Friday, October 1, 2010

Finding Purpose in the Created Order: Stewardship of Time

In a world faced with economic and political uncertainty and instability both within the borders of the USA and beyond, it is not unusual to encounter those who are striving to make sense and purpose out of the world. Who among us has not experienced the dark cloud of hopelessness and despair if even for a short season? Upon what can we rely for our sense of purpose?

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes states:
Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."
What advantage does man have in all his work Which he does under the sun?

Of course “the Preacher” eventually proclaims that the real world of meaning and purpose can be found when we realize what is “beyond the sun” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). But suppose we choose to deny that such reality exists “beyond the sun?”

British ethologist and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, denies the existence of supernatural reality. Indeed, he expresses a viewpoint and outlook that may be responsible for the widespread sense of hopelessness and gloom among many in our day. Dawkins states:

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

I believe that our sense of purpose and hope is linked to how we perceive the universe. Do we see the universe as being the result of order, design, and purpose; or one that is random, chaotic, and amoral. If one accepts the Bible as authoritative, then its first book, Genesis, can provide a foundation for hope and purpose in life. In my experience, one way that Genesis encourages an outlook of hope and purpose is by its clear teaching that God acted in creation to bring about a world, or kosmos, that is bursting with order and purpose.

The account of creation is an account of how God created matter from nothing. Then He created order, form, and purpose from matter that apparently lacked order, form, and purpose (Genesis 1: 1-2. The subsequent purpose-driven acts of creation introduced order and form to energy-matter, time, and space. First, God separated light from darkness. Then, He separated the heavens from the earth; and He separated the land from the waters.

Then, God created distinct kinds of creatures and enabled them to reproduce according to their kind. Finally, He created mankind as a combination of the dust of the earth and the breath of God. His purpose in creating mankind was to show forth His nature and purpose within the created order as mankind would exercise dominion in a God-honoring manner. Each creature was “programmed” genetically to grow and reproduce under the control of an internal biological “clock” which could be set and reset in response to daily and seasonal cycles. Biological rhythms were possible because God had also ordered time into years based on what we now understand as the time of Earth’s revolution around the Sun; and , months based on lunar events, and days, based on Earth’s rotation.

Finally, God divided time into what we now call weeks of seven days. Unlike years, months, and days, weeks have no known basis to mark their duration in the physical realm. Instead, they are rooted in the purpose of God to institute a seven-day cycle of work and rest. God was the first to demonstrate this ‘cycle’ of a “six-day work week” followed by a day of rest (Genesis 2:1-3.

So, we find a spiritual and emotional “prescription for hopelessness and despair when we acknowledge and submit our lives to the cyclic rhythm of time that God ordained? Submission to a pattern of work and rest requires an act of the will. Can we deliberately stop what has been our focus for six days and say, “Enough.” Have we learned how to be arrested– to submit to God’s purpose that time be given to regular pausing as God did to see what He had done? [God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. Gen. 1:31]. Do we pause and reflect upon the work of our hands and minds, to express thanks to God for giving us the strength and ability to perform the work? If we do this, we are regularly reminded that even our ability to work comes from God; a God Who desires to fellowship with us through His Word and in prayer, and to give meaning and purpose to our lives “under the Sun.”

Dear God, the Eternal One Who has given order to the world around me, help me to live by the order and purposes that you have for my life. You have searched me an known me. You know when I sit down and when I get up again; when I am depressed and when I am joyful. Even before I was formed in my mother’s womb, you knew the number of days that were allotted for me. Help me to trust Your plan for the use of my days, both the days for work and that special day each week for rest and refreshment. Help me on those special days to take time in Your Word and in prayer; and to pursue You, the only one Who ultimately can infuse eternal blessing and, meaning, and purpose into my life. Amen.

In subsequent entries in Oikonomia, we will examine other aspects of God’s created order and how they each provide a framework for our growth and maturation as human beings. Your comments, insights, and questions are ever so welcome here.

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