Time and Chance
OCTOBER 3, 2018
I’m writing this in August and you’re reading it in October. That presents a problem. Between August and October a lot of things could happen that haven’t happened yet.
The Russians, the North Koreans, the Chinese or some Jihadist whacko could launch a nuclear attack. I (or you) could “assume room temperature.” A hurricane could destroy the Key Life building. I may have offended you and you’re not even reading this letter. My wife could say, “Enough is enough,” and leave me. Our daughters could leave the faith and become Buddhists. The doctor could tell me that I have “jungle rot” and only weeks to live. Elvis could show at the local mall. President Trump could stop tweeting or his critics stop attacking. The economy could go south and my retirement account bankrupt. People who support Key Life could find out that I’m not nearly as spiritual and I don’t know nearly as much as they thought…and walk away. Jesus might return…and show in Rome. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association might give up evangelism. And…
You know, I was having a pretty good day until I wrote that paragraph. Now I’m depressed.
Not really. Actually I’m going to make a point.
And that would be…?
Stay with me.
The “preacher” in Ecclesiastes makes my cynicism look like Pollyanna: “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Earlier in his book, he recognizes that God is in charge of “time and chance.” He writes, “There is a season for every matter under heaven…a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3). Daniel has just been shown the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and says, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, in whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings…” (Daniel 2:20-21). Jesus tells his disciples just before his ascension, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). Paul’s frustration with the Galatians is apparent for a number of reasons. One is that they were connected to the rituals of time: “You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain” (Galatians 4:10-11). James admonishes people who make their plans and expect things to happen as they planned them: “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15).
Yesterday (my time) there was a mass shooting in Jacksonville, Florida. When I sat down to write, I thought about saying something about that shooting—the senseless evil of it and the suicide of the shooter. Do you know what I discovered when I went to the news websites? The story was no longer there. Things had moved on and it wasn’t even mentioned. The news people had already turned to other stories of death, destruction and political turmoil. The crisis was no longer in Jacksonville. It was in other places.
This all caused me to think about time and chance, and the fact that time is irrelevant to God. He is called the Eternal Now in the Bible. That means that all events—the ones you have experienced between August and October and the ones I haven’t experienced yet because for me they haven’t happened—are, in fact, present with God now. He is outside of time. God looks, as it were, on us, our lives and the world, as one would look at a plane instead of a timeline. Among other things, it means that Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, what you’re doing right now, what I’m doing right now (writing this letter to you), and what we both will do year after next are all present with God right now. Not only that, God hears the prayers of us all and the prayers of our great, great grandparents and our great, great grandchildren all now and in the present. Revelation 13:8 where Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” and when Jesus said in John 8:58 “Before Abraham was, I am” are, among other things, references to time and its eternal presence with God.
Kind of mind-altering, isn’t it? But there’s more. Not only is God the Eternal Now, but when you add that he is also the sovereign creator, ruler and sustainer of all that is, it gives us a sense of comfort. When you add to that the fact that God is good all the time, Romans 8:28 (“All things work together for good”) stands up and delivers its message to the tune of The Hallelujah Chorus. That’s because all things have already worked together for good.
Paul makes an astounding statement in Romans 14:7-9: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and of the living.” That may sound cavalier but it’s written from the perspective of one who understands the nature of time and its relationship to a sovereign God.
This morning I got an email from a friend who is going through a very difficult time. He said, tongue-in-cheek, that he was writing to me because I was ordained and old. My friend wondered if I could tell him what God was doing. I told him that I had no idea, but I did know that it would pass. I told him that because…well, from God’s perspective…it had already passed.
There is more. Listen, you’re going to be okay and I am too. I know that sometimes we wonder. The darkness is so dark, the pain so painful, and the brokenness so broken. But some day “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). You should note that the “former things have passed away.” It’s a hint about time. In the eyes of God, the former things have already passed away.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9 that no eye has seen, no ear heard and no mind conceived of what God has prepared for his own. That, of course, is true…sort of. But, in fact, God’s eye has already seen, his ears have already heard, and his mind has already conceived…because it has already happened.
One of the great promises of Scripture is in 1 John 3:2 where John says that while we aren’t sure what we’re going to be in the future, we do know that when Christ appears “we shall be like him.” How about that? This old, cynical, sinful and needy preacher who can’t get his act together or be nearly as good as he wants or hopes to be, is going to be just like Jesus—clean, pure, good and totally better. Do you know why I’m sure? It’s already happened and from God’s perspective, it’s already an accomplished fact.
My friend, John DeBrine, is in his nineties and lives on Cape Cod. I can’t tell you how much John’s life has impacted me in the way I preach, the attitudes I have, and the doctrines I believe. John is a crusty old bachelor and likes it that way. He still has a German shepherd and often said, laughing, “Whenever I come home, my shepherd greets me at the door with her tail wagging. How many of you guys can say that about your wife?”
Who knows? Maybe John will be married in heaven. If that is true (given what I’ve written above) he already is. But that’s another subject.
I can’t tell you the times when I’ve been with John in evangelistic meetings and heard him give an invitation for people to come to Christ. Almost every time John says, “You can be as sure of heaven as if you were already there.” I always thought that was an arresting way to present heaven.
As I mentioned, the preacher in Ecclesiastes said that “time and chance happen to them all.” While that’s true about you and me, it isn’t true of God our Father. There is no time or chance with him because time and chance are present with him as we speak.
What John didn’t add in those evangelistic invitations (because it’s a bit complicated) was that not only can you be as sure of heaven as if you were already there…you already are!
There now, don’t you feel better?
He asked me to remind you.
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