My son once asked me “What is time?”
I answered, “I don’t know. It’s a perennial question of philosophers and theologians. But, so far as I can tell, time is what we have.”
Some people think that time isn’t real. It’s a human construct and only eternity is real. They think of time and place as the prison of the soul, the antithesis of, or the prelude to, eternal life.
It always seemed a bit strange to me. Like the imaginary friends children make up because they’re afraid of being alone in the dark. I could never understand.
“Time is what we have.”
The animals know what time is. They also know eternity. They wake and sleep with the rhythms of the sun – rising and setting daily – the markers of what we call time. They know nothing about clock time or the names of days, months, seasons or years, but they live in the reality of time.
Time is what we have between birth and death. Eternity is the depth of time, the Mystery beneath, within, and beyond the limits of time. We participate in the eternal, but we are not eternal. To think otherwise is to consider ourselves the exception to nature itself.
The illusion of superiority to nature – the idea that the human species is nature’s singular exception – is a fabrication peculiar to the species that considers itself conscious. The imaginary friend of eternal life may help us sleep better at night, but it leads to slaughter and, eventually, to species suicide.
Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death) saw the denial of death as bedrock to American culture. The denial of death – the refusal to acknowledge it as real; the flight from the knowledge of our mortality – not only deprecates life here and now; it takes into its hands the life and death of those different from ourselves. It builds towers to itself that reach toward the heavens while it plunders an earth it considers too lowly for its aspirations.
Time is our friend and time is our limit. We are meant for this. “Grace and pride never lived in the same place,” says an old Scottish proverb, for pride always seeks to exceed what is given (grace).
Time is what we have. Time is a participation in the glory of God. If there’s more, it will only by grace.