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One of the oldest mysteries of theoretical thought is the question: What is time?
Immanuel Kant defined time and space as “pure intuitions.” We see time as inextricably related to matter and motion. Without matter and space [matter and motion], we have no way to measure the passing of time. Time, it seems, is always in motion. It can never be stopped.
Historically, we have measured the passing of time with various material objects: the sundial, which displays the movement of shadows across its face; the sand pouring through the hourglass; the hands moved by gears within a watch and the minute and hour hands moving around a circle of numbers. I think of staring at a large wall clock and watching the sweeping motion of the second hand. I look at twelve on the dial and wait for the second hand to pass it. My eyes glance below to the number six, and I know that the second hand has not reached it yet, but as the hand sweeps towards the bottom of the face, I get the sensation of time moving so swiftly toward the future at number six. Then, instantly, the second hand is past it, and what a moment ago was future now lies in the past. Sometimes when I experiment with such exercises, I want to call for the clock to stop. But it will not stop — it cannot stop. As the axiom declares, “Time marches on.”
Everything in creation is subject to time. Everything in creation is mutable. Everything in creation goes through the process of generation and decay. God and God alone is eternal and immutable. God and God alone escapes the relentless onslaught of time.
We not only measure moments in time, but we measure periods that take place in terms of ages, eras, and epochs. In our own generation, we have seen various transitions of the human cultures in which we find ourselves situated, hurled against the backdrop of time (as Martin Heidegger indicated in his epic book Being and Time). We say that times are changing. That doesn’t mean that time itself changes. There are still sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day. But cultures are constantly shifting in their patterns, in their values, and in their commitments. In my life I have witnessed dramatic changes to the culture in which I find myself. I can think of where I was and what I was doing when I heard of the announcement of the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news on the radio of the United States testing its first atomic bomb (before Hiroshima and Nagasaki). I remember where I was and what I was doing at the end of World War II, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Russian launch of Sputnik into space, and the news of man’s first walk on the moon. But what I remember perhaps more than anything is an entire decade — the decade of the 1960s — in which the United States of America went through an unbloody revolution that changed the culture so dramatically that people who lived before that decade feel like aliens in a culture dominated by a post-1960s worldview. The revolution of the ’60s spelled the end of idealism and ushered in several radical changes in the culture, including the sexual revolution. The sanctity of marriage was more explicitly undermined. Clean, wholesome speech in the public sphere became increasingly rare. The sanctity of life with respect to the unborn underwent attack legislatively, and moral relativism became the norm in our culture.
With this moral relativism came technological advances that also altered our daily lives. The knowledge explosion rocked by the advent and proliferation of the use of the computer has brought a new culture of people who live more or less “online.” This relativisitic culture brought with it a culture of eros and heightened addiction to pornography, as well as a culture of drugs with the subsequent invasion of addiction and suicide.
The times in which we live are times that are exceedingly challenging to the church of Jesus Christ. The great tragedy of the church in the post-1960s revolution is that the face of the church has changed along with the face of the secular culture. In a fatal pursuit of relevance, the church has often become merely an echo of the secular culture in which it lives, having a desperate desire to be “with it” and acceptable to the contemporary world. The church itself has adopted the very relativism it seeks to overcome. What is demanded by times such as ours is a church that addresses the temporal while at the same time remaining tethered to the eternal — a church that speaks, comforts, and heals all things mortal and secular without itself abandoning the eternal and the holy. The church must always face the question of whether its commitment is to sanctity or profanity. We need churches filled with Christians who are not enslaved by the culture, churches that seek more than anything to please God and His only begotten Son, rather than to attract the applause of dying men and women. Where is that church? That is the church Christ established. That is the church whose mission is to minister redemption to a dying world, and that is the church we are called to be. God help us and our culture if our ears become deaf to that call.