Time: Part 5—Time & History

We’re exploring the mystery of time in this series based on a chapter in Ken Boa’s first book, God, I Don’t Understand.


As we’ve seen, the Bible reveals that God’s relation to time is very different from our own.

Unlike God, we’re subject to linear time that flows in one direction. The sum of all our nows makes up history.

C.S. Lewis said that every sentence of history is labeled Now, and history must be read sentence by sentence. He spoke of “the holy present” because of the presence of God in every Now.1 Time and history are very real to God since they’re part of His creation. This is why all biblical events are tied into space-time history.

All biblical events are tied into space-time history.

Cyclic Views of Time

But from a naturalistic point of view, time seems to be running in endless cycles. This is the perspective Solomon temporarily takes:

Generations come and generations go. …
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises. …
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say. …
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time. (Ecclesiastes 1:4, 5, 8, 10 NIV)

This is precisely the outlook adopted by the Greeks. They thought of time as endlessly moving in a circle. To them time was an enslavement, a curse. Thus, their view of redemption was freedom from this endless circle of time. The New Testament proclamation that God has redeemed man in space and in time was therefore unthinkable to many Greeks.

The New Testament proclamation that God has redeemed man in space and in time was unthinkable to many Greeks, who saw time as endlessly moving in a circle.

The religious philosophies of India also developed this idea of cyclic cosmological time. Hinduism carried this out on a terrifying scale. It speaks of a cycle of four ages (Yugas) of decreasing length and virtue.2 This cycle takes 4.32 million years, and when it’s complete, it will be followed by another cycle. One thousand of these cycles equals a day of Brahma, and another thousand makes a night of Brahma. One Brahma lives 100 years, so this works out to 300 trillion years. The process never stops. In this picture, life and history are ultimately futile and meaningless.

In Hinduism, time is also cyclical, and life and history are ultimately futile and meaningless.

Biblical Time Is Linear

The biblical view of time and history is in direct contrast to these Greek and Indian concepts of cyclic ages.

The Lord has revealed that history is actually moving in a straight line from a beginning to an end. The center of linear time is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s program of redemption is connected to a continuous time process that’s heading toward a definite climax in history when Christ returns.

But when the fullness of the time [chronos] came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
—Galatians 4:4–5

We’ll explore the idea of eternity in the next post.

Series Navigation<< Time: Part 4—Time & GodTime: Part 6—Time & Eternity >>

Footnotes

  1. C.S. Lewis, “Historicism,” in Christian Reflections, Walter Hooper, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), 113.
  2. Joseph Campbell, “On Mystic Shapes of Thing to Come—Circular and Linear,” Horizon, 1974, 35; J.B. Priestly, Man and Time (New York: Crescent Books, 1964), 172; Geoffrey Parrinder, A Dictionary of Non-Christian Religions (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971).