Thinking About Time: All Of Creation And History As God’s Story

I am a junior high history teacher. For pre-teens and teenagers, history is not the most thrilling of school subjects. Gratefully, I teach at a Christian school, so my particular spin on history involves the triune God’s involvement. (This does not always result in an attuned middle school mind in the classroom, however.) Our Creator makes history, indeed, provides all the foundational stratum for history and time itself. My aim for students is to help them think about their role in the story of history, the great schema of God in creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. So too, my aim here is to help us realize how important history is in the context of our own lives and to see its wider contextual connection to all of time that has gone before us, all of which finds its central meaning preeminently in Christ (Col 1:16–18).

While God is outside of time, being its creator and therefore the author of all history, we his creatures are bound in time as passing supporting actors in the grand drama of storied history. Why does that matter? You and I are going to die, because we all run out of time. We all become part of the annals of history. Life reminds us that we are creatures. We get tired, sick, hungry, and moody—things out of our creaturely control. We are limited in numerous ways. We are told in Scripture, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps 139:16). Not to paint a bleak picture, but as now-fallen creatures, our time and our days are numbered—they are counting down and there is no time to waste. As a creature, I complain about not having time, and then when I do have it, I waste it. I cannot get it back. It is gone, lost to history. Although we feel trapped by time, it should be an encouragement to us and important to note that our triune God controls time and even redeems it! He gives us a purpose within time and history.

Ti(c)k To(c)k

God in the beginning created all things, including time. Unfathomably, we waste what we are given. Yet still, time keeps on ticking; our thumbs keep scrolling. Lyrical theologian Timothy Brindle in a song titled “The Preciousness of Time” discusses the human folly of time wasted in bondage to time: “Most spend the time of their life trying to have the time of their life; thinking lies are really true, if you’re busy killing time, the truth is time is killing you.”1 Creatures must deal with time. Our days are seventy, or perhaps eighty, as the psalmist says (Ps 90:10). But remember, time itself is a creature. Regarding time’s being, Augustine writes in his masterful work, The City of God, “The distinguishing mark between time and eternity is that the former does not exist without some movement and change, while in the latter there is no change at all.”2 The Holy Trinity is outside of time, beyond time, but is free to work within it—and we shall see that the Lord certainly does. All of creation—indeed all of time, all of history as events occurring in time—is God’s story. History is a time-progression from one moment to the next. To look at and study history is to look at the past in light of the present and beyond into the hopeful future. And we do so because the Lord is involved. Augustine asked, “How is it that there are the two times, past and future, when even the past is now no longer and the future is now not yet? But if the present were always present, and did not pass into past time, it obviously would not be time but eternity.”3

Only God abides in an always-present today that we call eternity. Augustine continued, “If, then, time present—if it be time [not eternity]—comes into existence only because it passes into time past, how can we say that even this is, since the cause of its being is that it will cease to be? Thus, can we not truly say that time is only as it tends toward nonbeing?”4 Augustine deftly points out that the present is only the present, presently. How long does the present last? A split second later, it is past. As Rafiki said in The Lion King, “Forget it, it’s in the past.” History is happening all around us—every second that passes becomes history. Likewise, a split second in future time is not the present. But that future second will become the present, only to quickly fade into the past. Though, this cycle of history will eventually come to a close. Creatureliness—creation, time, us, all of history—has an end: a telos, or goal. Recall Psalm 139 in verse 16: our days in the book are numbered.

Your Story within His Story

Remember that all of history is God’s story. If that is true and our great God is involved, there must be good news. History is the story of our triune God working in creation, in time, with and through image bearers like you and me. The telos entails a goal and a purpose. This is important for creation and especially for image bearers. God the Father in the Son Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit providentially cares for and even redeems creation—a mighty divine work of new creation. We pronounce with the apostle Paul, “If any is in Christ: new creation!” (2 Cor 5:17; my translation). With the psalmist we proclaim, “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Ps 139:14).

