Another year has passed

A friend sent me an SMS today, “A child would be very happy when the year is added, but a wise one will say, ‘I’m losing yet another year’ (Stephen Tong, Time and Wisdom).” She then added, “Time is short, let us use this God given treasure wisely.” What a fitting call to begin a new year! For indeed, when a new year comes, what it really means is that the time that remains for us to live is again lost by another year. The call to use time wisely is merely a logical consequence of the realisation of the fact.

When we ponder about time, we cannot help being perplexed by its mystery. Augustine in Confessions writes:

For what is time? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who can even comprehend it in thought or put the answer into words? Yet is it not true that in conversation we refer to nothing more familiarly or knowingly than time? And surely we understand it when we speak of it; we understand it also when we hear another speak of it.

What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know. Yet I say with confidence that I know that if nothing passed away, there would be no past time; and if nothing were still coming, there would be no future time; and if there were nothing at all, there would be no present time.

But, then, how is it that there are the two times, past and future, when even the past is now no longer and the future is now not yet? But if the present were always present, and did not pass into past time, it obviously would not be time but eternity. If, then, time present–if it be time–comes into existence only because it passes into time past, how can we say that even this is, since the cause of its being is that it will cease to be? Thus, can we not truly say that time is only as it tends toward nonbeing?

Philip Yancey puts nicely Augustine’s analysis of the mystery of time, “… a past that has ceased to exist, a future that does not yet exist, and a present that has no duration.” If we can wish another a happy new year, can we not also wish him/her a happy new day, a happy new hour, a happy new second, … even a happy new millisecond, and so on? What differentiates time from eternity is that time passes–in the speed of infinity.

Augustine’s understanding of the fleetness of time echoes that of the Psalmist, who says,

“Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is!”
Psalm 39:4 (RSV)

It is through the realisation that our lives are fleeting that we could live our lives wisely. The first day in a year might be a proper moment to remind ourselves again of that fact. But we need this realisation every moment. As Franz Rosenzweig puts it, “Every act should be performed as though all eternity depended on it.”

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