Carpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the Times, by Os Guinness ★★★★★
Many people attempt to present themselves as the pundits of the times, a person with a deep insight into “what’s really going on” and how to assess the ebb and flow of our culture. Os is one of those few people that I look up to in this regard. I first read his Dust of Death in the mid-seventies while in college; this book served, along with the books of Francis Schaeffer and other L’Abri authors, as a bulwark against a militantly liberal university system. Now as I edge toward the end of life, Guinness still stays contemporary in his analysis of social philosophy.
Time. Mick Jagger noted that time was on his side. But, is it really? I fear that time is running out for Mick. What is time? How do you quantify it? How do you assure that time does not have giant gaps or pauses which go unnoticed by the time-constrained observer? Paul Helm provides probably the best insights into an Augustinian-Reformed perspective on the nature of time. How does one reconcile an infinite being that exists outside of time and yet interacts with creatures and creation in time? Paul Helm, in his magisterial text Eternal God suggests a philosophical conclusion and shows how his conclusions give answers to the great dilemmas about God, such as his omniscience (of the past, present, and future), omnipresence, and omnipotence. I have also delved into treatises on the philosophy of time from a physics perspective. Unfortunately, the physicist has a mind that is constrained to think in space & time terms, which is a construct of our minds. To ask a physicist, philosopher, or anybody to truly delve into a precise scientific definition of time is like asking a fish to describe water; he can’t, since that is his world.
Carpe Diem Redeemed is a little book, only 139 pages. It is a gem from start to finish. After giving a brief description as to how our culture thinks of time, Guinness delves into the three ways that time is considered, cyclical, linear, or covenantal-linear. The Judeo-Christian mindset does not view the world as a relentless, repeating flow of years, nor as a simple linear, non-objective, non-controlled, non-teleologic fate for mankind. Rather, in the covenantal view, God is the God of time. If one has watched the Dr. Who television series, Dr. Who is the Time Lord. Compared to Scripture, he is a pitiful time Lord, still subject to time’s vagarities. The true Time Lord, the triune Jehovah God, not only controls time and moves back and forth through time, but creates time, yet always lives outside of time (see again Paul Helm). From that philosophical perspective, the cyclical and linear perspectives leave the creature caught within time without a purpose, a telos, or hope. Yet, as Guinness explains, the Christian doesn’t often live as a covenantal-linear creature. We wash in the philosophy of contemporary thinking and then find trouble in the reconciliation with Scriptural claims.
I won’t labor through the remainder of this book since it is a book that should, perhaps must, be read. Guinness describes how western culture has become obsessed with time. We are slaves of the clock and have a hard time thinking outside of the constraints of the tiny device most people wear on their wrist. Our culture identifies with time values; “Old is mold; new is true” is essentially the implications of the progressive movement. Yet the implications that newer “things” are always more correct than older “things” is a dangerous presumption. Generationalism has been a highly destructive mode of thinking. Historically, a “generation” used to refer to all people living at a given point in time, such as the 1550s; now it refers to people born within a certain segment of time, such as the greatest generation, or the baby boomers, or generation X.
Guinness offers reflections as to how to start thinking again with time in a Biblical fashion. He offers a warm personal perspective, reflecting on growing up in China. In being personal, Os offers a challenge to the reader to seize the day in a Christian/Biblical fashion. This is a book that is very much worth reading by the Christian who wishes to see how the secular culture has influenced our perspective on time as well as offering a Biblical means of thinking as a Christian.
“How does one reconcile an infinite being that exists outside of time and yet interacts with creatures and creation in time? Paul Helm, in his magisterial text Eternal God suggests a philosophical conclusion and shows how his conclusions give answers to the great dilemmas about God, such as his omniscience (of the past, present, and future), omnipresence, and omnipotence.”
If Paul Helm is thinking biblically, why does he then use Greek and not Hebrew concepts? As Charles Hummel (past ASA President) pointed out in one of his talks, omni-words are words that come from Greek dualism and are not found in the Bible – neither linguistically nor conceptually. They lead away from a scriptural worldview to that of the pagan Greek worldview. Some of this importation of thinking foreign to scripture comes from Bible translators themselves, who also use infinity-words where no such language is found in scripture. (Familiar example: Psalm 23 closes in translations with “… in the house of the Lord forever.” Forever is one such infinity-word and in Hebrew is literally “for all the days”. It does not say which days.)
The scriptures themselves do not ascribe infinity to God. If it is true that the only way we can know anything at all about God the Father is through the mediation of the Son, who functions in space and time, then we also do not even know the scope of the reality that is attributable to the Father. All of our thinking is rooted in space and time. Even logic has a built-in progression to it. That is why scripture does not wander off into philosophic speculation about God. We can know nothing about God the Father except what has been revealed through Yahweh/Jesus. Apparently, Helm does not agree.
This is a serious topic to be considered. Why is it commonly assumed that the Genesis creation account has as its scope the entire modern cosmological universe, and not confine it to that of “heaven and earth”?
My past discussion with Os Guiness leads me to think that his refined British way of thinkling goes down a similar track – to not become too wildly speculative about what we know we do not know.