Redeem the time

The clock is running. Do we hope or fear?

Jan 2, 2017 by

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Tacking up a new calendar, do we hope or fear? The days set before us may hold joy and sorrow, happiness and disappointment. A year from now, we’ll mark another entry in the annals of the unchangeable past.

How shall we redeem the time?

The Apostle Paul says we should make the most of every opportunity — redeem the time — because the days are evil (Eph. 5:16). He sounds more fearful than hopeful.

Today the negative forces that weighed on Paul’s thoughts haven’t retreated. We too must redeem our time from the misguided ways we might use it.

The clock is running. Time needs saving from evil.

Like Paul, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes pondered how mortals should use their limited time. He observed there is “a time to every purpose under the heaven” (3:1). His poetic list of things for which there is a season comprises the profound and the ordinary: birthing and dying, weeping and laughing, casting stones away and gathering them together.

The list may simply be descriptive: These are things people do — good, bad and neutral. Some we can control; some we can’t. “Time and chance,” the Teacher says, happen to us all. There is nothing new under the sun. The rhythms of human activity are like chasing the wind.

Some of us will feel that way at times in the coming year.

But the Teacher is not finished. Right after the “to everything a season” poem, the Teacher inserts a surprising observation in the midst of a complaint about the burden of toil: God “has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” (3:11).

This phrase presents a puzzle for translators. “The world,” “eternity” and “a sense of past and future” are various interpretations of what it is that God has placed in our hearts and minds. Yet if any Bible verse sums up our thoughts when one year turns to the next, this is it. God has placed a sense of the past and future in our minds, but the seasons of life remain mysterious. Though we stretch to understand the big picture, we cannot fathom what God is doing from the beginning to the end.

The Teacher has placed the hope-or-fear question squarely in front of us. God has granted us a sense of the passage of time. We yearn to unlock the secrets of eternity. We know just enough to become frustrated with our limitations. So we worry about the future. Sometimes we even fear it. It is natural to fear the unknown. It also ought to be natural for followers of Jesus Christ to hold fast to hope about the hidden future. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 1:11).

Jesus observed that children can be models of faith. When one of our daughters was little, her grandmother asked her, “What’s for supper?” She replied, “I don’t know. I can’t tell the future!” But she trusted supper would be served. Our hope in Christ is like this. We look to the future with hope that casts out fear, as Psalm 31:14-15 says: “I trust in you, O Lord; . . . My times are in your hands.”

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