Tuesday, 1 March 2011

'For Ever and Ever. Amen'

This post closes my thoughts on what is known as ‘the Lord’s Prayer’, though in actual fact it should be known as ‘the disciple’s prayer’. Feel free to add to the comments on it.

When I was a child, at the instigation of my brother I would imagine what it was like before time and the world were created. What was there when there was nothing? Also when it was created what was on the other side of the universe-did it actually stop? What was infinity actually like? What in fact was eternity-time never ending?

At school I studied Religious Education, Biology, Physics and Geography and each subject blew my mind away as each in turn made me want to bow down and worship the God who had made such an truly awesome universe. Through my study of the natural world I began to understand to a small degree why many of the early scientists saw these subjects as a premise to worship the creator. Atoms, electrons, cells, ecology, botany, human biology, geology, the Scriptures all had me absorbed and fascinated, though in their workings I understood some better than others.

To me there was no conflict with what I read in Scripture.That the earth was millions of years old according to the geology books only made me appreciate how insignificant I was along with the rest of humankind, and how great the creator was! In fact if the earth was only 15,000 years old I would have thought it much less impressive than what scientists claimed it was.

These millions, or even billions of years helped me understand a little of the sheer enormity of what ‘for ever and ever’ and eternity of God really meant. Peter tells us: 'but do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. It might equally have said a million years or even a billion years but the readers of the first century would have found it harder to grasp this than those of the twenty first! There probably wasn't even a greek word for million or billion anyway!

God is outside the time dimension though at different points he did enter it. His name be praised forever that he did, especially when, ‘in the fullness of time’ he entered it as a little baby boy as the Christ, becoming God incarnate in order to redeem humankind back to himself.


Prof.C.S.Lewis 1 said...

It is a very silly idea that in reading a book you must never "skip." All sensible people skip freely when they come to a chapter which they find is going to be no use to them. In this chapter I am going to talk about something which may be helpful to some readers, but which may seem to others merely an unnecessary complication. If you are one of the second sort of readers, then I advise you not to bother about this chapter at all but to turn on to the next.

In the last chapter I had to touch on the subject of prayer, and while that is still fresh in your mind and my own, I should like to deal with a difficulty that some people find about the whole idea of prayer. A man put it to me by saying "I can believe in God all right, but what I cannot swallow is the idea of Him attending to several hundred million human beings who are all addressing Him at the same moment." And I have found that quite a lot of people feel this.

Prof. C.S.Lewis 2 said...

Now, the first thing to notice is that the whole sting of it comes in the words at the same moment. Most of us can imagine God attending to any number of applicants if only they came one by one and He had an endless time to do it in. So what is really at the back of this difficulty is the idea of God having to fit too many things into one moment of time.

Well that is of course what happens to us. Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along: and there is room for very little in each. That is what Time is like. And of course you and I tend to take it for granted that this Time series--this arrangement of past, present and future--is not simply the way life comes to us but the way all things really exist. We tend to assume that the whole universe and God Himself are always moving on from past to future just as we do. But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the Theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in Time at all: later the Philosophers took it over: and now some of the scientists are doing the same.

Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty--and every other moment from the beginning of the world--is always the Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.

That is difficult, I know. Let me try to give something, not the same, but a bit like it. Suppose I am writing a novel. I write "Mary laid down her work; next moment came a knock at the door! " For Mary who has to live in the imaginary time of my story there is no interval between putting down the work and hearing the knock. But I, who am Mary's maker, do not live in that imaginary time at all. Between writing the first half of that sentence and the second, I might sit down for three hours and think steadily about Mary. I could think about Mary as if she were the only character in the book and for as long as I pleased, and the hours I spent in doing so would not appear in Mary's time (the time inside the story) at all.

This is not a perfect illustration, of course. But it may give just a glimpse of what I believe to be the truth. God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel. He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man in the world.

The way in which my illustration breaks down is this. In it the author gets out of one Time-series (that of the novel) only by going into another Time-series (the real one). But God, I believe, does not live in a Time-series at all. His life is not dribbled out moment by moment like ours: with Him it is, so to speak, still 1920 and already 1960. For His life is Himself.

If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn. We come to the parts of the line one by one: we have to leave A behind before we get to B, and cannot reach C until we leave B behind. God, from above or outside or all round, contains the whole line, and sees it all.

Prof. C.S.Lewis 3 said...

