The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
–From Peter’s second letter; 2Peter 3:9
I’ve been wondering lately about my view of my life and my sense of time. More specifically, I’m coming to believe that my view of my life is too narrow and my sense of time too linear.
For a while, and in this blog you have read it, I have believed that the ultimate goal of life is relational union with God. “Union with God” can be said differently: to know Him, where “know” is the most intimate knowing of another person; or, to be one with Him; or, to participate in the life of the Trinity; or, to partake of His Divine nature; or, to join the Divine Dance (Gr. perichoresis) with the Trinity. We struggle to put words to it because it is a mystery. Not a mystery in the sense that we must puzzle it out; rather, a genuine mystery in that no human really knows how it happens, only that it does and is the goal of our existence.
Over the past few years I have been pretty good at noticing God at work in the circumstances of my current life as He works to draw me into relational union with Him; I try to notice and cooperate as moment-by-moment he teaches me the steps of the Divine Dance with Him.
But, what if the “moment” is more than I have previously thought?
I’ve begun thinking about my linear view of time within the specific context of the ultimate goal of my life. And, I’m thinking about this for a reason: I’m in the middle of a radical life change of direction. So, within the context of the ultimate goal for my life and my immediate, upcoming change, here is what I’m thinking…
For a number years I’ve been praying along with the ancient Israeli King, David, that God would do whatever He needed to in my life in order to rid me of the distortions and attachments and wounds within me that hinder my relationship with Him. Or, as a past writer, Julian of Norwich, would have put it, I pray that I might be “oned” with God. It is a dangerous prayer, but I have meant it, at least as I have understood what it meant.
I have been alive nearly two score and eighteen years. All this time I have viewed my life as a linear journey through time which has brought me to this point. But, what if time collapses to a single moment, a moment which contains my birth, my lived life, and my death, all simultaneously? And, what if God, aware of my later life prayer to do with me whatever is necessary to bring me into relational oneness with Him, actually began to answer that prayer from the moment of my birth? Wouldn’t that change how I view my path through life?
This is not as preposterous as it might first sound. For at least the first thousand years, the Christian Church believed this. Even today, when celebrating the resurrection of Jesus at Easter, we say, “Christ is risen,” not “Christ has risen.”
Today, the Eastern Orthodox Church believes that as we participate in the Divine Liturgy, what the Western Church might refer to as Sunday morning worship, all of time collapses into the present moment. All that was, is, and is yet to be is fully present in the moment…all of past history and future events are occurring simultaneously in the present. Another mystery, to say the least.
I have occasionally said this about important moments in my life: “All the events of my life have brought me to this point.” But I have meant that in an autonomous sense. Let me try to give an example. I say about my meeting my wife that I had to take the path through life that I did so that our paths would cross on that day more than 27 years ago. She had nothing to do with any of my life decisions that ultimately brought us together prior to our meeting; it was all me. She played no role in it, it was all me up to that wonderful day. Sometimes we attribute such things to “fate.”
I believe that this autonomous living is how I have thought of God’s involvement in my life prior to my turning to Him fifteen years ago. I now realize that I have believed I moved through life making choices until I finally made a choice for Him, and there He was waiting for me. Not too different from the way I would say I met my wife. Whether fate, dumb luck—whatever the mechanism—I have generally thought of my life-before-God as life-with-no-God-involvement-until-I-turned-to-Him. It is a common enough teaching of the Church. I have taught it!
But, what if at the moment of my birth (actually, from the moment of all creation) God knew that in my fifties I would be desperately praying for Him to rid me of the junk in my life that keeps me from being oned with Him? The implication is this: rather than God sitting back waiting for me to turn to Him, I now believe that from the moment of my birth He was active in my life answering the prayer He knew I would pray more than fifty years later.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether…
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
–A Psalm of King David
In other words, I’m moving toward believing that God began answering my prayer of oneness with Him the moment I prayed it; but because all moments exist together, His answer included all of my life before I prayed the prayer.
Yeah, I know…this brings up all kinds of questions of my free will and God’s will for me…a debate with a long history within Christianity. But the intertwining of two free wills, God’s and mine, is nothing if not also a mystery. Goodness, the intertwining of mine and my wife’s respective free wills is mysterious enough!!
So, what’s the point of all this? Well, as I look back over my life at the decisions I’ve made, good and bad, at least from my perspective, and the resulting path I’ve taken, I have a choice of how to assess it. On the one hand I can believe that I was slogging through life alone until I finally turned to God. On the other hand I can believe God was in my life always, working at answering my “future” prayer to be oned with Him.
If I believe the former, then I can easily fall into regret for decisions made and the path I took. Then I make myself feel better by saying that God will “redeem it” for some future use.
However, if I believe the latter, that God was at work all of my life answering my prayer, then my entire life is an answered prayer. Because of my own free will and my refusal to acknowledge Him for more than 40 years, He answered my “future” prayer the only way He could, which is the path of life I have lived. Therefore, my life path is not something to be regretted and “redeemed”; rather, it is something for which to be utterly thankful.