It’s About Time!

Well, it’s about time! Probably most of us can easily think of ways that sentiment has punctuated the flow of our lives. In its more lighthearted forms, it might simply mean, “We’re glad you’re here!” In less jovial moments it may reflect varying degrees of annoyance or frustration. As part of a culture that does not like to wait, we might often find ourselves getting impatient with people or things that “waste our time,” and sometimes with a level of intensity that surprises us! But whether it’s in an interaction with a person, or some form of technology, what it actually reflects may be more significant than we realize. So, what is all of that about anyway? Well, it’s about time!

Many of us live with a sense that we somehow need to deal with time better. So we focus on improving time management skills, look for ways to be more efficient, increase productivity, and maybe even schedule in a little down time now and then.

We use technology to get more done more quickly, and to keep our calendars and e-mail accounts ever at our finger tips. Yet we rarely consider that the underlying cause of our hurried lives may not be so much about a failure of management as it is about how we actually experience time in the first place.

Researchers working in the field of Cardiac Psychology have identified three unhealthy “states,” (time pathologies) that we can find ourselves in as a result of how we experience time.1 The first is called Time Pressure, which is the perception that there is not enough time to accomplish all that we feel we must do, which then results in anxiety and tension. The second, is Time Urgency, which adds to the experience of time pressure, the conviction that we need to speed up the rate at which we are doing things. Whatever it is we are doing (working, eating, speaking, walking, even thinking) we need to do it faster, and look for ways to multi-task whenever possible. Furthermore, we continue to feel and act that way even when there are no actual time constraints to prompt or justify it. The third, Hurry Sickness, is the experience of time urgency that has become chronic. Preoccupation with past and future events allows only fleeting attention to the present, and then often only in the form of dealing with a crisis or solving a problem. With a focus that is now primarily on numbers and goals, everything is now evaluated in terms of quantity rather than quality. We are probably not surprised to discover that the rushed lifestyle that these time pathologies reflect is not one that leads to optimal cardiac (or mental) health.

Ok, so maybe we need to slow down a bit, and maybe do a bit less…and maybe we do…for a while…but it is often not very long before we discover that we have slipped back into the same patterns again. Perhaps because our solutions may be addressing the symptoms more than the real underlying issue, which is…well…it’s about time. Not how we organize or manage it, but how we experience it.

If we are willing to listen carefully, the scriptures actually give us some rather helpful insight into our experience of time, and how that experience can go wrong for us. Genesis 1, the beginning of our experience of time, provides us with some helpful navigation points, but we often miss these, at least partially because of our tendency to try so hard to hear Genesis 1 addressing issues that it was probably not terribly concerned about, and as a result, we miss what is actually there. Because our questions about time are often framed in terms of “What is it time for?” — kind of like kids riding in the back seat of the car on the family vacation who keep asking “Are we there yet?” — we get focused on “how long?” questions.

“How long is a day?” “How much time elapsed between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2?” However, when we listen more carefully, appreciating what many find to be the interesting literary, perhaps even poetic, structure of the passage, what Genesis 1 seems to be addressing much more profoundly is not just “What is it time for?” or “How long?” but instead, “What is time for?” That is a very different question, and in terms of how we live, far more significant. Notice what we find when we begin to read with that later question in mind.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.2

We are not given a date to mark on our calendar, but we are given a different kind of time reference point. While it does not tell us exactly when the beginning was, it does tell us how it was at the beginning — that at the beginning of everything, is the God who creates everything. And then we are given a powerful image to associate with this, God’s act of creation:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.3

As I understand it, the Hebrew imagery evoked in the language used here is that of a mother eagle hovering over her nest, as she is preparing to rouse her hatching eaglets to life. It is a very relational, even maternal picture of God “giving birth to creation.” It is an image that evokes a sense of how it is with God and God’s creation at the beginning, at the very moment that the experience of time begins for us. This is our first experience in time.

