Most would say time is properly basic. It’s just a fact of life, right? But the more I think about it, it has a paradoxical nature. It can be a source of excitement and awe at the limitless possibilities. It can also be a source of despair and angst because of uncertainty and uncontrollability.
Everyone has their own view of time. To Steve Jobs, time was something to be valued: “My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”[i] To others, it’s just a constant source of worry – What will I wear? What will I do? And most importantly, what will I eat?
Academics and philosophers still struggle with this concept that seems so fundamental to our lives. They’ve devised the “A” and “B” theories of time. Each makes sense but only one can be correct, and there’s absolutely no way to determine the right one. Theory A argues that time is tensed, and B argues that it isn’t. One says time is made up of past, present, and future wherein only the present actually exists, the other says time is just a series of events that occur before or after other events – it’s untensed. Don’t get it? It’s okay, no one does. Saint Augustine of Hippo got it right: “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.”[ii]
When grappling with concepts as big as time, I find Thomas Hobbes’ approach the most helpful – first conceding that man cannot fully comprehend certain things. Hobbes took this approach with God and conceded that because God is infinite, he cannot be fully understood by man. It would be ignorant to think otherwise. While Hobbes’ theological views were and still remain controversial, I think this is the right approach. He argued that man is unable to fully comprehend God because man is finite and God in infinite. Time is not God. But, I think it is sufficiently great enough to concede that man will never fully understand it.
Past, present, and future. Three distinct phases of time. But which is most important? Some would argue the past is the most important. We even have an entire field of academic study devoted to it – history. But I think it’s safe to assume that the past isn’t the most important phase of time for most people. Sure, we get hung up on some things and we all have things we’d like to take back, but ultimately the past is something we should learn from and then move on from.
Is the present the most important? It is, after all, the only phase of time that we live in; some would argue it is the only one that exists. It’s the only one we have control over. But I would argue that we treat the future as the most important. Isn’t everything we do in the present in anticipation of the future? It’s drilled into us to prepare for it. The future is full of opportunities, and every day we prepare for them. We’re so concerned with something that doesn’t even technically exist yet. Why?
The wisest words concerning the future I have ever heard are these: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”[iii] This is how Jesus punctuates his message on anxiety in his famous Sermon on the Mount. I think what he’s getting at is this: if you’re reading this article, then the future almost literally has limitless possibilities. The whole world is at your fingertips. While this strikes awe, it does come with anxiety. The more possibilities, the more uncertainty. The more possibilities one has to prepare for. How does this play out in our lives? We try to bear more than a lifetime’s worth of burdens in just one day, preparing so that no opportunity is missed. As Blaise Pascal puts it, “The present is never our goal: the past and present are our means: the future alone is our goal. Thus, we never live but we hope to live; and always hoping to be happy, it is inevitable that we will never be so.”[iv]
Jesus is not endorsing some ancient Jewish form of #yoloswag. Rather, he’s saying don’t let the worries of tomorrow bog down today; don’t worry a lifetime in one day. Until the end, there will always be a tomorrow and each one will have worries of their own. What will I wear? What will I do? What will I eat? These are all valid concerns but what are the worries of today? For the Christian, I think the implications of Jesus’s statement are clear. What good is it to worry about tomorrow? God will provide. He may not provide lavishly or in the ways we demand, but He will provide one way or another. In a sense He already has provided – the salvation brought by Jesus’s death on the cross has secured the future for every believer in the form of eternal reconciliation with the Father. Everything that happens between now and then is very real, and I don’t deny the importance of living this life properly. However, in the grand scheme of things, while this side of heaven may be a nice place, it’s only a place worth passing through and certainly not a place in which to reside.
Meeting graduation requirements, paying rent, studying, eating, sleeping. These are all very real problems among others brewing ont he horizon. I’m not advocating a life of reckless or shortshigted living. Don’t get me wrong here. But what I am saying is these worries shouldn’t consume a person. Life is lived day by day whether one likes it or not. Each day will have worries of its own which need to be addressed and the first and foremost is this: Am I right with God today?
Josh Joo is currently a third year political science major who will worry about finishing this author bio tomorrow.
[i] Jobs, Steve. “All Things D3 2005.” Carlsbad, CA. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.
[ii] Augustine, “Book XI.” Saint Augustine’s Confessions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1960)
[iii] Matthew 6:34
[iv] Blaise Pascal, No. 172. ET by W. F. Trotter (Everyman ed.), 1943, pp. 49f.
Photo courtesy of Bon Jin Koo