The idea is worth trying to grasp because it removes some apparent difficulties in Christianity. Before I became a Christian one of my objections was as follows. The Christians said that the eternal God who is everywhere and keeps the whole universe going, once became a human being. Well then, said 1, how did the whole universe keep going while He was a baby, or while He was asleep? How could He at the same time be God who knows everything and also a man asking his disciples "who touched me?" You will notice that the sting lay in the time words: "While He was a baby" --"How could He at the same time?" In other words I was assuming that Christ's life as God was in time, and that His life as the man Jesus in Palestine was a shorter period taken out of that time--just as my service in the army was a shorter period taken out of my total life. And that is how most of us perhaps tend to think about it. We picture God living through a period when His human life was still in the future: then coming to a period when it was present: then going on to a period when He could look back on it as something in the past. But probably these ideas correspond to nothing in the actual facts. You cannot fit Christ's earthly life in Palestine into any time-relations with His life as God beyond all space and time. It is really, I suggest, a timeless truth about God that human nature, and the human experience of weakness and sleep and ignorance, are somehow included in His whole divine life. This human life in God is from our point of view a particular period in the history of our world (from the year A.D. one till the Crucifixion). We therefore imagine it is also a period in the history of God's own existence. But God has no history. He is too completely and utterly real to have one. For, of course, to have a history means losing part of your reality (because it had already slipped away into the past) and not yet having another part (because it is still in the future): in fact having nothing but the tiny little present, which has gone before you can speak about it. God forbid we should think God was like that. Even we may hope not to be always rationed in that way.

Another difficulty we get if we believe God to be in time is this. Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call "tomorrow" is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call today." All the days are "Now" for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday, He simply sees you doing them: because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not "foresee" you doing things tomorrow, He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow's actions in just the same way--because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action tin you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already "Now" for Him.

This idea has helped me a good deal. If it does not help you, leave it alone. It is a "Christian idea" in the sense that great and wise Christians have held it and there is nothing in it contrary to Christianity. But it is not in the Bible or any of the creeds. You can be a perfectly good Christian without accepting it, or indeed without thinking of the matter at all. (C.S. Lewis, Time And Beyond Time, from Mere Christianity)

Ronnie Littlejohn said...

We cannot understand the Hebrew notion of time if we carry over our Western scientific or philosophical interpretations and questions. The Hebrews simply did not ask the same questions or make the sort of speculations the heirs to the Greeks advanced.

Actually, the Greek notion of time still leads us down many philosophical dead ends and into many practical problems as well. Time has been the subject of some real arguments lately. Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge cosmologist, posed a paradox when he entitled his best-selling book A Brief History of Time. By definition, the word history refers to something that has endured for some period in time. This implies that time has endured in time, which has endured in time, which has endured in time, and so on. This is going down a dead end. Such a paradox would not occur to the Hebrews because, for them, things did not happen "in time." Things happened and the happenings were time.

Here is another example. The Hebrews did not speculate about duration--as in How long is the present? Many Western philosophers out of the Greek tradition found this question troubling. It occupied philosophers from Augustine to Henri Bergson. But the Hebrews avoided such fruitless speculations even though they definitely used temporal concepts. First Kings 11:4 refers to the time "when Solomon was old," but the writer did not wonder about when it was that Solomon started to become old, or at what point he became old, as though he was not old the day previous and then suddenly he was old. The Hebrews were not interested in all this theorizing. I do not mean that this lack was a deficiency, only that it was a difference. We certainly should not think that the Hebrew idea of time is necessarily inferior to the Greek simply because the Greek was more concrete.

Another way of seeing this difference is to notice that the Hebrews developed no idea of eternity as timelessness. This was a Greek notion. The Hebrews had no idea that there could be life and experience without time. For them, life was time, or better "to live was time." There was no time where there were no life events, and no life events where there was no time. In the Old Testament, life was humanity's form of existence (Job 1:21; Ps. 90:3-12) and this was time.

Ronnie Littlejohn said...

One could characterize the difference between how the Hebrews understood time and how we do by saying that time for us is "chronological" and time for them was "qualitative.' In the Old Testament, events and persons were differentiated and arranged, not by their position in chronological sequence to each other, but according to the impact of their occurrence.