Our triune God has gone about to do a work of re-creation. This redemptive history—including our own history—is his story. God pulls us into his story and makes us actors within the grand narrative drama of God. As Michael Horton points out, “Instead of God being a supporting actor in our life story, we become part of the cast that the Spirit is recruiting for God’s drama.”5 Stunning to think about, is it not? But what is the purpose or goal, the end of creation and all of time and history—and of our lives? The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s answer to question number one says, “[It] is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Can this be true for creatures banished east of Eden, since creatures, including time, will expire? Thankfully, we have our one and only hope—that even in life and in death, our only comfort is Jesus Christ.6 He is our Savior-King who has redeemed us. This truth provides purpose and meaning to creation, time, history, and to our lives. How we spend our time—even if we waste it as we sometimes do—finds its redemption in Christ. Time is redeemed and with every breath we take we receive more time. For this we are grateful. So all of history finds its yes and amen in Christ Jesus who is before all things.

In the Fullness of Time: Gospel History for You

Jesus the resurrected God-man tells us in Luke 24:44–48, “‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’” Luke then adds some commentary: “Then he [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” Let us break down this historical event that continues to have an effect on everything—creation, time, history, and our past, present, and future life.

Our Lord here goes to the past, telling of what has occurred before their eyes regarding his life, death, and resurrection. Then he speaks about the near redemptive future. This is the revelation of God in real time. Just as Israel experienced the Exodus, so too now, Jew and Gentile together have redemption in Jesus who is our Red Sea.7 We see three things in our Lord’s statement: 1) God reveals through Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms—the Old Testament; 2) God acts through Christ’s person and work, his incarnation, and everything else that follows; 3) God explains the acts through Christ himself teaching, and then, quite importantly, through the descending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Reformed theologian and Doctor of Princeton, Geerhardus Vos, did some field-altering work on biblical theology—the theological discipline of seeing how the whole of Scripture relates and is one, cohesive revelation of God, from its start in early seed form to its progression into a tree in full bloom. He said in this vein, “The Old Testament brings the predictive preparatory word, the Gospels record the redemptive-revelatory fact, the Epistles supply the subsequent, final interpretation.”8 Here the segments of our written revelation are in view, but throughout all of this redemptive history, and per Christ’s words in Luke, the whole of it is about him and what he has done for you and for me. The one about whom all of history, time, and revelation speaks—to him the Holy Spirit unites us!

Is history important? I hope you have come to find that it is. Should the time gifted to us be precious to each of us? Undoubtedly. All of our stories—past, present, and future—are knit together by the Lord of all creation, time, and history. The triune God has brought us, the redeemed, into his story. Jesus tells us, the actors in his story, that we are witnesses of these things. Now we go out and proclaim this story to the nations, pleading that they too join the grand drama.

In a hurting world desperate to hear this good news, there is no time to lose. Lives are truly at stake. God help us to redeem the time we have. Augustine again provides fitting praise to the timeless one in the Gloria Patri:

In the eminence of your ever-present eternity, you O God, precede all times past, and extend beyond all future times, for they are still to come––and when they have come, they will be past. But, our God, “You are always the Selfsame and your years shall have no end” [Ps 102:27]. Your years neither go nor come; but ours both go and come in order that all separate moments may come to pass. All your years stand together as one, since they are abiding. Nor do your years past exclude the years to come because your years do not pass away. All these years of ours shall be with you, when all of them shall have ceased to be. Your years are but a day, and your day is not recurrent, but always today. Your “today” yields not to tomorrow and does not follow yesterday. Your “today” is eternity.9

Lord of all, you are the same yesterday, today, and forever. And we thank you—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—that though our today passes away, there will be a future tomorrow for us on that Great Day in Christ Jesus, an unending, everlasting glory, in which we shall praise you forever.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Notes

  1. Timothy Brindle, “The Preciousness of Time,” from Killing Sin, Lamp Mode Recording, 2005.
  2. Augustine, City of God (New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 2003), XI.6.435.
  3. Augustine, Confessions (New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 1961), XI.14.17.
  4. Augustine, Confessions, XI.14.17. Italics in original.
  5. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 19.
  6. Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1.
  7. Belgic Confession, Article 34.
  8. Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), 7.
  9. Augustine, Confessions, XI.13.16.

©Charles Vaughn. All Rights Reserved.


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    Post authored by:

  • Charles Vaughn
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    Charles lives in San Diego county with his wife and four covenant children. He has a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies from Regent University and an M.A. in both Biblical and Theological Studies from Westminster Seminary California. Charles works as a Junior High history teacher at a Christian school in Escondido, CA.

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