floydius it's almost like you've got nothing better to do

3Apr/09Off

theoconomy

I think about death often. Perhaps this comes off morbid, and I should rephrase to be more precise: I think about life often. These statements may seem antithetical, but let me argue the opposite. The nature of physical life is temporal; we recognize both birth and death. All that exists between we understand in terms of age. We accrue experience upon experience as the days pass into years. Sometimes in chunks and streams, sometimes in bits and pieces, and rarely in perfect replica do the events of our lives huddle in the recesses of our memory.

The longer we spin on this globe, the faster (or so it seems to us) we accelerate. This perception is the first clue that time is not some inscrutable force, but rather a dimension through which we move — kindred to length, width, and altitude. Fractions solve that riddle for us. That is to say, one hour after our birth, a single minute represents the same percentage of our life as an entire year at age sixty. Understood this way, it’s no wonder some older drivers are content to cruise at 35 mph while a less experienced driver is loath to drop below 65 or 70. In fact, the elderly driver is experiencing the commute at an accelerated rate. Compared to a 70 year-old driver traveling at 35 mph, a 20 year-old would have to accelerate to 122.5 mph just to keep pace. I imagine poor Methuselah would be reticent to set foot in an automobile at all.

It often overwhelms me to consider the terminal point along my path. Ever accelerating through time, I will eventually cross a line where I can accelerate no more. Aristotle wrote that neither perpetual acceleration nor perpetual deceleration is possible. We understand the latter half of this argument because we know that it is impossible to drop to a slower pace than no movement at all. The former is more difficult because we can continue to to contrive larger and larger numbers without any predictable end. Thus, 19th century calculus explains Aristotle’s observation in terms of limits. Simply put: even if we cannot precisely locate each of an infinite number of points along a line segment, we may still describe exactly the location of the terminal points on both ends of the segment.

The path of a life might be best described as a series of curves that vary along the ordinate (y) and applicate (z) axes but move always in the same horizontal direction. Robert Frost doubted if he should ever return to his divergence, but I am beyond doubt: I can never return to any point along my path. If such a thing were possible, I might maintain awareness of the future and the past concurrently. Indeed, I might even “remember” possible futures based on alternate choices. As it stands, I cannot do so precisely, but only in imagination. Since I still move, this absolute seems irrelevant, or at most I may put it on the back burner. However, the more closely I consider the reality and proximity of this terminal point, the more important my horizontal limitation becomes. Thus, at the end of life, humans tend to seek significance in each minute; we hoard our time as a valuable commodity. In youth, though, when the end seems far away, we spill our time liberally over significant and trivial ground alike.

The economy of our time seems more savage than that of our physical commodities, but both work precisely the same way. To the person with a billion dollars, one dollar is trivial. To the person with thirty five cents, one dollar is monumental. Our seconds, minutes, and hours experience deflation as our lives progress. It is understood that time is well-spent on purchases of lasting value. We exchange it for trifles only to our folly.

Perhaps it is true, then, that when we encounter phenomena independent or even contrary to this economy, we are supremely confused. This is appropriate, since the One who ignores or confutes altogether our pattern is Himself supreme:

Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:1-7)

To this One who has a hundred sheep, the single lost one is of more significance than the rest. He will expend energies on the individual despite His opulence. Perhaps, with such a confusing economy, it should not surprise us that with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (1 Peter 3:8b). Is it conceivable that the physical dimensions in which we exist do not confine the God who created them? Asked in this way, the question answers itself. Our conclusion confirms the fact that we do not fully understand God, but how does it serve to reduce our ignorance?

Eternity has terrified me since I was a young boy. Some nights I would lie thinking in my bed and suddenly, the reality of ‘forever’ would strike me. I did not want to be stuck anywhere ‘forever,’ even if that somewhere was a mansion in a nebulous heaven. I certainly did not want to be stuck singing the same song over and over to God, nor could I imagine Him never getting tired of it. Eternal life was no prospect I anticipated except to the extent that it excluded an eternity in hell, which I judged much worse. Under the hypothesis that God’s economy of time is unlike my own, my fear subsides, for it is only founded in the current system.

Revelation 21: 3b-4 reads, the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” I believe that when God moves in with man permanently, He will be bringing His economy of time and commodity along. Only in this way can the old things pass away and we reap the benefits. Our terminal point here is nothing to fear, so long as we have plans to adopt God’s economy of time and value. Of course, if we do not plan for that, we will suffer terrible loss and our fear is founded. Paul is right: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:19) Fortunately for us, the next life will bring a new system whereby our present condition will be rendered obsolete.

In the meantime, what should we do? How should we live? In the face of unrelenting time and physical confinements, where can we invest our time in exchange for real worth?

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

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  1. Very eloquently written and conveyed. Thanks for feeding me today. It reminded me of the parable of the shrewd manager, or more specifically, Luke 16:9: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” In God’s economy, I think, relationships are the gold standard.

  2. Lloyd,

    Great post!

  3. I’m impressed by people that can think on this level, and so often too. I wish I had that kind of zeal.

  4. Thanks, everyone. Also, you’re right on the money, Bryan.


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