Eternity in our hearts
What if time astonishes us because we are meant to one day live outside it?
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Vice President Kamala Harris took a lot of ridicule for a speech given in March of 2022. She was in Sunset, La., to talk about rural internet connections, but in her introductory remarks the VP riffed on an earlier conversation with Gov. John Bel Edwards about “the significance of the passage of time. Right? The significance of the passage of time.” That significance apparently struck her so much she repeated the exact phrase twice in the next paragraph.
Oratory is not Ms. Harris’ strong suit, and yet—the passage of time is significant indeed, and not just for high-speed internet. I used to complain that time was my enemy, especially when running late for an appointment. Now I have too much of it while trying to occupy a husband who’s forgotten how to occupy himself, even while the years stacked up behind me are pushing me forward faster and faster.
Every day is 24 hours, but they squeeze and expand like an accordion. When I was 6, Christmas took forever to arrive. At age 10 I couldn’t wait for school to start, and two days later couldn’t wait for winter break. Time dragged when I was a young mother stuck at home with toddlers, and flashes by today when realizing my oldest granddaughter will soon be 17. Nieces and nephews I knew as babies now post Facebook pictures of their own kids going off to college.
Every young mother hears this—“They grow up so fast!”—but it’s hard to believe when a colicky baby is waking her up four times a night. “The days are long, the years are short” makes no sense to a teenager who can’t wait to get out from under his parents’ thumb. But it’s true.
Time is just weird.
Augustine ruminated at length about it in his Confessions, admitting he knew what time was so long as no one asked him to define it. Did time even exist? If so, where and how? The past was dead and the future was pure speculation, especially since we don’t know how long we’ll be around for it. If time is real only in the present moment, it flashes by too quickly for an alert mind to perceive. Like travelers on a road, humans can only experience time moment by moment. But God sees the whole road, including the surrounding territory, because He made it. In the end, Augustine could settle the problem in his own mind by entrusting it to God’s mind; time could only be resolved by eternity.
Meanwhile, we live it—“so little reconciled to time,” wrote C.S. Lewis, “that we are ever astonished by it. ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim. ‘How time flies!’ as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It’s as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the very wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed: unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”
As the Preacher wrote, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Beauty has its time before fading and dying, but eternity haunts us. It’s as if we were destined to become, one day, eternal.
Perhaps we can understand time (and space) as the canvas on which God paints creation. And if that’s the case, we will someday, in heaven, experience it from the outside. Suppose eternity will be the opportunity to examine the whole cloth of time as God has woven each of us into it; marveling at the intricate patterns and mysterious providences and startling connections. Finding out what God has done from beginning to end will be a glory to look forward to, even better than Christmas.
Meanwhile, every moment weaves into the final cloth. Or, as R.C. Sproul used to say, “Right now counts forever.”