Living on an Eternal Schedule
Time is valuable, and the way we speak about it reflects that attitude. In American culture, we don’t just say, “time is money.” We refer to time like a precious resource: we talk about “wasting” time, “spending” time, “saving” time, and “making” time.
In my most generous moments, I tell an apologetic salesclerk or a hurrying friend, “I’ve got all the time in the world.” When I’m in a rush, I say, “I haven’t got all day.” I once convinced myself to jump off a cliff into a lake using the acronym “YOLO.” “You only live once,” I whispered to my quaking knees, forgetful of the fact that, for me, that is not true. When invited to an event or a party I can’t attend, I explain my misery with the acronym “FOMO,” fear of missing out, admitting to myself that I greedily grasp for every possible experience in this fleeting, ephemeral life.
When we read the biblical record of God’s dealings with His people (and His expectations of how we would deal with Him), we see that His perception of time is different from ours. Verse 4 of Psalm 90 says to God, “a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.”
My FOMO is unwarranted. In the New Covenant, God guarantees eternal life in Jesus Christ to His believers. Certainly, forever must mean having enough time to do the things that I want.
As this article focuses on some details in biblical narratives, our goal will be to approach this question: how much time does God act like we have?
The God-ordained romance of Isaac and Rebekah meets us twenty-four chapters into the book of Genesis, after Isaac’s father’s servant goes out on a mission to find Isaac a wife. After relating their first meeting and subsequent marriage, the text summarizes their first years together:
Genesis 25:20–21. And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
The twins that resulted from this answer to prayer would be named Esau and Jacob—two immensely important figures in the history of Israel. The text gives some details about Rebekah’s pregnancy, the prophetic futures of her respective children, and at the end of the section, mentions an important detail:
Genesis 25:26. …Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. [emphasis mine]
To my ears, it’s as if the text is adding, “and by the way, they prayed for these babies for twenty years.” Talk about a long wait. Those twenty years are not even mentioned, much less detailed. Why not? Is it for brevity’s sake? Is it because God didn’t care about their waiting? Obviously, He cared; He gave them the twins. But the focal point of this text is the summary of Rebekah and Isaac’s experience found in verse 21: “And the LORD granted his prayer.”
I hope that when I reflect on my life’s experiences, I say, “And the LORD granted my prayer,” and never whisper to myself, “but it took so long.”
As the great healer, the Messiah, Jesus was approached by people who came and asked him to heal them, heal their children, heal their friends, heal their servants. They carried people to Jesus in beds and let them down to him through hastily deconstructed buildings. The Gospel accounts carefully note that these people came from all walks of life: he was approached by the rich, the poor, Jews, Gentiles, the maimed, the demon-possessed—in short, the desperate.
On one occasion in Jesus’ travels, a ceremonially unclean sick woman desperately pressed her way through a mob of people to touch him. She believed that if she just brushed his hem she would get better—and she was right. The Gospel accounts record that as soon as she touched Jesus, she was instantly healed. In the crushing mob, Jesus immediately stopped and asked, “Who touched me?”
Mark 5:31–34. And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
What a powerful scene.
But here’s the catch: while this was happening, Jesus was on his way to heal someone else, someone who desperately, urgently needed his help. Just before Jesus finds the woman in the mob, we encounter these verses:
Mark 5:22–24. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing [Jesus], he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.
On the way, Jesus encountered the woman.
They say that, on average, the time from calling 911 to the arrival of an ambulance is about seven minutes. That’s seven minutes of lights flashing, sirens blaring, rushing through traffic. If I came to the savior and said to him, “My little daughter is at the point of death,” I would want him to hurry, not stop on the way to investigate who touched him in a crowd. In fact, the urgency of the situation would probably be such that I would struggle to control my temper if Jesus even thought to pause along the way.
As it happened, while Jesus was en route, the little girl died.
Mark 5:35-41. While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe”.… They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”….. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”
Jesus (and, it seems, Jairus) did not panic at the news that the little girl had perished. He did not curse himself for dilly-dallying. Instead, Jesus’ patience came from his knowledge of the end result. He knew that whatever the delay, God would heal the girl, and this knowledge empowered him to deal with the situation that arose along
I’ve spent time meditating on my mortality. When I was seventeen years old, I was in a horse accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury and left me comatose. God healed me. My current non-disabled state is one of His greatest gifts to me. The way He healed me was not, however, that I miraculously jumped out of bed, surprising all the doctors, and ran out of the hospital. I spent days waking up from a coma; I spent weeks relearning to walk. While my recovery was shockingly fast and remarkably complete, it was also thorough. I experienced every part of traumatic brain injury recovery, from supervised bathing to months struggling to make my eyes point the same direction.
Of the main changes to my character that came from this experience, two are pertinent. Returning to normal life, I was euphoric. I could not believe the audacity with which God had made the colors; my heart sang at the pleasures and privileges of walking, running, driving, feeling textures, eating food. I gained a renewed appreciation for the experiences of this life that, over the intervening years, I have sought to retain.
A second character change was more problematic. The more I thought about how close I had come to catastrophe, the more urgently I perceived a need to meet my life’s goals as quickly as possible. My life felt fleeting and ethereal, and I couldn’t let it get away from me. As my thankfulness for my life grew, a matching urgency to experience every possible thing matched it.
God does want us to be aware of our mortality, but the result should not be desperation. The psalmist writes,
Psalm 90:12. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
Common biblical expressions for human life are that we are like grass or flowers; human lives rise up, get old, and wither away. But the hope that we have in Christ is described this way:
1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. …We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
This is encouraging: those who are dead at the return of Christ will be raised, those who are alive will join, and from then on, we will be with Jesus. When we think of the end of our story, of an eternal life with Jesus on a renewed earth, it should empower us to be patient and brave because, like Jesus on his way to Jairus’ daughter, we know how it ends.
Our perspectives on time should reflect how God has prepared an eternity for us instead of the greedy urgency of American consumerism. This knowledge should empower us to endure trials, to wait for answered prayers, and to bear with difficult people. And we should change the acronym. As Christians, instead of “YOLO,” “you only live once,” we should say “YOLOM”: “you only live once—minimum.”
It’s true. We have all the time in the world.