Sunday, May 07, 2006

Linear View of Time vs. Cyclical View

Old Covenant Israel and New Covenant Israel (Christians) were unique in the ancient world with respect to their view of time. They both taught that time moves forward in a straight line, from a beginning to an end. This doesn't sound too amazing to us but back then it was totally unique. In fact, it was unheard of outside the nation of Israel. No other religion or race believed it. We have a saying in our day, history repeats itself. But does it? Does it really and truly repeat itself, event for event? What do we mean, history repeats itself?

With the exception of the Israelites that were grounded in the Bible, all ancient religions viewed time as circular. People viewed the course of time in much the same way that they viewed the seasons. Summer follows spring as surely as fall follows summer. The seasons are circular. They repeat themselves and so does time.

The Bible says that time is linear. Time moves in a straight line, from God's creation of the world to God's final judgment of the world. Only someone who believes in the straight-line development of history can believe in a final judgment by God. And for many centuries, only those who believed in the final judgment of God believed in straight-line history.

We have an example of this secular way of looking at time in Scripture:

  • Ecc. 1:1-9 says, The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

This is the cyclical view at its best Verse 9 summarizes it perfectly. The despair in this philosophy of time is contrary to the Biblical world view. It gives us the view of the secular skeptic that cannot see beyond the sun. The phrase "vanity of vanities" is the credo of the nihilist who finds no ultimate meaning to human existence. This is the view of the one who lives his life "under the sun" vs. the one lives his life "under heaven."

The Bible teaches a linear view of time because it teaches the unique doctrines of creation, providence, and final judgment. It teaches that the original creation of the universe was by the same personal God who personally sustains the whole universe moment by moment and who will judge mankind and restore His creation at the last day.

No comments: