Updated: Feb 7
Have you ever been bothered by the passing of time? The passing of time is an inevitable part of our lives on Earth, and unfortunately it can generate much despair for the Christian on his pilgrimage to the celestial city (that is eternal life in the presence of our saviour). The passing of time is probably the most certain thing next to God's revelation. Some time ago I read a quote that I believe was shared on Facebook (but I can't trace it anywhere), that said something along the lines of the following:
The way of this world is change. The beams holding up our homes are crumbling. The people we love are growing older. Memories we hold dear are fading further and further into the past. The computer I'm typing this on will one day no longer turn on. My own body grows older and draws nearer to its inevitable death. Nothing seem to remain the same. I look at a picture of myself more than 10 years ago and it feels like I'm looking at a different person. I don't look the same, I don't think the same, I've seen much more and I've grown much wiser (I hope). There is one thing, however, which is a constant throughout all of this change we are experiencing:
But You [God] are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
God does not change, and neither does His love for His people. RC Sproul wrote that there may be no more significant Old Testament description of how God relates to His people than the Hebrew word hesed. He argues that the best translation of this term would be “loyal love.” God loves His people genuinely, immutably, loyally. Both the love and the loyalty are, of course, tightly bound together. He argues, just as one cannot love capriciously [impulsive or unpredictable] so one cannot be loyal without love. God is for His people, and will never cease to be for them.
There is one thing we can hold tightly to, and that is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Moreover, even though on the outside and in our thoughts we seemed to have changed and developed to be beyond recognition when we compare ourselves today with the picture of ourselves at age 2, 10 or 24, we are in fundamental way still the same person. We are the person God has intended for us to, and our identity in Him remains the same. The point us, the only unchanging foundation we can hold to in this world of change (and particularly decaying change) is God and His Word.
The Pilgrim's Progress
I recently watched the new animation that released April this year titled 'The Pilgrim's Progress' which is based on the best selling novel of the same name by John Bunyan.
In the film, Christian (the title character's name), begins his journey from the city of destruction (sin) to the celestial city (paradise). On the journey his faith is tested. There are a lot of temptations that tempt him to leave the straight and narrow path, and there are a lot of people he meets on the way who are either against him, or for him.
The film allowed me to view life in a new, and I believe, more Biblical perspective and may hold an important insight on how to deal with the passing of time and the inevitable consequences that come with it.
Like Christian, us Christians are also on our pilgrimage to the celestial city, and we too will be tempted to leave the straight path along the way. Some of the temptations dealt with in the film are:
Fear and despondency (loss of hope and courage)
The passing of time can easily make us lose hope and courage, tumbling us into the pit of despair. In the film, Christian (which is a metaphor for us) is told repeatedly to look forward toward the light of the celestial city. He is not to look back to the life that he had, nor should he go left or right. Sometimes others, and sometimes he himself causes him to leave the straight and narrow path. Near the end of the film, Christian, now a long way into his pilgrimage, leaves the path and ends up in the castle of despair. Earlier he had a vision of himself stuck in the castle for many years in a cage screaming "No hope!" over and over again, even though the cage was wide open and he could leave any time he liked.
The passing of time can sometimes lead us to this very cage in the castle of despair. It causes us to despair and sometimes even brings us to tears when we think of the life we had and all that we have to leave behind as the clock refuses to stand still never to return to again. We think of the many years we had living a carefree life under the protection of our parents or we long back to a time when a loved one was still alive and near.
The most shocking part of Christian's story in the cage at the castle of despair, was that he had the key to the cage the whole time. The key in Bunyan's work is called 'Promise'. Christian had in his possession all of the promises of God, and therefore he had no need to be a captive to despair. Christian ought to have trusted in God and His promises. Had he done so, he would not have been the prisoner of doubt and despair.
In the same way, made available to each of us in God's Word we have available the promises of God to hold on to.
With this in mind, there are two things I would like to point out that I have learned by watching this film that might be able to assist us Christians to deal with the passing of time:
1. God's Promises
The key Christian used to step out of his cage at the castle of despair was called 'Promise'. A recurring theme in the film is that the celestial King (that is Jesus), has never let Christian down once in his pilgrimage toward the celestial city. He therefore had no reason to doubt the King's promises to him that the King will hold him and keep him.
In the same way, the Bible is filled with promises to God's children. Paul Washer noted that if we took down each promise God intended for us, wrote it down and adequately reflected on what it meant, our lives would not be long enough to fit them all.
I would like to focus on two promises that is well-known, but very applicable, found in Romans 8.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We serve a God that is sovereign over all creation. This entails that He is in control of time as we experience it, and time only advances because God wills it. God can at any given moment stop the clock and the fact that He doesn't means that the passing of time is working to fulfil God's purpose in creation. God reveals in Romans 8 that all things work together for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. This, of course, includes the passing of time! We need to hold fast to the celestial King's promise that the passing of time works for the good of us making our pilgrimage toward Him, and we will find that change in this world is nothing to despair about.
We also read that the King has promised that nothing can separate us from His love. We must learn to hold fast to this truth, to hold fast to the King and His unchanging promises, only then will we not despair for the celestial King is the only one who is unable to let us down.
This leads me to my second insight which might be helpful:
2. Pilgrimage to Where?
The Pilgrim's Progress causes us to view the life of the Christian as a pilgrimage from the city of destruction (sin) to everlasting life. The metaphorical road of this pilgrimage is our lives, and the final barrier to everlasting life is death.
One thing that stood out for me in the film, was the non-randomness of the events and the people. There were no neutral people. The characters either served the city of destruction, trying to stall Christian or lead him back, or they helped him on his path, serving the celestial King. The helpers were placed there by the celestial King as was the path for Christian to walk on.
Us being on this pilgrimage means we are on a journey. The end goal is to reach our destination and not to get stuck on the road. We should rejoice in the passing of time as it brings us nearer to the celestial city where we can forever live with the King, where there will be no more sorrow and endless joy. The events of our lives, people we meet and times we experience are there as either trials to overcome or to help us gain strength for completing the pilgrimage. There are no neutral/meaningless events or people. Everything has a purpose as decreed by God before the creation of the world.
The devil will tempt us at every step, and one of the ways he does this is to lead us to the castle of despair where we will long for the past gifts and good times bestowed on us by the celestial King to help us on our journey, instead of keeping our focus on the King Himself who is our end goal to reach. This effectively halts our journey to meet Him and possibly causes many to never return to the path, blaming the King for the despair they are feeling.
By longing back to "better", "carefree", "golden" times we are in effect longing back to a time where we were further from the celestial city than we are at this very moment. That defeats the purpose of the Christian pilgrimage. We need to keep our focus on the end goal. We must desire life with the celestial King more than anything else, this will require us to keep on the straight path and to keep moving forward on the straight path. Only then will we reach our end goal.
The principle way to accomplish this is to hold fast the the King's promises. Spend time in His Word. Live in His Word. Spend time in prayer. Contemplate His promises. Gather with fellow pilgrims and discuss the promises. Never fall into a slumber, remain watchful, and keep moving forward toward the celestial city.
In conclusion, if you have the time, listen to the late Dr Greg Bahnsen's final sermon a week before his death. This will also be able to grant some perspective. The sermon is titled: "For me, to live is Christ, but to die is gain".