Then, following the literary structure of the passage, we go on to the coming of light on Day 1, and God distinguishing light from the darkness. Then on Days 2 and 3, the great containers of creation take shape: sky above, water below, and dry land. Day 4 returns us back to the themes of light and dark from Day 1, establishing a greater light to shine in the day, and a lesser light(s) to shine at night. (There is also a note here that these will provide a way to mark the flow of time that proceeds ahead, but more about Day 4 later.) On days 5 and 6, God fills the containers created on Days 2 and 3: the sky with birds, the waters with fish, and the land with animals — ultimately culminating with beings created in God’s own image. All of which God declares to be very good!4

Now one would think that this, the creation of human beings in God’s image, which Chapter 2 expands on in more detail, would be the ultimate climax of the creation story! But interestingly enough, the creation story that begins in Genesis 1 does not end at Day 6, but instead comes to its climax on Day 7, which is recorded in the first few verses of Chapter 2:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

The crowning act of the creation story, and the experience God imparts to the world that has just been birthed into being is the Sabbath — a gift that is all about how to experience time. And notice that the experience of “Sabbath time” is all about the Creator not being all about creating, and then blessing that experience of time and making it special.

While creation certainly had been productive, the experience that celebrates creation was not all about doing or producing. Rather, it was all about relationships — for God to be with God’s creation, and God’s creation with each other, just for their own sake. In the very first experience of time that the Book of Genesis opens with, we find very personal and relational imagery being used to describe God bringing our world to life. In the climax to the creation story on Day 7 we find an equally personal and relational experience, the celebration of the Sabbath, an experience of time that is not all about how much we can do or produce, not even for God the Ultimate Producer, but one that is all about being in relationships.

What the creation story in Genesis 1 describes is an experience of time that is rooted less in how long it takes to do things, or how much we can produce, and more in a way of being together in the midst of creation. It is a narrative that speaks much more powerfully to the question of “What is time for?” than “What is it time for?” All of which raises the possibility of whether it is in the answering of that first question that we might find even richer meanings in our understanding of what it means for Sabbath to be a memorial of creation!

With that in mind, when we take another look at Day 4 in the creation story, the one that actually speaks most directly about how we keep track of the passage of time, there is an important perspective that we find embedded there in the text.

Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years…God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.

It is worth noticing that while the passage is clearly referring to the sun and moon, the words for sun and moon are not used. Many scholars suggest that the reason for this is that at the time Genesis was written, those words were also used as proper names for the pagan deities associated with the sun and moon. It appears then, that by the passage intentionally referring to them as simply the greater and lesser lights, it is making it clear that these were things created by God, they were not themselves gods (an idea which would have been quite counter-cultural in a world where their worship was common). According to Genesis 1, these were simply objects that help us mark the passage of time, they were not gods that ruled over how we experienced it. While most of us are probably not tempted to worship the Sun or Moon per se, the important distinction embedded in those verses still speak as a powerful reminder to not allow those things that we look to to mark or measure the passage of time, to be given the power to govern our lives, or be “worshiped” as gods. Created things, like the Sun or Moon, or other technological devices that measure or manage our time, are there to be helpful in living well, not to become things that we find ourselves serving in ways that drain life from us.

If we could loosen our grip for a moment on our insistence that we read Genesis 1 as if it were a science text (something that the original writers and hearers would probably be somewhat baffled by) and appreciate the possibility that the creation story may be wanting to tell us more about how to live than how to count, then we might discover a richness in the story that Sabbath memorializes, but that we have too often missed. In contrast to other creation stories that had emerged in the other religions of that time which reflected a way of experiencing life that was all about keeping demanding gods pleased and appeased, this was the story of a loving, relational Creator, who wanted to be with His people, and who crafted the experience of time in a way that reflected that. It expresses an experience of time that is not about a rigid demanding standard that rules us, but a relational experience we enter into.

