Happenings, News

When the clock strikes …

IN ONE of his books, Professor Thomas Oden, who will be speaking at the Aldersgate Convention (see page 1) in May 2002, argues that there are three basic problems that human beings face in life — guilt, anxiety and boredom.

As we begin another new year, with all its promises and challenges, we may have to deal with these same three emotions.

The sense of time is a uniquely human experience. In one sense, we experience time as linear. It is moving on relentlessly. One day you may look into the mirror and realise suddenly that you have grown old. You look at your past and have to accept that it is time to leave it behind. It cannot be re-lived. It is gone. Life is a one-way trip in time.

At the beginning of a new year like this, it is natural for people to look back and see how much distance has been covered already, like the way a mountain climber looks down at the path he has travelled. As the past is assessed, feelings of guilt may be common. One should not have done this or that. Or said those words. These feelings of regret and guilt can also be directed at what one should have done or said but failed to do so because of ignorance, indifference, fear, anger, or hatred. Sins of omission and commission are noted and become the placard-carrying protesters in our hearts and minds. They may protest loudly or they may march silently.

One could respond to them by trying to fight or ignore them. Either way, they become the masters of one’s life, setting the agenda, determining one’s occupations and preoccupations. It is possible that someone’s life can be summarised as a lifetime’s attempt to fight or deny one’s guilt. This can take many forms such as trying to do good or being defensive. A lifetime can be wasted in this tragic enterprise. There is a better way.

God has offered forgiveness through Jesus Christ. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn. 1:9) The past is not denied but it is healed. The festering boils of the past become healed scars by the grace of God. Then we can look at the past and notice the good things, the blessings, and the gracious hand of God. We are free to look at time and life gone by with humility and gratitude.

Standing at the threshold of the new year, we can also feel anxious. It is like driving on an unfamiliar, dangerous and constantly bending mountain road. You don’t know what lies ahead. No one knows. And no one can guarantee your well-being and safety. This is perhaps why new year revellers let their hair down and engage in noisy merry-making in crowds, as if to drown their hidden anxieties about the uncertain future.

Standing at the threshold of the new year, we can also feel anxious. It is like driving on an unfamiliar, dangerous and constantly bending mountain road. You don’t know what lies ahead. No one knows. And no one can guarantee your well-being and safety. This is perhaps why new year revellers let their hair down and engage in noisy merry-making in crowds, as if to drown their hidden anxieties about the uncertain future.

There is another angle to this anxiety. When we pass chronological milestones, when the clock strikes, we are reminded (consciously or unconsciously) that our lifetime on earth has an end. Each strike of the clock brings us nearer to our death. The philosopher Ernest Becker has described all culture as an attempt to deny death. People try to surround themselves with symbols of immortality such as wealth and power. It is possible that people may respond to anxiety the same way they respond to guilt. They may waste a lifetime trying to deny or fight their anxiety. Their lives become anxiety-reducing strategies that cannot deliver at the end of the day.

Here again, God speaks to our anxieties and promises to be with us. He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5). He will not allow anything to separate us from His love (Rom 8:38-39). If we believe Him, we can have the peace that passes all understanding.

Time does not only feel like a progressive line into the future, but also as a repeated circle. The cycles of time (daily, weekly, monthly and yearly) bring us again and again into familiar territory. Here is where we face the problem of boredom. The repetitive cycles, instead of nourishing us, bring the despair of boredom, and people join the philosopher of Ecclesiastes in declaring with a sigh that “there is nothing new under the sun”. Life becomes meaningless drudgery, a “chasing after the wind”. Life lived under the sun becomes crowded with little ambitions that are far removed from the real journey of the soul. Hence the emptiness and boredom.

One can also waste one’s lifetime trying to keep one’s boredom away. A person can fly from one excitement to another. He can search frantically for entertainment in the hope that it can solve his basic problem of boredom. His boredom is hidden in his restlessness, and time is filled with boredom-reducing strategies.

Moments when the clock strikes, such as the beginning of a year, are good times to reflect on the direction and quality of our lives. Busyness is a modern curse and people can be busy dealing with their guilt, anxiety and boredom, in unhelpful ways. Lifetimes can be tragically wasted. We live in a restless generation. And restlessness can be disguised in religious clothes.

Let us not be victims of unresolved guilt, anxiety and boredom. We must bring them to God who alone can bring them to rest. The Bible speaks of the three virtues of faith, hope and love (1 Cor 13:13). Faith in God’s mercy deals decisively with guilt while hope in His promises relieves us of anxiety. And love dispels all boredom.

Let us live this new year with the restfulness that comes from God, and do away with the restlessness that comes from letting time pass by without experiencing the faith, hope and love that divine grace freely offers.

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