We all experience what we call “Time” without really understanding it or generally thinking about it. What we tend to recognize is the changes we observe and undergo (whether we like them or not) as time moves along (or perhaps as we move through time?). Anyone who makes the effort to stop and ponder oneself and the actual experience of living and learning can come to appreciate how time impacts our sense of identity—namely, that we stumble upon our human finitude, frailty, disposition toward sin and inherent uncertainty in life. This awareness is a gift of God which can lead us away from playing with time and utilizing it to seek to know God who created us.
There is famous story about the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, which is worth retelling here. As he and his supporters were gearing up for him to run for reelection for President as the Republican nominee in 1864 this was strong opposition group in Congress who did not want him to run again. This group was made up of prominent Republican Congressmen. They had been told by Chase, his Secretary of Treasury, that Lincoln’s management of the Presidential Cabinet was in disarray and that he had been derelict in his duty of consulting them on critical matters of State.
These Congressmen wanted him to declare that he would not run again for re-election so that other candidates more in line with their agenda could be nominated. They had been secretly plotting to work to get Chase, then Secretary of Treasury, to be the Republican candidate for the election of 1864. The core leadership of this faction of Republican Congressman demanded a meeting with Lincoln and so he called them into the White House and patiently heard their grievances; which were that his own Cabinet members had stated he was basically incompetent as the leader of the Executive branch of the Federal government.
After listening to these Congressmen and carefully noting their main charges against him, he suggested that they meet again the next day. To that meeting he also invited his entire Cabinet. After making a few remarks, he stated the charges the Congressmen had made, answered them point by point (acknowledging that he had not always done his best as Chief Executive) and then asked each member of the Cabinet directly about these charges. Each Cabinet member was given the opportunity to directly confirm or deny the charges against the President and each one denied the validity of the charges and specifically affirmed that they had been consulted about important matters of State prior to the President making decisions—including the one Cabinet member (Chase) who had first secretly come to the Congressmen with this “scandalous” information about President Lincoln! Needless to say, this diffused the situation quickly and he had no opposition as the Republican nominee for President in 1864.
(For an excellent retelling of this whole dramatic story see Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald [Simon & Schuster:1995], pp.400-406.)
This is a most remarkable story and President Lincoln was a remarkable man. He was known for his tactfulness, wisdom and wit as he navigated the uncharted political and military challenges the Civil War thrust onto the United States. I would suggest that he had learned the folly of playing with time. And in his conduct personally and as President this is demonstrated in so many different ways.
None of us were given a choice to be conceived or born. Nor were we consulted as to who our parents would be or when we would live. (The Mormon doctrine of the preexistence of souls and the Hindu concept of reincarnation notwithstanding!) Nor do we have any control over whether we live long enough to grow from being infants and into childhood. These decisions are made by our Creator or by the actions of other people. We are confronted with life as we find it and are given a choice: Will we take the hardships inherent in life as a spur to seek what is true, right and beautiful or settle for playing with time.
The Lord Jesus told a story that is of great importance. I know that this one is particularly important because it is repeated (in slightly different forms) in Matthew and Luke. That is, the parable of the “talents” (see Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). The term “talent” literally referred to a certain amount of money. The Lord consistently utilized things people saw or used every day and turned them into metaphors to describe the dynamics of the unseen Kingdom. Thus historical Christian teachers have defined the Lord’s intended meaning of “talent” in various ways (or to refer to different things we utilize in this life): Wealth, natural abilities, specialized knowledge or skills (what we call “talents”).
I would suggest that while all these are reasonable applications and parallels to draw, based on the parable, that perhaps our Lord had something more fundamental in mind. Namely, time—the choices we all make about how we use our time on earth. Certainly, our wealth, natural abilities, any specialized knowledge or skill or training are what we positively utilize, neglect or abuse but those choices are secondary expressions of the more fundamental choices we make each waking hour regarding how to use the time we live on earth. We are faced each day with the basic choice of seeking to honor God or waste our lives on foolish pursuits. The whole book of Proverbs pounds away at the this basic point and clarifies what the consequences of choosing wisdom or folly result in.
That we all get to make our choices is clear in Scripture. Some are “fools” while some learn to practice righteousness and wise living. And for each person the appropriate consequences for the choices made will come—either in this life on earth or in the next (or perhaps an admixture of both). Human character, whatever shape it has been formed into, will be expressed in behavior and attitudes toward God and one’s treatment of others. No one can escape from this “spiritual law.” Is this not why it is wise to make the living God one’s refuge (Proverbs 18:10)?
We have all been entrusted by God with our selves and the many choices we can make within the confines of our short lives on earth. That we are alive or that some of us are granted 40 or 60 or 80 years to live on earth is God’s gift. What people do in the body will be the basis upon which God will judge every human being (see Psalm 62:11-12; Proverbs 24:10-12; Romans 2:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15; 22:12-13). I think that this declaration is designed to give all people’s both a warning and a promise so that we may respond to the living God who created us with faith and learn to be wise.