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Tempus Fugit

March 25, 2012

The Text

Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! (Psalm 39:5b and Psalm 39:11b ESV)

Some Observations about the Text

Life is Short: So What? Wisdom literature, from Hippocrates, to Confucius, to any number of other thinkers and authors, often includes warnings about the shortness of life. Psychologists consider an orientation to short-term pleasure-seeking to be counter-productive in the quest for happiness. Many old clocks include the words Tempus Fugit on their faces.

However, the “So What?” question is seldom asked and almost never answered. (Hopefully the So What question is not fully answered by Caribou Coffee‘s marketing slogan, “Life is short. Stay awake for it”).

Biblical Warnings about the Brevity of Life. When the Bible address the matter of life’s transience, it usually does so in specific contexts. In other words, the “So What?” question is answered. You can see this by doing a word study of hebel, translated two out of three times in Psalm 39 as “breath” and once as “nothing” [ESV]. Blow some bubbles and watch them pop … hebel describes the resulting “nothingness” of a disappearing breath.

Here are some examples of contexts in which the Bible points to the transience of life:

  • Life is short … so consider the sovereignty and eternal existence of our Creator. Psalm 90.
  • Life is short … so call out to God, who is enthroned forever and who is remembered throughout all generations. Psalm 120.
  • Life is short … so pay careful attention to God’s Word, which stands forever. Isaiah 40 (also quoted in 1 Peter 1:22-25).
  • Life is short … so don’t bother boasting about your future plans. James 4.
  • Life is short … so focus on laying up treasures according to God’s riches not earthly riches. Luke 12:13-21.

The Brevity of Life and Suffering. There are a couple of ways to think about the brevity of life as it relates to suffering. One way is fatalistic: life is short, so the suffering that we endure in life is, in the larger picture of things, short. Of course, no matter how long we life, if much of our life is spent in suffering, we can end up with a frustrating and negative view of life. Or we can adopt the view favored by some Eastern religions, that is, that karmic fatalism ought to simply be accepted and not questioned.

Another way to think about the brevity of life as it relates to suffering, is to focus on the reduction of pain and the maximization of comfort and pleasure. Life is short; make the best of it and leave it at that. This hedonistic view of life does not provide any understanding of or engagement with suffering; it simply seeks to avoid it. There is no meaning or purpose in life except to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

If you think that suffering and evil are human experiences that lead you to ask questions about God and the possibility of creation, you are right. They should. Especially in view of the brevity and transience of life.

The problem that people often have when they consider suffering and evil in light of the possibility of God-as-Creator, is that they superimpose their own rational matrix, their own set of naturalist presuppositions, over the question. They tend to define suffering as evil, for example, when suffering is not necessarily evil (ask any athlete in training). And they tend to define evil by their own terms as well … often without giving due consideration to how the “evil” question could possibly look from an enlarged perspective of time (as in, eternity past and future) and space (as in, the relative size of this tiny dot in the universe call earth). In other words, they attempt to resolve the question of evil-in-view-of-God, from a human/humanist view that does not and cannot take into account God-as-Creator. They loop themselves into a syllogistic lasso that makes it impossible for a rational, reasonable or even intelligible answer to emerge.

Gospel Apologetics

Eternal Life and Not-Suffering. The words of Jesus Christ, and indeed, the words and ideas found throughout the Bible, make sense, in part because they are not time-limited. They presume time and space beyond this earth. If God is, and if God is Creator, the universe itself would not contain God (2 Chronicles 6:18). And yet only a God who created all of heaven and earth, could fill heaven and earth … so much so that we could never actually hide from Him (Jeremiah 23:24). The “natural” phenomena of time and space only make sense if we understand that they have a super-natural origin, that is, a spiritual origin. Otherwise known as God (John 4:24).

The Bible also recognizes that we have “eternal” yearnings. The brief, transient human life expectancy leaves us wanting and frustrated. The Bible observes that we are actually wired for this frustration. God — the Creator of time itself — put eternity in the hearts of humans for a reason (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This frustration points us toward God, which is why the great majority of all people who have ever lived, and the great majority of all people who are alive today, gravitate toward some religious or spiritual expression or endeavor. We even hire specialists, called priests in most religions, to work on the project of connecting humans to God.

But there’s only one specialist, one priest, who lives forever. That priest is Jesus Christ, who has a permanent priesthood (Hebrews 7:24). He is the living One who was dead and is alive, and holds the keys to heaven and hell (Revelation 1:18). Having been raised from the dead, Jesus Christ dies no more (Romans 6:9). And He invites us to participate in His eternal life (1 John 5:11-12) by turning to Him in faith (Galatians 3:26-27).

Listen to an Audio MP3 Discussion of this post here.

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