Which is why, in a world that has replaced the gods of sun and moon with clocks, calendars, and production schedules, we are still very much in need of the experience of time that Genesis 1 describes, and that Sabbath memorializes and celebrates, because we have largely lost what it means to experience time that way. Some of the significant contributors to this loss, and how our experience of time has changed, is articulated well in an article by Michael Ventura. Here are a few excerpts:

In the beginning was the railroad — the beginning, that is, of today’s experience of time. In the 1880s, railroad interests pressured the federal government to divide the country into time zones. Before this, 3:00 p.m. in San Francisco did not correspond to any particular time in New York…In fact, 3:00 p.m. in any city was only roughly coordinated even within the city limits. There was no place to call for a central reference point — there weren’t any telephones to call with…Local travel was by foot and horse…People greeted one another and often stopped for conversation…Most people didn’t need to make “appointments.” Schedules were for railroads, not individuals. As the railroads become more and more crucial to all forms of commerce, first factories and, by degrees, everyone else, had to conform to railroad schedules. Time began to be standardized…Farmers had to coordinate their sense of time with the railroads; their produce had to be ready at a certain time in order to get to a certain market. The commercialization of time completed its domination of American life in the 1920s with the advent of radio. Families, whose rhythms had revolved around mealtimes and work, now lived their evenings around their favorite broadcasts.

Thus from 1880 to 1930 there was a fundamental shift. With increasing dependence on the rails for business, and with the radio and telephone unifying the continent through instantaneous communications, the more flexible time of the past became the more rigid time sense we now know.

By 1950…the shift in America had gone from time is life to time is money…we began to measure our work and our value by the hour. Every man and woman in America wakes each day with a price on his or her head.5

With ever increasing technology, and a shifting in our experience of time to conform to the beat of “do better, do more, and by all means, do it faster”…we might not even notice how easily the worship of the old time keepers (Sun & Moon) can get replaced with more modern ones. Maybe that’s what real “sun worship” is about, how contemporary “beasts” leave their marks, and one of the ways the experience of Sabbath-based worship is a perpetual sign of the “covenant” and a memorial of creation?

Once we start listening to Genesis 1 as it speaks to the experience of time, many other things that the scripture has to say about time and Sabbath begin to appear in a clearer light. The 4th Commandment’s admonishment to set work aside and suspend all the ways we categorize people as more or less deserving based on work or status, can now be seen as much more than just giving us a weekly break, or a test to see if we will do what we are told. It is perhaps, much more about remembering and celebrating what time is for, and how we are meant to experience it. The Exodus 20 version reminds us that we do this because God creates the way He does in the creation story of Genesis 1. The Deuteronomy 5 version tells us that we do this because God redeems the way He does, as is remembered in the story of the Exodus. In both cases we celebrate that who we really are is rooted in God’s grace, and we are invited to live in a way that reflects that.

It is when we are able to fully embrace that that we are able to experience time as Hebrews 4:9 invites us to:

There remains, then, a Sabbath‑rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.

It is also what we see reflected in the ministry of Jesus, when the Pharisees with an eye on clocks and calendars (focused on “What is it time for?” questions) tell Jesus that His disciples should not be picking grain, and He should not be healing on Sabbath. Jesus responds by changing the question to “What is this Sabbath time for?” reminding them that Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath.6

When the disciples come to Jesus with “What is it time for?” questions7 about last day events, He reminds them that only the Father knows the day and hour,8 and then leads them to consider a different kind of question, “What is time for?” as He tells them stories about how to use their time — the wise and foolish young women, those with talents to invest, and the sheep and the goats.9

And to people who are very concerned about last day events and the seeming delay of the Second Coming, who were asking, “What is it time for?” and “Why isn’t it time yet?” questions, Peter writes this in 2 Peter 3:8-9:

…do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Whether we experience time primarily in ways that are all about numbers, deadlines and productivity, or instead about relationships, love and grace, matters. What is reflected in the way God creates in Genesis 1, and what we celebrate in the Sabbath, matters. It changes how we experience time, guiding us into framing the question in a more helpful way, one that is less “What is it time for?” and more “What is time for?” When we are listening well, the creation story speaks as powerfully to our contemporary world today, as it did to the ancient world in which it was first told and heard.10

