The Tyranny of Time
For everything there is a season, and a time 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;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. —Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Shortly after they were married, our son Brian and daughter-in law Jill backpacked their way across Europe. One evening they found lodging in a hostel across the street from an old church with a lofty clock tower and a bell that tolled every 15 minutes. The gentle rhythm at first was soothing, but soon became grating—exactly the point “Mentor” is making in these fourteen antitheses.
Twenty-eight times the bell tolls. Time marches on, counting down the hours of our lives.
Time, in ancient myth, is an old man leaning on a scythe, with an hour-glass in his hand, reminding us that time is running out and in due course will mow us down. A world of work and hurry and a sudden end. So much to do; so little time to do it!
Back in the '60s, Pete Seeger wrote a ballad entitled, "Turn, Turn, Turn” that was based on this poem in Ecclesiastes. Seeger took the text as it is and added the last six words: "I swear it's not too late."
Seeger's line rhymed well with the phrase, "a time to hate," but he missed the point of the poem. The author of this litany is not arguing for peace, but for transcendence: The frustrations of time point us to an existence beyond time. Put another way: Time argues for eternity.
Douglas Adams asks, ”Why were we born; why must we die; and why do we spend so much of the intervening time looking at our digital watches” (A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). Why do we feel the relentless pressure of time?
Mentor supplies the answer: "(God) has put eternity in our hearts..." (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We are eternal creatures, caught up in time, restless until we find a timeless purpose for our lives. Clocks and calendars point to something beyond us and push us relentlessly, inexorably toward that end.
Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, “For me there has always been… a sense, sometimes enormously vivid, that I was a stranger in a strange land; a visitor, not a native, a displaced person… The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realize, is to feel ourselves at home here on earth” (Jesus Rediscovered pp. 47-48).
Time marches on, reminding us that we are creatures of eternity, waiting to make heaven our home.