Bigger Than This Moment
Jill Carattini writes that with the passing of time, it is odd that we are so poorly reconciled to something so familiar and so shocked at such a universal experience.
Image ©2019 [Ken Orvidas] c/o theispot.com
Have you ever noticed how often we are surprised by the passing of time? Do you catch yourself with the familiar maxim on your mind, “Time flies!” or perhaps another version of the same: “Where did the summer go?” Or maybe you recall the last time you noticed a child’s height or age or maturity with some genuine sense of disbelief.
Is it not odd to be so poorly reconciled to something so familiar, to be shocked at a universal experience? C.S. Lewis likened this phenomenon to a fish repeatedly astonished by the wetness of water—adding with his characteristic cleverness, “This would be strange indeed! Unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”1
As we consider the idea of time itself, seconds on the clock faithfully pass even as we ponder. All the same, we recognize that time is not just a fleeting thing. As Ravi Zacharias notes, “[Time] never moves forward without engraving its mark upon the heart—sometimes a stab, sometimes a tender touch, sometimes a vice grip of spikes, sometimes a mortal wound. But always an imprint.”2
“[Time] never moves forward without engraving its mark upon the heart—sometimes a stab, sometimes a tender touch, sometimes a vice grip of spikes, sometimes a mortal wound. But always an imprint.”
To be sure, the most profound imprints hold in our minds a definite place in history—the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, occasions of exceptional joy or beauty, moments of unusual pain. But isn’t there sometimes a sense that they also hold something more? In such moments, we are touched by the reality of the thing itself, a meaning that is bigger than this very moment. We walk beyond the brush strokes of time to find a glimpse of a canvas that makes our usual view seem like paint-by-number. Some of these moments seem to hold the stirring thought that eternity will be the vantage point from which we see the big picture.
We walk beyond the brush strokes of time to find a glimpse of a canvas that makes our usual view seem like paint-by-number.
Those who challenge the notion of eternity claim that it is a human invention, like religion itself, created to soften what we do not understand, to undermine the painfulness of life, to release us from the finality of death. As the late scientist Carl Sagan wrote, “If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I’d be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote.... Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy.”3
As I consider Sagan’s words, my mind returns to the crematory disaster that made the headlines across the United States some years ago. Few could overlook the unfathomable outrage. Over 300 bodies were carelessly discarded around the woods and lakes of the property, bodies that should have been cremated but for whatever reason were not. Deceitfully, the crematory gave families containers holding cement or burned wood in place of a loved one’s ashes. Across the nation, people commonly noted that they felt somehow violated by this act of sheer irreverence to the dead, whether they knew them or not. In fact, at the time, laws against such matters did not even exist. Who would have thought these were necessary? Yet few denied that these were crimes against both the living and the dead.
But why? If our origins are so humble and we are destined for nothing more, if we are merely a collocation of time, atoms, and accident, why would we sense that something sacred had been desecrated? Why would we be astonished at such a treatment of the dead if life itself is not permanent?
I think we are outraged because we sense something substantial was trampled on indeed. In a lifetime, we see countless glimpses of it. We remember sacred moments in time, and we understand human life to have intrinsic dignity and worth, even when our philosophies say otherwise. Note that no one asked the names, occupations, race, or accomplishments of any of the victims. Our dignity is not assigned because of who we or what we have accomplished.
The Christian story offers more than a glimpse of a canvas and is bigger than this earthly moment. The Scriptures makes the very robust, central claim that humankind is significant because God created us in his image and the Son of God “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Moreover, “Through [Christ] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). Surely, there is a sacredness about life and death because the eternal author of time has created our world and stepped into it. Our surprise at time’s passing and outrage at life—and death’s—violation are indeed thoroughly strange, unless God is vicariously involved in both our origin and our destiny.
Jill Carattini is Managing Editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. This article appears in Just Thinking Magazine issue 27.4
1 C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Orlando: Harcourt, 1986), 138.
2 Ravi Zacharias, The Lotus and the Cross (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2001), 16.
3 Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World (London: Headline, 1997), 204.
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