I wonder what it might mean for us if we began to see that experience of life as a part of God’s kingdom as being what is central to the creation story, and what Sabbath celebrates and seals us into? What if we were to ease up on our efforts to make the story speak the language of biology or geology, and let it speak with its own voice about theology and our spiritual journey? What if it was so much more than knowing how to read a calendar correctly, as important as that may be and continues to be, and more about how we live and experience time? Something to think about! Because, when it comes to fully embracing and experiencing the life of the Kingdom, and fully embracing the beauty of what the Sabbath celebrates, a lot of what we struggle with is…well…It’s about time.

Notes & References:

4It’s difficult for me to read these verses without thinking about C.S. Lewis’ imagery of Aslan singing the world into existence. See C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, (New York: Harper Collins Books, 1955), 116-138.

10For a thoughtful discussion of how we might go about listening more carefully to Genesis 1 in its own context, and in the context of conversations about the relationship of science to the text, see Brian Bull and Fritz Guy’s book God, Sky & Land: Genesis 1 as the Ancient Hebrews Heard It, published by Adventist Forum in 2011.

Ken Curtis is Associate Pastor at Calimesa SDA church and blogs at KensFootnotes.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8906
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Time differs by profession. There is a vast difference between a dairy farmer and a cheese maker. During WWII it was found that errors increase in a work cycle of more than 60 hours. the best was the 40 hour work cycle… The same in hospital work errors increased in time over 60 hours in a week cycle. The demands on interns and resident staff is a critical part of an accreditation cycle.

The same hold true of study and learning of which worship is an essential part. Take time to be holy Should should be — time is holy let us use it accordingly.

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Genesis 1:1. In the BEGINNING God created the heaven and the earth.
Genesis 1:2. And the earth was without form.
Genesis 1:2. And the earth was void.
Genesis 1:2. And the earth was dark.
Genesis 1:2. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the deep waters.

An interpretation of Psalm 92.
"Waves pounding out their song reach up to God from their depths,
For the song of the sea, beaten to the sound of the breakers,
Tell of God within.
THESE are proof enough for the faithful that You are Lord of all time.
— Edward Feld and Arthur Gould.
Jewish Book of Common Prayer.

Perhaps The Creation Story is MORE than just History of the world,
OR a Lecture in Science.
OR an anthropological view of our early ancestors.
Maybe it had a Whole Different meaning to the one who created the story.

this would include the Telling of the Sabbath story.

Sabbath at Loma Linda was a real blessing. Dr. Graham Maxwell’s Sabbath School Class. an afternoon in the mountains or desert, or beach. what a way to raise a family. We moved East but all three returned to Loma Linds for college and a career. Georgia was like a jail and the conference president should have been jailed- a major Davenport promoter and beneficiary. Talk the talk but never walked the walk. A muscle contest is difficult without a spine. Greed not love is motive power even the new labeling exercise.

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Beautiful description of creation and the meaning of the Sabbath rest. Thank you.

Once that Sabbath rest is codified and institutionalized it becomes another obligation, filled with more activity - and is just another time that IS about “rigid demanding standard that rules us” still. With all the obligations and ceremony, the writer needs to say, “there remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” despite how we have “branded” the name.

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when the Christian church split from its Jewish brethren it LOST all the next 2000 years of
Insight into the Old Testament. It lost all the Insights from the Babylonian captivity on through
to the NOW – 21st Century.
The Leaders of the Christian church 100 to 150 years after Paul began to CREATE their own
interpretations of the both the Old and the New Testaments.
The Jewish Mystics continued to write, to pass on their insights of Scripture for the next 2000 years
to their generations. Christians WERE NOT Listening.
Then came the 19th Century [1800s] in America. William Miller, Josiah Litch, many others
began the 2nd Great Awakening. In the early 1840’s God attempted to break into all this
through 2 men – one black. But they were understandably fearful.
After the disappointment of 1844, Ellen received messages. A small group of farmers listened,
and began meeting together.
This little band of persons, which grew, were limited by their 19th Century Christian understanding
of the Scriptures.
And since then, we as a Denomination, have been tied into that thinking into the 21st Century.

