I was listening to a Peter Kreeft audiobook a number of years ago, when he observed that time is the very stuff of which life is made: time is life. People usually say that time is money, but that’s an understatement. Kreeft is right: time is life.
That isn’t meant to suggest that time is a metaphysical necessity, or that there can be no such thing as eternal life. Rather, it means, at the least, that the life we each possess and now live – our own life – is ultimately a very precise allotment of time, and that each sunrise brings us one day closer to death. Time is really all we have, and the whole content of our lives is an answer to the question: What did you do with your time?
Life is a timed test, and you don’t know how long the timer runs.
Like any test, it’s not enough to give just any answer to the questions; you have to somehow come up with the right answers. The right use of time is not just about avoiding procrastination, as important as that is. It’s about prudence, in all its aspects. I couldn’t say how many times I have found myself, in life, paddling furiously downstream to nowhere at best (sometimes quite effectively), only to realize that I’d merely distanced myself all the more from the source I sought – and still seek. So much time, in a sense, down the drain.
From my youth, I’ve been particularly intrigued by the notions of time, of hope, and of reality. These three ideas have dominated my mental life in many respects, like unshakable companions that demanded an accounting for in all my thought. Even as a teen, I understood in some way the significance of hope and of reality as conceptual frameworks for comprehending life, as conceptual stand-ins for God, in a way, while the similar persistence of time as a kind of master over me was more puzzling, as it seemed to occupy a lower and more mundane strata than the others. And then hearing Kreeft’s observation jolted me to the realization that the hope which lives in me – for all the lip service I may give it – has been subject to a rather systematic marginalization for much of my life, in deference to a kind of practical expediency – and even a heart attack at age 46 didn’t manage to seriously shake my own hope free from the shackles of expedient drudgery.
Hope is utterly essential for the sanity of anyone who seeks the truth, for anyone with a hunger to embrace reality, because reality has two very distinct faces. Reality is God, which we apprehend as Beatitude. But reality is also the mess we live in – as well as God’s judgment on that mess. Hope is the reaching up from our brokenness to His promise; it is that which climbs the ladder of reality, if you will. And it is hope that allows us to break free from our captivity to anxiety and fear: to embrace – and realize – the promise of beatitude in our life.
The great Christian hope is in the return of Jesus Christ to earth: both to judge it, and to fully manifest the new creation. That return may happen some day long from now, or it may be today. We are not entirely Christian if we do not expect that day, and “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” And yet, as for each of us ourselves, we live our own allotment of time – and we know not exactly what time is ours to live. But our time, too, may come today, and there’s no good reason we should be any less joyfully expectant of the advent of our own end time.
Now, I haven’t met a lot of people who embrace such a joyful readiness for death. In truth, most of us just don’t feel ready for death, and – speaking for myself – I know that is because I have not lived my life – that is, I have not spent my time – prudently enough. And there is only one right time to start changing that.
I was beginning yet another long commute home in a miserable winter rain storm one evening late in 2007, when the thought came to me that I needed to finally make a decision concerning what to do about a rather complicated computer-related situation I had waiting for me at home – which included coming up with a domain name for a web site I was planning. My initial reaction to the thought was to procrastinate, and say "Maybe tomorrow." But, with Peter Kreeft’s wisdom fresh in the back of my mind, I immediately thought better of that, and said: "No, maybe today!" And so I had my domain name.
But I had something else, too, even if it has taken a while to sink in. The thematic symmetry between time and life, which Kreeft had opened my eyes to, solved the riddle from my youth concerning the relationship – the unity – between the seemingly contingent and mundane notion of time on the one hand, and the transcendent notions of hope and of reality on the other. I know now that the powerful and governing impression of these notions on my mind over all these years, dating back even to the dark years of my adolescent self-abasement, were nothing less than the voice of Jesus Christ calling me, and claiming me as his own. Hope was the way, as I knew then and know now, and reality, of course, was the truth. And time was life!
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.”
So there’s really no time better than today to get on with the joyful living of life – reaching for the promise of beatitude in the confidence of hope – for it is entirely possible that there will be no other time, at all, as we know it.