This is the third and final article in my Christmas / New Year Mini-Series which now consists of the following articles:
It’s the time of year when we celebrate the passing of another year and look forward to a new one. The definition of this period of time – a year – has been an interesting concept since you can look back into history and quickly see that each culture has originally developed its own understanding of what a year means.
In this the modern age, we use science to help define a year as the time it takes for our planet to rotate around the sun – one full rotation cycle is slightly longer than the 365 days that we introduced a leap year with 366 years to catch up and align with the cycle of nature. This system of inter-calculation was first observed astronomically during the days of Roman Empire and formed the Julian calendar which was later enhanced as the Gregorian calendar system.
The other main approach to defining a year is the lunar cycle of new moons. Many cultures around the world are lunar-based: Chinese, Jewish and Islamic to name the three most obvious ones. I am sure that there are quite a few others… For these cultures, a year is slightly shorter – 354 days and is defined as the time 12 full moon cycles takes to complete. It is for this reason that Easter, Passover, Chinese New Year and Eid all shift and do not have a fixed date each year.
Years ago I considered God’s perspective of time. It is a common adage made popular by the worship song Better is One Day, that one day in the House of God is better than a thousand in our world. God can jam pack a heaven encounter where our time has “suspended” and it all seem like a twinkling in the eye. The difference in perspectives also lends itself to day-age creationism which is the belief that the days mentioned in Genesis are not the same time frames we understand as 24-hour days.
As part of considering God’s timelessness, I formed a view that whilst it is a necessary arbitrary construct for us as humans, perhaps we can sometimes go too far in emphasizing the transition that we have come to coin New Years Eve. After all, to God, everything continues unchanged; another second has transpired and life goes on. In part, the unfounded hype tied to the year 2000 is part of my justification in making this argument. Now, let me be clear – we needed to recheck all kinds of systems to ensure date ranges did not reset (to 1 Jan 1972 for example) and that the system handling of dates would not fall over because we use the short-form of 2-digit years. This IT work was very necessary but the media also added to the hype. A more recent example was the fixation that the end of 2012 brought about, largely because an ancient Mayan culture and calendar marked it as the end of an age.
It is a natural human condition and coping mechanism that helps us cope with the concept of time that we align our thinking to periods of time. A day, week, month and ultimately a year. The year also helps to frame our seasons and indeed you see animals and plants conform to this natural cycle. Another human construct which was only really adopted in the last 100 years as a result of global communication standards is daylight savings – where local regions shift their clocks backwards and forwards according to the season and maximize the amount of useful time we have whilst the sun is shining.
God acknowledges our human need for an understanding of time. Even though He himself is timeless and eternal, Genesis still starts with “In the beginning…” and Jesus is known as the Alpha & Omega, the First & Last. In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 4:18) he says that the things that are seen are “temporal” but the things not seen are “eternal”. Psalm 90 (The Eternity of God, and Man’s Frailty) also reinforces God’s view of time; take note of verse 10 in particular:
Lord, You have been our dwelling place[a] in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
3 You turn man to destruction, and say, “Return, O children of men.” 4 For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it is past, And like a watch in the night. 5 You carry them away like a flood; They are like a sleep. In the morning they are like grass which grows up:
6 In the morning it flourishes and grows up; In the evening it is cut down and withers.
7 For we have been consumed by Your anger, And by Your wrath we are terrified. 8 You have set our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your countenance. 9 For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; We finish our years like a sigh. 10 The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away. 11 Who knows the power of Your anger? For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath. 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long? And have compassion on Your servants. 14 Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, That we may rejoice and be glad all our days! 15 Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us, The years in which we have seen evil. 16 Let Your work appear to Your servants, And Your glory to their children. 17 And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, And establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the work of our hands.
If we adopt a more God-centric approach to understanding time it tends to be more in our long-term thinking. For a period my church took an approach whereby each year would be framed by an annual vision or theme. After a number of years we then developed and adopted the seven-year vision aptly named Vision 2015. Which brings me to sub-topic of the seven-year cycle. God has shown throughout the bible/history that the seven-year cycle is a significant period, providing just a two quick examples:
- Genesis 41:29 – 30: Indeed seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt; 30 but after them seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will deplete the land.
- Leviticus 25:8: “And you shall count seven Sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven Sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years.”
Much more can be explored on the topic of God and time, the focus here is on the year given we have just passed another New Year milestone. We tend to attach and make it cultural to make New Year resolutions. In part, I stopped doing so from the perspective that we let our yes be yes, and our no be no (Matthew 5:37) all the time, irrespective of whether it is the start of a new year, during or even at the end. If we continually strive and focus on the present we live in, quite likely we would commit ourselves to realistic ambitions, with less talk and more action. So, in 2015, make resolutions as you see fit, but do not dwell on them excessively and talk about them more than living them out.
The Day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians, 5)
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
11 Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
Note: All bible verse references are sourced from the New King James Version (NKJV).