The Hebrews were impressed by the weightiness or significance of things and people, not by how many ticks on a clock went by while doing something. This explains why when scholars study the Old Testament, matters that are revealed by their research to be widely separated with reference to time (our definition) can, if their content coincides, be identified and regarded as simultaneous by the Old Testament (because of their view of time). The worshiper experienced past acts of salvation, such as the exodus, as contemporary and happening right then, even if the exodus occurred in the past.

Our perception of the passage of time can change with the blink of an eye. Time stands still; time flies. Time drags on. Where did the time go? I just need a little more time! We had a great time! If only I had the time

There is a growing sense in modern America that we are losing time. How can we take back control over time? Possibly paying attention to the Hebraic concept of time might be a way for us to regain control. For example, we sometimes notice the difference between spending too much time making a living (paid employment, household chores, personal maintenance) and not taking time for living. But for the Hebrews, the way we live (making a living) is time itself. We may only choose how we live or how we "time." So, we must be careful how we live.

One of our major problems in modem America is that we are too busy spending time on unimportant things and events and we have become too busy for the truly important, but not necessarily urgent, matters in life. For example, while conversing with a loved one, we will quickly answer the telephone and spend several minutes on the call even though the call may be totally unimportant. The perceived urgency of a ringing phone overrides the more important activity that does not have a need for urgency attached. When we engage in this kind of behavior, we are showing what we think really matters. We could improve life if we change our paradigm of time. But how can we?

Time for the Hebrews was about effort and achievement People did things. They wrote, played, traveled, slept, dreamed, performed ceremonies, went to war, and prayed. God did things too. Time consisted of the story of these events, and it had no existence beyond these. To make the most of time probably meant something like living your fife so that others mark their lives and tell their stories in reference to your actions. In the Hebrew mind, the real question was not, "What is the best use of my time right now?" but rather, "What is the best use of my life right now?"

Ronnie Littlejohn is Professor of Philosophy, Belmont University, Nashville, Tennessee. (pp. 53-56. Biblical Illustrator, Winter 1999-2000, Nashville)

Ray Stedman 1 said...

The Best Is Yet To Be
Well, what is it, that is coming? Like a good chef, Paul has been whetting our appetites and stimulating our anticipation by veiled references to some breathtaking experience yet to come. But now he grows specific. In chapter five he describes the weight of glory in more explicit terms:

"For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we haw a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked . For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." (2 Corinthians 5:14)

"A building from God" . . . "a house not made with hands" . . . "our heavenly dwelling," what do these expressions refer to? They are obviously set in direct contrast to "the earthly tent we live in" which is clearly the present body of flesh and bones. But before we take a closer look at these phrases, note how definite and certain Paul is. See how he begins: "We know . . . " There is nothing uncertain about it at all.

Many today, as in the past, are trying to guess what lies beyond death. Some have supposed that the spirit of man departs, only to return in some reincarnation of life as another human being. The evidence used to support this is usually the testimony of certain persons (often given through a medium or in a hypnotic state) who apparently recall whole episodes from their previous existence. But it must be remembered that the Bible consistently warns of the existence of "lying spirits" or demons who have no compunctions about representing themselves to be the spirits of departed persons and who take delight in deceiving humans. Others have suggested that knowledge of such things is put beyond us, that the only proper approach to life is to view everything as tentative, nothing can be depended on for sure. But Jesus and the apostles never speak that way. Christ said that he came to tell us the truth, that we might know. The Apostle John underlines this point again and again, saying, "These things are written that you might know." So Paul says here, we know certain things about life beyond death.

Things We Really Know
Well, what do we know? First, says Paul, we know that we now live in an earthly tent. Twice he calls the present body a tent. Tents are usually temporary dwellings. Once I visited a family who lived in a tent in their yard while waiting for their new house to be finished. It wasn't very comfortable, but they were willing to put up with it until they could move into their real house. This is the case, Paul says, with Christians. They are living temporarily in tents.

Ray Stedman 2 said...

Further, he says that in this tent we both groan and sigh. Do you ever listen to yourself when you get up in the morning? Do you ever groan? It is quite evident that the apostle is right, isn't it? There is the groan of daily experience. Perhaps the tent is beginning to sag. The cords are loosening and the pegs are growing wobbly. There may also be the sigh of expectancy. "We sigh with anxiety," says the apostle, "not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed." No one wishes to be disembodied (unclothed), but nevertheless, we do long sometimes for something more than this body offers. We feel its limitations. Have you ever said when invited to do something, "I wish I could; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak"? That is the sigh of anxiety, longing to be further clothed.

