My son just celebrated his 5th birthday; I just observed my 34th. I remember when, like my son, my next birthday could not come soon enough. Children are excited about aging and cannot wait until the next birthday. Now, though I do not dread my birthdays, I do wish they would come slower, that somehow the passage of time could be impeded. It is funny how our experience of time changes as we get older.
My friends know that my favorite musical artist is the band Rush. A fan since high school, I appreciate their musicianship and unique sound, but more importantly, I am drawn to their deep and usually serious lyrics. Though I do not agree with the worldview that their music sometimes conveys, I find profound truth in many of their songs that is consistent with a biblical worldview. One such song is “Time Stand Still” (Hold Your Fire album-1987). The song describes our strong, but futile, longing to leash the hands of time:
Time stand still
I’m not looking back
But I want to look around me now
Time stand still
See more of the people and the places that surround me now
Time stands still
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Time stand still
We have all experienced the desire to slow time described here – to somehow freeze especially meaningful or pleasurable moments to enjoy them just a little longer. We have also all experienced the opposite desire to speed up time when we are bored or perhaps suffering. Thus, we have a conflicted relationship to time, which is quite odd considering that time essentially functions as a constant in our experience. Yet we feel as if the passage of time is something strange, foreign. C.S. Lewis describes this irony this way:
“If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it you don’t feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. (‘How time flies! Fancy John being grown-up and married! I can hardly believe it!’) In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something about us that is not temporal.”
Our surprise by the passage of time and vain wish to impede it suggests, perhaps, that we were not made for time, that there is an aspect of personhood, the soul or spirit, that is not temporal but eternal, meant to live forever. Death is the separation of the soul from the body and a just consequence of the fall of man. As common as death is, like time, it always feel strange and tragic, like it ought not to be. Scripture affirms the temporal nature of bodily existence:
“All men are like grass and all their glory is like flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them” (Isaiah 40:6-7).
This truth would drive us to despair if not for the promise and hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ coupled with the assurance that the Lord has appointed the days for us to live. Fernando Ortega’s song “A Place on the Earth” (Storm – 2002) summarizes this hope eloquently:
My days are passing by like falling stars
They blaze across the night sky
Then they are gone.
But Father at your side
I shall never be afraid
For you have held all my days
In the palm of Your hand.