Before Time and in Time
Coming up with a title for a particular inspirational reflection is fun and useful for me. It may do nothing for the reader, but it is my chance to figure out in a very succinct way what I thought I was doing in the longer reflection piece that I write. Sometimes, I have a title before I write one word of the essay. And sometimes I write something only then to figure out what I was trying to say. I realize the title is not essential, but it can be a pointer to my thoughts.
The title for this inspirational piece came when I was reading the first couple verses of Psalm 90. They are familiar words for anyone who has spent much time in the world of the Psalms. The words are the Psalmist’s address to God. Some interesting theology emerges in these words, which I will share and then offer some reflection.
The Psalmist opens the Psalm by speaking to God, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” (90:1) Another familiar translation says that the Lord is our refuge. I like “dwelling place;” it sounds more contemporary and common usage. What intrigues me here is the affirmation that it is God who is a “dwelling place.” Normally we think about dwelling place as a real place---a building or something like that. We do not usually think about a person being a dwelling place, even God as a person. Perhaps the Psalmist is not thinking about God in personal terms in this passage.
I think the Psalmist thinks God is a dwelling place in the sense that the Christian Bible talks about humans having their being in God’s very Being. In other words we exist because God chooses us to exist---in short, God creates us. We are dependent on God for our very existence and being. In that sense we “dwell” within God’s Being.
If we are dependent on God for our existence, then God existed before we did. A Creator necessarily pre-exists the creation. This is certainly the point of the Genesis creation stories. In the beginning when God created…” (Gen. 1:1) The writer of Psalm 90 makes this even more clear in the second verse of that Psalm. The Psalmist proclaims, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (90:2)
With this second verse, the Psalmist argues conclusively that God existed before time---before the mountains were brought forth or even before the earth was formed. This argument suggests that time begins when God begins creating the world. With creation we now can understand there is a before and after, which is how time is measured. All this says God is before time.
But that is only half the story. Those of us who took a philosophy or religion class in college may have bumped into Deism. That is the perspective, which suggests God is like a clockmaker. God created a clock (the world), wound it up and then stepped back never to intervene. This is not the experience of God most of us who have faith think is true. Our God is not only before time, but God is present in time and works with us in time. God is not an absent landlord!
If God were only a philosophical principle, I don’t think I would be a believer. I am not sure we experience a principle. My experience is an experience of a God who is very present in time and in my life. I sense God is Presence. My way of expressing it theologically is to say God is both Creator and creating. Creation is an ongoing process. It has begun, but is not complete. In that vein evolution makes perfect sense to me.
I also realize it is not that simple. I cannot say simply that God creates and is creating. I believe that God asks us and expects us also to create and be creative. This is what it means to be created in the image of God. As God is creator and creating, so are we the same. In fact, it makes sense to say that we are co-creators with the Holy One.
In that sense we are partly responsible for where the world is heading. We are responsible for what happens and for what will happen. I am disappointed and saddened when I think how irresponsible I have sometimes been and how others have been. It could easily be argued that humans are making a mess instead of a miracle. I am sure God had in mind a miracle when God created the world and you and every other human being.
This affirmation is why I think it is so important to take theology seriously. Theology won’t save the world, but God can and we might. This is where my reflection takes me as I think about the God who is before time and in time. I conclude by saying it is about time we became as responsible as we can be. We have miracles to make. Let’s not make any more messes!