The Heavenly House
In contrast to this temporary tent in which we now live, the apostle describes the permanent dwelling waiting for us when we die. It is "a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. " This is the indescribable "weight of glory" which is now being prepared for us by the trials and hardships we experience. If the present tent is our earthly body, then surely this permanent dwelling is the resurrection body, described in 1 Corinthians:

"So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body." (15:42-44)

If the apostle can describe our physical body as a tent, then it is surely fitting to describe the resurrection body as a house. A tent is temporary; a house is permanent. When we die, we will move from the temporary to the permanent; from the tent to the house, eternal in the heavens. This resurrection body is further described:

"For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:53-54).

When we compare this passage with the one we are considering in 2 Corinthians 5, we note that the word for "clothed" ("that we would be further clothed") is exactly the same Greek word as the one translated "put on" in 1 Corinthians 15 ("this perishable must put on the imperishable"). This present perishable body of ours must be clothed with imperishable life, and this present mortal nature must be clothed with immortality. It is at that time, says Paul, that "death is swallowed up in victory." Compare that with the statement of 2 Corinthians 5, "that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." The two passages are clearly parallel and the "house not made with hands" is the resurrection body of 1 Corinthians 15.

Is There A Temporary Tent?
But this poses a serious problem with some. They say, "Well, if' the building of God' is the resurrection body, then what does a believer live in while he is waiting for the resurrection body? Resurrection won't occur till the second coming of Jesus. What about the saints who have died through the centuries? Their bodies have been placed in the grave and won't arise until the resurrection; what do they live in during the interim?"

Ray Stedman 3 said...

To this problem three widely varying answers have been posed. One is that departed saints have no bodies until the resurrection. They are with the Lord but as disembodied spirits, incomplete until regaining their bodies at the resurrection. But this view ignores Paul's words, "{We} long to put on our heavenly dwelling so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. " And again, "We sigh with anxiety, not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed." Furthermore, the language of both 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5 seems to imply an immediate donning of the resurrection body. There is no hint of any waiting period.

A second answer to the problem is that of soul sleep. This theory says that when a believer dies his soul remains asleep within the dead body. When the body is raised at the resurrection, the soul awakens. But because it has been asleep since death, it has no knowledge of the intervening time and no awareness of having been asleep. This concept solves the problem of the missing bodies but directly contravenes such Scriptures as the Lord's words to the thief on the cross, "Today shall you be with me, in Paradise," and Paul's declaration, "we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5 :8).

Still a third group proposes to solve the problem by suggesting that the "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens," is not the resurrection body at all but an intermediate body which God gives the believer to live in until the resurrection. Presumably, at that time, the intermediate body is dissolved and only the resurrection body exists. But it is difficult to square that with the description, "eternal in the heavens. " Such a view also destroys the parallelism of 2 Corinthians 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Since there is no hint anywhere in Scripture of the existence of an intermediate body, the view seems hardly tenable.

The Problem Disappears
The problem these strange answers propose to solve is really no problem at all. It arises only when we insist on projecting the concepts of time into eternity. We constantly think of heaven as a continuation on a larger and perfect scale of life on earth. Locked into our world of space and time, we find it very cult to imagine life proceeding on any other terms. But we must remember that time is time and eternity is eternity and never the twain shall meet. We experience something of the same difficulty in dealing with the mathematical concept of infinity. Many people imagine infinity to be a very large number, but it is not. The difference is that if you subtract 1 from a very large number, you have one less, but if you subtract 1 from infinity you still have infinity.

Ray Stedman 4 said...

Dr. Arthur Custance, a Canadian scientist who is also a remarkable Bible scholar and author of a series of biblical-scientific studies called Doorway Papers, has written something very helpful on this:

"The really important thing to notice is that Time stands in the same relation to Eternity, in one sense, as a large number does to infinity. There is one sense in which infinity includes a very large number, yet it is quite fundamentally different and independent of it. And by analogy, Eternity includes Time and yet is fundamentally something other. The reduction of Time until it gets smaller and smaller is still not Eternity. Nor do we reach Eternity by an extension of Time to great length. There is no direct pathway between Time and Eternity. They are different categories of experience." (Doorway Paper No. 37)

The thing we must remember in dealing with this matter of life beyond death is that when time ends, eternity begins. They are not the same, and we must not make them the same. Time means that we are locked into a pattern of chronological sequence which we are helpless to break. For example, all human beings sharing the same room will experience an earthquake together. While there are varying feelings and reactions, everyone will feel the earthquake at the same time. But in eternity events do not follow a sequential pattern. There is no past or future, only the present NOW. Within that NOW all events happen. An individual will experience sequence, but only in relationship to himself, and events will occur to him on the basis of his spiritual readiness. No two individuals need, therefore, experience the same event just because they happen to be together.

