A Meditation on Time

Dali Time SmallestOne of the best places to hide is behind the future. The future holds more promise than the present or the past, and so it lends itself to magical thinking. The promise of the serpent is always a promise of the future, and so Satan himself hides behind it. There is no smokescreen quite so effective as the future. We can hide our true selves behind it, and we can hypnotise people with it.

The way of deliverance is to understand that God exists in the present, and that he wishes to interact with us in the present. The cure for hypocrisy is through an engagement with the present. It is very difficult to lie in the presence of the present, for the present is real. He who lives in the present is not easily fooled by others, and least of all by himself. The person of the present is honest. He sees the world as it is, not as it can be.

What about the future then? What about the hope of the Christian, both for his work in this world and his rest in the world beyond?

The answer is simple. The true future lies in the present, and it is beheld through the present. When the future is beheld apart from the present, as Eve did when she blotted the eternal and ever-present word of God out of her mind, it is on the same par as the illusion of the magician. The appearance of magic depends on the disappearance of that which is present and real. Herein lies the secret of magic. You can only show it to those whose eyes you have first blinded. Detract from the real and present, and the illusion will take its place.

When the present is beheld, the future becomes its child and not its enemy. The only people who have some sense of mastery over their future, such as the wise man of Proverbs who works his land, are those who have the firmest grasp of the present. But the fool of Proverbs is the one who chases fantasies, and who will have his fill of poverty. He is the one who has made the present a child of the future, and in the process he has forfeited both the present and the future. To tranquilise oneself through dreaming is to become blind and numb to the demands of the present.

Satan blinds us to the present, for God is in the present. What distinguishes Christianity from other religions is the arrival of a kingdom that remains out of reach for all other religious pilgrims. God is with us, and he is so in the now, not the tomorrow. The Christian’s pilgrimage is a walk with Christ, not one towards Christ. And so Christ was the greatest proponent of the present. “Do not worry about tomorrow”, he said, and likened such concerns with the world of the gentiles. Whilst Philip was asking for and anticipating a view of the Father, Christ was teaching Philip that he was busy looking at the Father. I am not in your future, Philip, but in your present.

In fact, the very word “presence” is derived from the present. It is not possible to be present and anticipated at the same time. For Christ to be “with us” is to no longer wait for him, or anticipate him in some idealised future setting. This is why Christ answered: “The kingdom is in your midst”, when asked “when” the kingdom of God would come. (I am not referring here to the Lord’s return, the new heavens and earth, and our anticipation thereof. Such an expectation is entirely legitimate, even compulsory. My focus above is on the presence of Christ in the here and now, and the present reality of the Kingdom of God.)

This explains the prohibition of images in the Bible. The image compensates for the absence of the real, and so it magnifies that absence. To make an image of God is to declare that God is not with us, and that we should at least have the freedom to interact with a projection of him. Of course the lure of the image has to do with the anticipation that the projection would at some stage be replaced by the real, that the image would become alive as it were, and so the image becomes our link to the future and our escape from the present.

Idolatry is always intended as an escape, and so it relies on images to make the ideal concrete. The image captures the imagination’s flight and forces it from an idea into a reality. It subjects the evasive God to our power and control, and turns the future from the unknown to the known. In its final analysis, idolatry denies the sufficiency of God, the perfection of his provision and the completion of his works.

Of course there is one other way to escape from the present, and that is through the past. Here, too, Satan is the guide on the journey. If he cannot get us to join him in constructing an idolatrous future, he incites us to dwell on the past. This he does through accusation, and oftentimes through nostalgia, but that is another story for another day.