Time and Eternity
Feb 24, 2010 by Craig Blomberg | 2 Comments
“But 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” (2 Pet. 3:8)
In context, Peter is explaining that the apparent delay in Christ’s return should not be viewed from a human vantage point with respect to time. God’s timing is not our timing. From the viewpoint of eternity, even a thousand years can seem as quick as a day. God isn’t slow at all in bringing the end but wants to give people as much time as possible to repent (v. 9).
Extrapolating from the immediate context, there are many unanswerable questions about time and eternity with which philosophers wrestle. The end of Revelation 10:6, in older translations, was sometimes rendered, “time will be no more,” leading to the notion that the eternal state does not include a succession of moments. But modern translations recognize that this clause means, “There will be no more delay,” that is, before the end of human history as we know it. It may be that time is not something God created but simply an inherent part of the existence of any form of consciousness. We just don’t know.
What does seem clear is that, if I borrow models from mathematics and think about a line extending to infinity, then even the longest finite period of time is just a miniscule blip in that graph. Technically speaking, it can’t be graphed, because any definable segment of the line would still be too long! In more poetic forms that is what Peter was saying. And he wasn’t inventing the idea; he was quoting Psalm 90:4, a marvelous prayer of Moses reflecting on God’s sovereignty as he considered how fleeting life was.
Yesterday (Feb. 23), Denver Seminary’s Chapel was filled to overflowing with worshipers for Dr. Bruce Shelley’s funeral. For over 52 years, he had blessed and influenced thousands upon thousands of people through his Denver-based ministry of teaching, writing, preaching and mentoring. What a marvelous encouragement he always was to me ever since I came here in 1986. No one employed by our seminry apart from our patriarch, Dr. Vernon Grounds, has touched so many (though Dr. Gordon Lewis has perhaps come close). We are reminded of the two verses immediately after Psalm 90:4: “Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.” And yet we will be reunited with Bruce, and so many other loved ones who have gone before us, and countless others we will be thrilled to meet, for an eternity of reveling in God’s and each others’ company.
How much more can we look forward to never-ending, grand reunions with living Christians we wish were closer. How many baby boomers like me imagined when our high-school and college-graduating classes said their tearful goodbyes to people they thought they might never see again, that e-mail and facebook would make that abundantly possible decades later? How many foreign missionaries of past eras setting sail from their homelands never to talk to their families again could have even fantasized as science-fiction developments like Skype and webcams that now can put people in instant communication with each other from virtually anywhere in the world? How much more will we cherish eternal life that eliminates all barriers among God’s people, and most important of all, the barriers we cause ourselves through human sin, keeping relationships from being as perfectly loving and joyful as possible.
I often tell people that the hardest thing about my job is saying goodbye to ¼ of my closest friends every year. Maybe there’s a little exaggeration there, but not much. I love getting to know students. Few other jobs could possibly put one in touch with so many phenomenal servants of God. I wish I could develop a close relationship with every one of them but of course that is impossible. Circumstances lead one to acquaintance with many but deep friendships with only a few.
One of those graduates I counted as a close friend from several years ago had the opportunity to accept a ministry in Denver recently but was also being wooed by a ministry in another country. After months of waiting, with all signs suggesting that my friend would accept the call to Denver, at the last minute, with my excitement building to a fever pitch, the choice was made for the other ministry. I was stunned—both at the choice and how I was experiencing all four stages of grief simultaneously: disbelief, anger (especially at the other ministry for its “theft” of my friend), sorrow and, yes, also acceptance.
Ecclesiastes 4:10 says that God “has set eternity in the human heart.” I don’t pretend to understand much of what that involves, but I’m convinced a part of it has to do with the fact that even when we are physically present with our closest friends, every celebration, every special event, every happy memory goes by all to fleetingly. We are creatures who understand, however dimly, something of the unending sinless fellowship that we were made to have with God and each other and we long for it. When even feeble approximations of that fellowship are rudely snatched away from us in this life, whether through death or through departure, we intuitively recognize how wrong that is. Praise the Lord that one day this separation will be rectified—forever. And that’s a whole lot more than even a thousand years!