**I started this blog a couple of weeks ago, and realized as I was nearing the end that I couldn’t possibly say everything I’d want to say in just the way I’d hope to say it … at least, not without more effort than I wanted to put into a blog post. So, here’s a fragment of a thought, because (if I’m being perfectly honest) although I didn’t like it enough to finish it, I liked it far too much not to post it.**
See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. – Ephesians 5:15-17, KJV
Some weeks are longer than others. Call it relativity, or simply the perceived effects of all the sci-fi I’ve been watching (shout out to my favorite Doctor!)–I’m fairly certain that all throughout last week the hours were longer, or perhaps there were simply more of them. No matter. It suffices to say that I’ve found myself helplessly aware of the abundance of time, and of how much of it seems too often squandered in my life.
It’s funny how we speak of time almost as a living entity, which can be “killed,” “wasted,” “passed,” “managed,” “spent,” or “run out” of. On the other hand, it can also be “ripened,” “full,” and, most significantly perhaps, “redeemed.” But what does it mean to redeem time?
Despite what your boss or the culture might tell you, redeeming time is not some system of storing up hours each week, which may then be exchanged for monetary compensation or material goods–time has no redemption center at which it may be sloughed off like aluminum cans for nickels at the junkyard, or an unruly bunch of paper tickets for an inflatable alien at the arcade. Similarly, though Jim Croce croons it so beautifully, time can’t be saved in a bottle for some indeterminate point at which one may decide however he’d like to spend each moment, and with whom to spend them. Time comes as it pleases, and passes with or without permission. It doesn’t allow itself to be manipulated and hoarded. It isn’t something to be “used,” and when we say we waste it, we’ve done nothing to time itself; rather, we’ve merely stolen its significance from ourselves–robbed ourselves of something that might have been meaningful.
It is significant, perhaps, that the ESV translates the phrase in Ephesians 5:16 as “making the best use of time …” And perhaps the Greek does read that way–I have no idea, haha. But I’m not convinced that that English phrase is adequate to the task of expressing what those verses say, or what that passage as a whole is saying. Because, you see, the concept of redemption has much deeper roots than simply “making good use of something,” and the passage ties the phrase directly to two incredibly important themes, which in my unscholarly estimation get to the very heart of what it means to redeem time.
The first is quoted directly above–“understanding what the will of the Lord is.” For many, and for most of us at some point or another in life, that concept is even more abstruse than the issue at hand, which nevertheless I hope it might illuminate to some degree. How exactly are we to be expected fully to understand the will of the Lord, when we can’t even understand our own will oftentimes, and when there exist so many prospects and potentialities in the wide-open, indeterminate future? In the life of each Christian, seeking and desiring and living in the will of God presents certainly a very real struggle.
It does help somewhat, however, if we cease to think of God’s will as being revealed in some sort of wispy emotional certainty, in what makes the most sense to rationality or practicality or progress, or simply in whatever our talents and interests tend towards. Scripture presents a starkly different picture of God’s will, and one that is much more solid and clear. Biblically, the concept includes (but is certainly not limited to) serving Christ rather than men (Eph. 6:6), living lives of purity towards sanctification (1 Thess. 4), giving thanks for all things and in every situation (1 Thess. 5:18), and putting foolishness to silence by doing good (1 Pet. 2:15). We are told, by way of consolation and encouragement, that even in our very weakest moments, when we can’t understand God’s will and don’t know how to pray for it, the very Spirit intercedes on our behalf, that the will of God would be accomplished in our lives (Romans 8:26-27).
Yet, we must make decisions each day, we must live our lives, and in the day-to-day, it often feels less obvious how these biblical mandates are meant to play out in our indiviualities. Do I serve Christ and do good and become sanctified by driving through McDonald’s for dinner, or by eating a fresh salad and taking an evening stroll? And though one can, perhaps, maintain a general opinion as to which option is truly more pleasing to God, are there not circumstances in which He would be better pleased by the opposite answer?
This is where the second explanatory concept in the Ephesians 5 passage comes into play, for directly after we are told to redeem the time and to understand God’s will, Paul further illustrates just how we ought to do so. He uses the earthly picture of marriage as the foundation for and the explanation of true Christian community, submitting to one another under the headship of Christ, our husband. There is so much involved in this idea that even another lengthy essay could hardly contain it all (though Wendell Berry does quite an adequate job in his beautiful and edifying, “The Body and the Earth”).
For my own purposes, I can only provide an account of what this idea has meant in my life, and of how community has allowed me to learn to hope (even against hope) for the redemption of my time and for the will of God. Only by experiencing life with other Christians, by submitting to their love and correction, by experiencing their joys and pains, by bearing with their flaws (and overflowing with gratitude at the way they bear with my flaws so often), and by sharing with them God’s work in my life–only in this kind of open and unashamed communion with Christ and with my brothers and sisters in Christ have I begun to learn what it means to live in the moment, and to make daily life a matter of conscience. And I am convinced that in these modes of being, one might just find the meaning of redeeming the time by understanding the will of God.
I hesitate to explain further what I mean, knowing that I’m far from capable of doing justice to those phrases by my halting elucidations, and fully cognizant of the fact that I have yet to attain a lifestyle that bears witness to these ideals. …