I heard John Piper make an audacious claim this week: There is no such thing as the present moment. As soon as you try to put your finger on the present moment, it has already become the past. He envisions time as a waterfall: a great river of God’s promises for the future above us and a deep pool of God’s faithfulness below us and we are standing in a waterfall, with those gracious promises running over us continually. As believers, we can look up and have faith in God’s future grace and look below and see evidence of God’s past faithfulness. But the present moment is constantly flowing past us.
Of course, Piper is not the first to envision the flow of water as a metaphor for time…
His simple statement that the present doesn’t exist brought fresh life to some of the cliches about the flow of time. Envisioning time passing as a flow of water reminded me how futile it is to follow the popular advice that we Seize the Day! Carpe Diem! Or, and I realize no one says this anymore but it must be included: #YOLO!*
There is this very persistent idea, both in timeless poetry and in popular culture, that the present moment is ALL that we have. Listen to the top 40 radio station for a few minutes and you’ll hear, in various forms, the message that we must live it up right now and make the most of this moment. Do any of these lyrics sound familiar?
“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22!”
“It’s Friday, Friday, Gotta get down on Friday!”
“I’m gonna swing from the chandeliers. I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist.”
The radio is full of people saying “We’ve got tonight. Who needs tomorrow?” (And those lyrics are just from the top of my head. I’m betting a quick google search could yield many more… Any come to mind?)
So for John Piper to tell me that the present moment doesn’t really exist was a minor earthquake for me. I simply cannot seize this moment and make it last any longer than any other moment. It is like clutching at running water.
How hopeless for those who think only of this life: Of filling life with pleasure or comfort or even with hard work in the hopes that it will yield good results here on Earth. There are so many ways that our impending tomorrows can steal from us the good things we have or were hoping to achieve.
But for those of us who are thinking about what happens after we die, there is great hope in the promises of the Bible:
- We wake up to a God who has promised that his mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23)! Just imagine his mercies like a powerful stream above you, washing over you every moment without stopping or slowing. You are standing under the waterfall of his grace. Look up and praise him for his promises. Read those promises and remind yourself of the rich treasure of hope that is yours!
- We go to bed at night watched over by a God who has been faithful to us each day. Great is thy faithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23)! Look just below you and see how God’s promises have come true and thank him for his faithfulness. Tell him how thankful you are for the goodness he has shown to you!
- We have the opportunity to use our time and money while on earth to store up treasures in heaven that are incorruptible (Matt. 6:20)!
- Our lives themselves are held secure in heaven with Christ (Col. 3:3), so we know that though we die from this earth we will live again!
And I’m just getting started! These are simply the promises that come most readily to mind for me. What are the promises for the future that give you the most assurance and comfort and excitement? Please share! If you don’t know any, read Col. 3:1-17 and REJOICE in future reality that is “hidden with Christ”!
This simple idea has fundamentally altered the way I look at all the pop culture artifacts around me. I keep finding examples of people who are, in a sense, preaching a present tense gospel that tells us to enjoy the present moment as much as we can, for as long as we can. There is a real fear of the future in our culture and it is no wonder so many suffer forms of anxiety about the future. Without the promises of God, it all looks so unknown and unknowable. The stories we tell, the products we sell, the music we sing all seems to suggest that our life is a steady decrescendo: the height of life seems to be the pleasures of being young and beautiful, followed by a steady decline into predictable and stable middle age, and a final descent into weakness, futility, and death.
Even WITH the promises of God, there is little that we know about what is “just around the river bend” on this earth. But we can rest assured that our life will be a crescendo of joy. That our best days are indeed yet to come. That our time on earth is a meaningful investment into an eternal and secure future. That the present moment–whether wonderful or sorrowful–will be absolutely eclipsed by the glory that is to come (Rom. 8:18, 2 Cor. 4:17). We are steadily heading towards a heavenly inheritance.
“Set your mind on things that are above, not on earthly things.” Col 3:2
*While teaching poetry, the phrase Carpe Diem came up in conversation. Many of my students were puzzled by the Latin phrase until a classmate piped up that it was “how they used to say YOLO!”