Time: The One-Faced Monster God

Our lives are so ruled by the clock, by the calendar, by bells and appointments that time has become a tyrannical master from which there appears no escape. “Time is the idol that rules our life,” says philosopher Erich Fromm. Or as another writer vividly puts it, we are ruled by…”a one-faced monster god.”

This has not always been the case. Most of human history and culture has not been so dominated by the clock. Although the measuring of time extends to very ancient times, it wasn’t until the 16th Century that the first mechanical watches were invented and it took a further 300 years for them to enter mass production. The dominance of the clock over human lives in western civilisation is scarcely more than 300 years old.

In his 1725 fable Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift remarkably foreshadowed a future regulated by time in his description of a Lilliputian’s interesting observation of Gulliver:

“Out of the right fob hung a great silver chain, with a wonderful kind of engine at the bottom. …He [Gulliver] put this engine into our ears, which made an incessant noise, like that of a water-mill: and we conjecture it is either some unknown animal, or the god that he worships; but we are more inclined to the latter opinion, because he assured us…that he seldom did any thing without consulting it. He called it his oracle, and said, it pointed out the time for every action of his life.

Remarkably, Gulliver’s travels was written before the Industrial Revolution. Yet the force of the observations remains true. The clock has become our god.

Some cultures have managed to preserve at least a semblance of pre-industrial unhurriedness. Modern Indonesians have an expression, ‘Jam Keret’ which translates as ‘rubber time,’ meaning that there is a general acceptance that people will be late and inexact in meeting appointments and schedules. Similarly, in Arab culture people rarely voice future plans without a corresponding, ‘Inshallah’ (God-willing), in humble acknowledgement that despite being worn on their wrists, time is not really in their hands.

From the Bible we can draw some very different and very helpful notions of time that challenge the demanding exactitude of our over-scheduled lives.

Consider, for example, that Jesus’ public ministry was but a mere three years – less than 10% of his earthly life? Would not our modern churches have had him helping at Sunday school at fourteen, leading youth group at eighteen, ordained in his twenties and filling his days with evangelistic healing services? It seems God’s time and ours is starkly different.

The same could be said of Moses: forty years in the Egyptian court and a further forty in the wilderness of Midian before he entered public ministry. By this time, (at eighty), most of us would have had him pensioned in splendid retirement. By today’s standards Moses would have been seen to have wasted the greater part of his life.

However, in the Wisdom literature of the Bible we read:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

As humans we must be mindful that God’s measure of time is often seasonal and qualitative. Time needs to be understood and applied according to the content of an event or period. This does not sit well with our hectic age of instant gratification, where circumstances are expected to bend to our will and pre-determined schedule.

The years of raising young children or caring for elderly parents, the periods of physical ill-health and mental breakdowns, the times of grief and mourning are all seasons that cut across our busy schedules. The seasons are largely indeterminate and can be long and difficult. They forcefully remind us that it is not we who control time. Our God commands the seasons of our life and determines their length.

When we try to ignore or struggle against these Heaven-sent seasons, we do so to our great frustration and detriment. We are not the gods of time.


For Prayer and Reflection: What season of life do you find yourself in presently? How can you “accept” this season and not fight against it? Ask God to help you accept the seasons of life He sends, remembering, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heaven.”’

 For Further Reading: Ecclesiastes 3

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