Time and Immediacy
My current research has focused a lot on the concept of time and history. As I have researched, I ran across a quote from Bavinck's essay The Future of Calvinism. In it when speaking of the theologian, Bavinck says:
[T]he Calvinist in all things recurs upon God, and does not rest satisfied before he has traced back everything to the sovereign good-pleasure of God as its ultimate and deepest cause. He does not take his stand in the midst of history, but out of time ascends into the heights of eternity. History is naught but the gradual unfolding of what to God is an eternal present.... [T]heology as the word indicates, is a knowledge of God and of all other things put in relation with and subordination to God....
Bavinck sets a pretty standard definition for the work of theology: 'The study of God and all things in relation to God.' 'All things' in this definition includes time. This is why Bavinck says that the job of the theologian is to stand outside of history, to ascend 'into the heights of eternity.'
In the Psalm of Moses (Psalm 90), we see Moses reflect on this:
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!
As we sing this Psalm, we are calling on God to teach us to step outside of time and consider all things in relation to God. In a sense Psalm 90 is a prayer that the Lord teach us to be theologians.
The problem is that we live in a day and age when this type of contemplation, this type of thinking is foreign to so many of us. Social media, TV news, podcasts demand that we have an immediate reaction to what is placed in front us. Nike signs Colin Kaepernick and makes him one of the faces for an ad campaign. We are immediately told that we need to have an opinion; either we cheer or we are enraged. The president or prime minister makes a statement (it could be on how great puppies are, it really doesn't matter), and the world around us tells us that we need to have an opinion. We need to respond immediately.
It isn't bad to have an opinion on these things. It isn't bad to have a strong opinion on these things. However, what Scripture calls us to, what we are called to as Christians is to slow down. To take a moment and contemplate what is in front us, to place it in relation God. Stepping outside of history and seeing this moment, this experience as part of the grand sweep of history and that in relation to the Triune God of the universe. This type of contemplation may mean that we can't give our hot take on the latest Twitter trend. However, this type of reflection may mean that when we do give our opinion it has been well thought out and theologically accurate.
Studying Bavinck on time, has helped me understand why I appreciate him so much. While he is a man of his time, engaged in everything from theology to politics to education, he was a man who was thoughtful. He was measured. He was theological. My prayer is that I can learn from that, and remember that my job is not to give my hot take on the latest issue, but to contemplate God and all things in relation to God.