When Time Ends
All this may sound quite confusing, and it is true it contains great elements of speculation. But let us return to the Scriptures and the problem of what happens to the believer when he dies. Holding firmly to the essential point that time and eternity are quite different, then when a believer steps out of time, he steps into eternity. What was perhaps a far-off distant event in time is suddenly present in eternity if one is spiritually prepared for it. Since the one great event for which the Spirit of God is now preparing believers here on earth is the coming of Jesus Christ for his own, that is the event which greets every believer when he dies. It may be decades or even centuries before it breaks into time, but this particular person is no longer in time. He is in eternity. He sees "the Lord coming with ten thousands of his saints," just as Enoch did when he was permitted a look into eternity, and at a time when he was the seventh from Adam and the population of the earth was very small (Jude 14).

Where The Ages Meet
But what is even more amazing is that in the experience of that believer he does not leave anyone behind. All his loved ones who know Christ are there too, including his Christian descendants who were not even born yet when he died! Since there is no past or future in heaven, this must be the case. Even those who, in time, stand beside his grave and weep and then go home to an empty house, are, in his experience, with him in glory. Dr. Custance carries this even further.

"The experience of earth saints is shared by all other saints, by those who have preceded and those who are to follow. For them all, all history, all intervening time between death and the Lord's return is suddenly annihilated so that each one finds to his amazement that Adam, too, is just dying and joining him on his way to meet the Lord: and Abraham and David, Isaiah and the Beloved John, Paul and Augustine, Hudson Taylor and you and I--all in one wonderful experience meeting the Lord in a single instant together, without precedence and without the slightest consciousness of delay, none being late and none too early." (Doorway Paper No. 37, p. 28)

Albert Barnes said...

Amen - This is a word of Hebrew origin, from a verb signifying "to be firm, secure, to be true and faithful." It is a word expressing consent or strong approbation; a word of strong asseveration. It means "verily, certainly, so be it." It is probable that this word was used by the people in the synagogue to signify their assent to the prayer that was uttered by the minister, and, to some extent, it was probably so used in the Christian Church. See 1 Corinthians 14:16.

Augustine said...

Eternity is Thine, art Thou ignorant of the things which I say unto Thee? Or seest Thou at the time that which cometh to pass in time? Why, therefore, do I place before Thee so many relations of things ? Not surely that Thou mightest know them through me, but that I may awaken my own love and that of my readers towards Thee, that we may all say, "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised." t I have already said, and shall say, for the love of Thy love do I this. For we also pray, and yet Truth says, "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him."(2) Therefore do we make known unto Thee our love, in confessing unto Thee our own miseries and Thy mercies upon us, that Thou mayest free us altogether, since Thou hast begun, that we may cease to be wretched in ourselves, and that we may be blessed in Thee; since Thou hast called us, that we may be poor in spirit, and meek, and mourners, and hungering and athirst after righteousness, and merciful, and pure in heart, and peacemakers? Behold, I have told unto Thee many things, which I could and which I would, for Thou first wouldest that I should confess unto Thee, the Lord my God, for Thou art good, since Thy "mercy endureth for ever."

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Andrew, you have done an excellent job of annotating (commenting) on the Lord's prayer. This is actually a very good way to study with the Church Fathers. Just wanted to tell you, tho I do not comment on the series, I do appreciate it.


Andrew Kenny said...

Thanks Romanos for your encouragement.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Forgive me for cluttering your post with another comment, but in rereading what Littlejohn wrote about the Hebrew sense of what time is, I have to say that when reading the Psalms in Hebrew, you do get a completely different feel to the concept of time, just as he describes. This is just one example of how learning and using a biblical language (thank God! there's only two!) can enlarge your experience (not just your knowledge) of what God is speaking to us thru His Book.