This post was first published as a Classical Conversations Connected guest article.
The Problem of Time
Before you is your week, with your schedule of all that you promise yourself you will accomplish. Looking at your calendar you think you just might get it all done with minimal tears. In fact, you even look forward to what it might be. But behind you is the past week, a week of struggle and missed goals, of unfinished projects, of nearly-but-not-quite-done homework and chores, a week of exhaustion and tears. Somehow the wonderful promise of homeschooling has again stretched you thin and the laundry still sits in piles. If only you had enough time, but sometimes you wonder if eternity itself will be enough to get it all done. What are we to do with the problem of time? How can we redeem time?
First, what is time? A strange question, really. Time for us is like the sea to a fish, we live in time, talk about time, even complain about too little time, but we usually don’t think about what it is because time is entirely prevalent. Time is fundamental to all creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) Creation is bound by time. Time is the fundamental reality of our lives. When God brought cosmos to chaos He did so by establishing time, by separating the light from the dark, by creating night and day. Though we only live in the present we search the past and look to the future. Time is both life and death; time proceeds irrevocably and inevitably, and at some future point is our death. Philosophers have struggled with the “problem of time” for ages. What do we do with time?
On the one hand we feel time’s unconquerable power over our plans. Truly there are only so many hours in a day. On the other hand we deal with an overwhelming number of things to do, to learn, and to teach. There is a pervasive futility of life, and of seemingly countless repetitions of each day, each demand, each goal; we seem to come back to the same things again and again. An ancient and wise king once wrote:
All things are full of labor;
Man cannot express it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor the ear filled with hearing.
That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which it may be said,
“See, this is new”?
If there is nothing new then what are we to do?
Where is our solution to time, where is our hope? As Christian homeschoolers we want the best for our chirldren. We want them to grow in knowledge and virtue. We want them to know and enjoy God forever. We look to the future, to Christ’s return, to the coming Kingdom; we look to those things and we find great hope. But we also live in this world, in the present time, in the time in which God has placed us. We are toiling in a creation that groans for salvation, but we must also recognize this world is a gift to us and that God’s intention is not for our escape, rather it is a story of redemption and transformation. How is it then that we educators play a role in that redemption story? How do we participate in the redemption of the present as well as the future?
When Christ died and rose again the curse of death was broken. But notice the day he rose:
Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. (John 20:1)
Christ rose on the first day of the week. He rose on the day after the Sabbath, on the “eighth day” as it were. He rose on a work day, on a day that human labor once again commenced, on a day when fields were ploughed and goods taken to market. In other words, Christ’s resurrection came not on a “religious” day, but on one of the “ordinary” days; not a holy day but a day that fully belonged to this world. A significance of Christ’s eighth day resurrection is that time was transformed. As Christians we do not merely get a new sabbath, a revised calendar, we get time itself redeemed and made new. The calendar was no longer six profane days followed by a holy seventh day, or six days of labor followed by a day of rest, rather the resurrection signaled the end of the old world and the beginning of the new. We look forward to Eternal Life not eternal rest. And in Christ new creation has already begun.
This is all quite esoteric when we are in the midst of teaching and parenting our children. How does this apply? I see at least three applications for homeschoolers: 1) Create the context within which it makes sense to proclaim the gospel, 2) Pursue virtue, and 3) Build for God’s kingdom.
Creating a Context for the Gospel
The context(s) of our lives provide us with plausibility structures that undergird our beliefs. As educators we are responsible for intentionally creating hermeneutical contexts for what we want our students to know and believe. What and how we teach can provide a framework of thought and action within which the gospel makes sense. Our modern world and its public education systems not only deny the gospel, but also deny that we have souls. Consequently we live in a world that is intent on creating a hermeneutical context in which the gospel is the height of foolishness. But our children need to hear, know, and embrace the gospel. Remember, the gospel is not a “religious” message, but a wholly radical orientation to the world that forms our humanity. Foundational to that framework is one’s understanding of truth; which should include such basics as: truth exists, truth can be known, and truth can be communicated. It must also include beauty, justice, and love, as the conditions in which truth can be understood and embraced.
Classical educators like to talk of pursuing virtue, and for good reason. Virtue has at least two important features. One is moral; the virtues are all about one’s character, one’s relative “goodness.” The other is about one’s telos or end state. These two features go hand in hand. For any of us to become fully human we must be morally virtuous, and to be morally virtuous is to be fully human. In this sense to be fully human is to be the kind of creatures God intends us to be. Our example is Christ, who showed the way by His example. As yet, we are only shadows of our future selves. As imitators of Christ we become little, walking parts of God’s new creation. As woefully imperfect imitators we set our eyes on Christ and seek the virtue He embodies.
Building for the Kingdom
Christians are participants in God’s Kingdom. Though we wait for the fullness of that Kingdom to come, nonetheless we are living in the time of kingdom. Christ came proclaiming that the Kingdom was at hand and we, the Church in time, continue to proclaim: we proclaim the goodness of creation, the gifts God has freely given, and what is eternal. We build for the Kingdom. We may not know how what we do fits into God’s plans, but like laborers on the cathedrals of old, we each do our part, and someday we will step back and see how our humble contributions were part of the plan all along.
We are in the time of the Kingdom, yes, and also in the time of New Creation. Remember the wise old king who proclaimed there is nothing new under the sun? That was certainly true in the pre-resurrection world, but now consider this from the new King:
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new […] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 21:5-6)
In Christ all things are made new, even time. Christ, our King, is both Beginning and End. In Him time itself gets its meaning. This life is not nothing, not vain. Time, that all pervading, fundamental reality of our lives has been redeemed. As children of God, as followers of Christ, we are given the privilege of participating in that redemption. Thus, while we struggle in the midst of our muddling through, we can also know and embrace the words of one who knew the true power of time’s redemption:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthian 15:58)