Happy New Year 2013

There is this old joke about a man who asks God (this is not a true story), “Is it true that with you one day is like 1000 years?” God says, “Yes.” The man then asks, “So would mean that one dollar to you is like a billion?” God says, “Well, with inflation and this fiscal cliff thing, it’s more like a trillion.” The man pauses and then asks, “So… can I borrow a dollar?” God answers, “Tomorrow.” I said it that it was an old joke; I didn't say it was particularly funny. But it does point to a fundamental problem that we have when dealing with God. Time.

Everything we do is regulated and controlled by time. We eat, sleep, go to work, and come home based on a timed schedule. One of the crazy things about this time of year is that we get off schedule— I'm not sure exactly when they will pick up my trash this week because they are on their "holiday schedule" (which means they come when they get around to it). We define everything by the past, present and future. Time. We can’t understand life without thinking in terms of time.

That’s our problem when thinking about God. God is timeless and eternal; He is at the same time the first and the last (Rev 21:6). God is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 41:13). That means that he goes forever back backwards and forwards. But that’s not even right, because that still describes God in terms of time, and that is concession to our time limitation. God is timeless.

I remember Lou Holtz talking about an opposing team’s star player, “He’s so fast that when he turns out the light at night, he’s in bed before it gets dark.” Obviously, Holtz was trying to be funny, but that in a sense is true about God. God is not only everywhere; He is everywhere at the same time. We know that the light we see from the stars at night has traveled thousands of years to reach us... when we see their light, we are looking at the past. And yet God is there and here at the same time. He is in the past and the present simultaneously. God is both before the beginning of time and after the end of time... at the same time.

That’s really important for us, because that assures us that God doesn't change. We can count on God always being God because He is timeless. God told Malachi, “I, the Lord, do not change” (Mal 3:6). Jesus is same "yesterday, today and forever" (Heb 13:7-8). We can count on God because God doesn't change "like shifting shadows" (Jam 1:17). We don’t have to worry about God changing, because He doesn't. Sure, God makes concessions to our brokenness and sometimes changes how He relates to us-- animal sacrifices and a special priesthood show a change in the law (Heb 7:12).  But the nature of the God behind the law and requirements hasn't changed. God is timeless.

But then God deals with us in time. God seeks a relationship with us in the present, in our now. The God who cannot be limited by time deals with His creation as if He were. The Bible is filled with stories that suggest that the immutable God changes in relationship with his children.

  • There was a time when God “regretted he had made human beings” (Gen 6:6). The word “regretted” means “repented” or “changed his mind,” and he decided that he will destroy the world that he had created. But then because of the righteous Noah, He changes His mind about that.
  • When Israel breaks the second commandment even before Moses makes it off the mountain, God is so angry He is ready to again destroy his people and start all over with Moses (Exo 32:9-10). But then Moses intercedes and God changes His mind.
  • God later decides that He will send Moses and Israel to the Promised Land but that God Himself will not go with them. Why? He thinks that He may change His mind and destroy the rebellious nation (Exo 33:1-3). But then he changes his mind about that and goes with them.
  • The prophets had a job because God was willing to change His mind. For example, Jonah brief message to Nineveh was “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4). That message is pretty clear, right? But Nineveh repents and God changes his mind and spares the city.

Is God really changing his mind here? Is this (as some suggest) simply symbolic, accommodative, anthropomorphic language to help us understand what we can't understand?  Maybe.  Or is this (as some suggest) God choosing to limit His knowledge of our future choices and destiny in order to be in relationship with us in the present?  Could be?  The point is that God is presented in scripture as One who changes His mind in keeping with the choices and actions of those with whom His has relationship because that is how relationships work!   God is immutable-- He keeps his promises and His word doesn't change. God is loving-- He lives with us in our present in a real relationship with us.

This change from 2012 to 2013 is a big deal for us. We read or watch the year end retrospectives to remember the events of 2012; we also read watch the “what will be big in 2013” predictions to get us ready for the coming year. We’re now trying to get used to the new normal schedule after all the changes during the holidays. I’m trying to get used to the idea that it's really 2013, which just seems to be an awkward number.  The fact that no one sent us a free wall calendar this year and it’s still December 2012 on our kitchen cabinet isn't making things easier. But as we face this new year, we can know two important things--

  • First, God is God and God is always in control. That never changes because God never changes. He is enthroned on high even as it seems that we're plummeting off edge of the fiscal cliff. God is God and God is timeless.
  • Second, God is reaching out to us in the present to live in relationship to us. He is not distant or remote nor is He removed from the struggles and trials of our present lives. God is God and God is with us.

Have a happy 2013.  Hold to God's unchanging hand... and seize the day!