath. But Jesus did not observe all of the prohibitions of what constituted work. When his disciples pulled some heads off of grain and ate them, some Pharisees saw this as breaking the Sabbath. Jesus referred to an incident when David took the sacred bread from the tabernacle and shared it with his hungry companions. He said, "The Sabbath was made for human beings, and not human beings for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath." Jesus was extending a well-known principle. A Jew is not only permitted but required to violate the Sabbath if it is necessary to save a life, whether Jew or Gentile. This principle, called pikuach nephesh, allows a Jew to violate any law in the Torah, except those prohibiting idolatry, blasphemy or murder, when faced with a situation that threatens a specific life. But when a condition was not life-threatening, experts differed on whether one should do something to, say, alleviate pain or suffering. Here Jesus ran afoul of some Pharisees. Jesus felt that healing was always permitted. He saw it as releasing someone from bondage and therefore quite appropriate for a day that recalled God rescuing his people from bondage.

But the overriding principle of saving people from death and suffering any time doesn't mean we should keep working 24/7 rather than observe a day of rest. Early in the church, believers started observing Sunday, the day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead, calling it the Lord's day. As the church became more Gentile, observance of the Sabbath gradually shifted to Sunday. In the so-called Dark Ages the church tried to get warring princes to lay down arms and observe the Truce of God on Sundays, Fridays, and all during Lent. It was a non-violent movement to stop supposedly Christian nobles and kings from fighting. Like Jesus they were trying to put the principle of preserving life and health above the "business as usual" attitude of getting what you want by taking the health and life of others.

By marking out a day when we are to cease from all work, God staked a claim on our time. He had saved his people and their lives belonged to him. They showed this by giving up making money for one day and devoting it to him. Jesus showed us that observing this day of rest did not mean refraining from doing good and helping those who were suffering or in need. No matter what day it is, we are to do good. He thereby plants a flag on our entire life. By his blood, he freed us from our bondage to sin and death. Our time is not our own but to be spent spreading this good news, not only with our lips but with our lives.

Since our lifetimes are gifts from God, redeemed by his Son, how we spend our time therefore becomes a matter of stewardship. On Wednesday we will reconsider how we spend our talents but in the meantime ask yourself this: If the time I'm given is not my own but God's, how much do I devote to him and his work? If my life is not my own, am I damaging it by not taking the rest God commands? If I do take a day of rest, do I spend it enjoying the gifts God's given me--family, friends, my spouse, my church community, the outdoors or do I fritter it away in pursuits that draw me away from these things? And if my life is Christ's, do I have certain personal rules and rituals that get in the way of doing what I can to save the lives and health of others?

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