Amy and I are a bit late to the party. We’ve only just started watching episodes of the hit British TV show Doctor Who. We’re catching up on season (series) seven through our cable’s On Demand options, and I received the full second season (the first season with David Tennant as the Doctor) for Christmas. So little by little we’re introducing ourselves to the fantastic world of time travel, space travel, and the heroics of the universe’s defender known simply as “The Doctor.”
If you’re not up on the story, the basic plot of the series is fairly simple. The Doctor is an alien (who looks like a human) from the planet Gallifrey known as a Time Lord. Using his own personal ship called the TARDIS (which is permanently disguised as an old blue “police box” that is much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside), the Doctor (along with human friends and companions) is able to travel anywhere throughout all of space and time. He has two hearts (instead of one), is around one thousand years old, and is able to side step death by periodically “regenerating” into a brand new bodily form (so far at least a form that is always a British man), which is why Peter Capaldi (the newest actor to play the Doctor) is referred to as the twelfth doctor (or thirteenth or fourteenth depending on the calculations), even though he is portraying the same man, the same character, the same person as all the other actors before him. He continuously uses his knowledge, power, wisdom, and a good dose of alien technology (i.e. the sonic screwdriver) to battle menacing alien races (like the Daleks) and to rescue whole worlds from utter destruction in the past, present, and future. The Doctor is the great hope of worlds and dimensions both near and far, but especially of earth which seems to have a special place in his heart(s). In speaking of humanity the doctor is known to say things like, “these people are dear to me and under my protection.”
That summary is as science fiction as science fiction gets, and if you’re not a fan of sci-fi, then it probably sounds really bizarre! But, as strange as it may sound and as out of this world as the story is, I, oddly enough, think it really faces the reality of our world pretty bluntly. At its core the series really strikes a raw nerve. It hits at the heart of something that is so crucial to the human experience: our life in time and our deepest longings to be free from time. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote that, “Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.” We want to stop that river from flowing, or at the very least we want to swim to the river bank and walk back upstream or ahead downstream. But we can’t.
That’s why any story about time travel is always so fascinating, right? Whether it’s Doctor Who, Back to the Future, or even H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, readers and watchers alike have always been captivated by the idea and possibility of leaving our world behind and jetting backwards or forwards into the past or future. Somewhere deep inside of all of us is this inkling that there are things in our past that really need to be fixed and things in our future that we’re totally unprepared for and that await us just out of sight. But here we are, stuck in this moment. As Rich Mullins wrote in one of his last songs, “we can’t see what’s ahead and we can’t get free from what we’ve left behind.”
We are haunted by the reality that time is slipping away, but that somehow it shouldn’t be. We are terrorized by the truth that deep down we think we are meant to live forever, yet all the while we see our friends and family members dying around us, as our own bodies continue to age and deteriorate. Our spirits long for the freedom of forever, for God has “placed eternity in the heart of man” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), yet we are all too aware that, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16), and we’re not sure how much longer we have left for “man does not know his time” (Ecclesiastes 9:12). Recognizing this reality we are instructed to “number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12), and every time we pass a cemetery we see the stone markers reminding us that the number of our days is always counting down to zero.
This chilling reality is especially felt as one year closes and the other begins. Few things force us to meditate on how quickly time is slipping away and how quickly the future is hurdling toward us than New Years Eve. It’s a night of celebration, confetti, resolutions, and a really big crowd in Times Square, and yet the cheer of the clock striking midnight typically doesn’t last for very long. Neither do our good intentioned resolutions. They are almost always forgotten within a few weeks (or a few hours), and we’re left with the regret for things we never accomplished last year and the anxiety of approaching bills and tax season. Then before we know it the year that had seemed so promising at 11:59 on New Year’s Eve has passed and we’re right back where we started from on December 31.
Time marches on, and that’s a problem.
Or at least it would be, were it not for the gospel
The gospel is a triumphant declaration that bursts into our passing moments and completely upends and disrupts the hourglass settings of life. The good news of Jesus Christ is a message about a God who exists outside of time, who speaks and acts in time, to save men and women who are trapped by time, so that they ultimately live beyond the constraints of time.
The gospel crashes the clock. It’s a message that redefines the mundane minutes that keep ticking away. While it is true that Psalm 103:15-16 tells us that our lives are fragile and our time is passing, it also tells us something else. David doesn’t stop with that mournful message. He’s no nihilist. There is still hope for flower-fading people. Psalm 103:17 turns an amazing corner. It screams with hope because we may be imprisoned in the present, “but from everlasting to everlasting, the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children!” The hope of the gospel and the great hope for people like you and me who feel the weight of time’s passage is that Jesus Christ is the one and only Lord of Time.
Hear Moses’ rock-solid declaration of faith: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:1-2). Hear Isaiah’s question: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 40:28). Hear Jesus startle the old apostle John with the roaring words that flow like Niagara: “’I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty…I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:8,17-18). Hear the anonymous apostle of Hebrews announce that “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). In a world where time keeps slipping away, our God rules and reigns over it and beyond it!
That is a story worth our heart’s affection and our mind’s attention forever. Jesus is the Great Physician, and he has said that it is sin sick people like you and me who really need a Doctor (Matthew 9:10-13), a Doctor from another world, who is beyond the reach and realm of time, who can’t and won’t be stopped by death – who can, will, and has stepped into our world to save the day. Thankfully, this deliverer who loves us and has placed us under his protection is no fictional television character. He is real, he is present, and he is in charge.
This is my hope on New Year’s Eve. I can look forward to the stroke of midnight and the promise of tomorrow not because an oversized disco ball is going to light up in front of millions of people, or because I’m confident I’ll keep every resolution I make, nor because I know for a fact that 2014 will be far better than 2013. In fact, this next year may be far worse, and there may be untold tragedies and suffering just over the horizon. But I’m confident about the new year because as soon as I step into tomorrow I am utterly convinced that Jesus Christ is already there waiting for me, promising never to leave me, and whispering that the good news of his rescue assures me that where he is I will be (John 14:3) for “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6).
Those words from the shepherd psalmist really are astounding. They tell me the greatest truth in the world. I really am meant to live forever, really live forever. This is no fantasy. In a billion billion years I will be alive and doing quite well, because I will be with Jesus. The greatest truth in all of reality isn’t just for British actors like David Tennant, or Matt Smith, or Peter Capaldi. It’s for simple ol’ Cade Campbell, a Mississippi boy who was born in the late twentieth century and who through Jesus Christ will still be enjoying life for twenty more centuries and beyond. For now I’m trapped among the slipping seconds, stuck on the wrong side of eternity, but that will not always be the case. As C.S. Lewis remarked in The Weight of Glory, “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door…But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in.
That’s where our gaze has to be directed. That’s where our attention has to be focused. Our bodies may be stuck in time for the moment, but our eyes are looking further up and further in, toward a distant shore, to a “land that is fairer than day” that by faith we can see afar.
The end of the final volume in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia (“The Last Battle”) has the children of the stories’ adventures standing in the presence of the great lion Aslan, alive once more in Narnia. C.S. Lewis closes their tale in the final paragraph by telling us that, “this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
It’s New Years Eve. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I’m another year older, but I’m celebrating – celebrating the fact that this is how my own story will end, or rather, how my own story will really begin.