Because the Christian church ignored our Jewish Brethren, we did not have access to the
wealth of commentary and inspiration of the Holy Scriptures that they have accumulated
the past 2000 years, and still putting out today.
We have failed to take the time and effort to ACCESS the Jewish mind, and have missed a
large amount of nuances that the Scriptures provide in understanding what the original
writers might have been attempting to say to their then listeners.
We are hindered by our 21st Century minds, our culture, pre-conceived ideas when we
read the words on the pages.
So perhaps, even WE SDAs, we have no idea or insight as to WHAT the original writers of
Genesis 1 through Genesis 50 was REALLY telling their audience back then.

And, if Ellen was getting a lot of her Source Material for Spiritual Gifts FIRST, then later
Patriarchs and Prophets from 18th and 19th Century writers, we are captured by that
generation in our understandings.
In the Understanding of the meaning of Genesis, ALL WE CAN DO is sit around the campfires with
3000 year old men, women, children and LISTEN to the stories. And attempt to grasp
a little bit of what they meant to our campfire friends.

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From reading this article you are wrongly down playing the power of God. Consider this quote from Sis EG White:

“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day, wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath-day and hallowed it.” This reason appears beautiful and forcible when we understand the record of creation to mean literal days. The first six days of each week are given to man in which to labor, because God employed the same period of the first week in the work of creation. The seventh day God has reserved as a day of rest, in commemoration of his rest during the same period of time after he had performed the work of creation in six days. {1SP 86.1}
But the infidel supposition that the events of the first week required seven vast, indefinite periods for their accomplishment, strikes directly at the foundation of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. It makes indefinite and obscure that which God has made very plain. It is the worst kind of infidelity; for with many who profess to believe the record of creation, it is infidelity in disguise. It charges God with commanding men to observe the week of seven literal days in commemoration of seven indefinite periods, which is unlike his dealings with mortals, and is an impeachment of his wisdom.{1SP 86.2}

this is such an excellent, interesting perspective…

in my own experience, i’ve almost come to view sabbath as a mini foretaste of timelessness and eternity, where there doesn’t have to be anything done at a set time, and where whatever happens can be enjoyed profitably for its own sake…if this includes people, great, but if not, oh well…sometimes my best moments of timelessness are when no-one is around, and the only presence i’m channeling is our unfathomable god in one of my favourite places, which is emerald lake in field, B.C…

while i’ve attended the same church more or less regularly for the past 25 yrs, i’m well past getting all worked up to be there on time…in fact if i don’t make it, there’s always the mountains and lakes to drive to…or i can visit the zoo…or i can simply stay home and watch squirrels, rabbits and birds in the trees and bushes in my backyard while i memorize a bible chapter or two…then of course there’s always spectrum to read and comment on…or there’s my violin to spend all afternoon with…of course i can’t bring myself to miss too many church services…even when i learn utterly nothing, which is relatively common, there’s still the fellowship of people i know well, and who know me well…

i think it’s a real question to consider how eternity, and the pointlessness of deadlines in the context of timelessness, will affect how we live in heaven and the new earth…this is probably how god and angels are living now, and have been living for billions of yrs…it almost seems impossible to imagine how to go about achieving something when there are no deadlines…how will we mark our progress…or will achievement and progress even matter any more…maybe it’s the awareness of personal experience in the here and now moment that will matter, just like it does during sabbaths that we spend here…

“Oh,… brother VanDieman, you should make more effort to attend the services, all of them! Do you need a pastoral visit to talk about this?” :rofl:

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