Embracing Finitude

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken June 1, 2003

King Solomon said that there is “a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Eccles. 3:1): a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time for war, and a time for peace. What Solomon did not say is that there is time for everything. He said that there was a time for everything, but he didn't exactly say that there was time for everything. And sometimes it seems like there isn't enough time.

I have had plenty of reminders of this during the past year, when as a staff we have been somewhat short-handed. There have been days so full of pastoral appointments that I have needed to be two places at once. There have been days I have had to run home from work to get one of my kids to whatever practice they have that day of the week. And when I say “run home,” I mean it literally: I have had to sprint through Center City, briefcase in hand and tie flapping in the wind. Often I have thought to myself, “If only I had one more hour in the day, or one more day in the week.” Only yesterday I was racing around to perform a wedding; pray at an alumni luncheon; get people to baseball, ballet, and birthday parties; and also find time to prepare this Window on the World, which I did on my laptop while waiting for the end of ballet practice.

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle I have been trying (though not always succeeding) to recognize my limits, to “embrace finitude,” as I like to put it. “Embrace finitude,” I say to myself while waiting for the computer to print, frustrated that it does not operate at the speed of thought. “Embrace finitude,” I say, when I'm not sure how I will get everything done, or when I will have time to finish my sermon. “Embrace finitude,” I ought to say (but usually don't) when traffic keeps me from getting where I need to go, when I want to get there.

There are valuable spiritual lessons to learn from not being able to do everything we want to do. For starters, it reminds us that we are not God. Now this may seem like an obvious truth, but it to me it does not come easily. I would like to know everything I want to know, be everywhere I want to be, and do everything I want to do. But I can't. And this is all part of not being God. Only God can be in more than one place and do more than one thing at one time. He alone is all-present, all-powerful, and all-knowing. Embracing finitude means knowing that he's God, and I'm not. It means accepting my limitations as a sign that I am only a creature, not the Creator.

Embracing finitude also means living by faith. I need to trust that God has given me enough time to do the things he has actually called me to do. This doesn't mean that I have enough time to do all the things I want to do. Nor does it mean that there won't be times when, through my own negligence and sin, I won't have enough time. If I squander the time God has given me, then I won't have all the time I need to do what I'm supposed to do. But I still need to trust God for time as much as for everything else. Rather than stressing out over all the things I don't think I have time to do, I need to live by faith, trusting God to give me the grace to do what truly needs to be done.

I also need to trust God to take care of the things I don't have time to look after. As a pastor, I get plenty of practice with this. Every week there are needs in the church that I am unable to meet personally. Some of them are needs I am not equipped to meet anyway. Others are needs that I'm equipped to meet, but not called to meet. Fortunately, God has made us one body with many gifts. No single Christian is designed or called to meet anyone else's total needs. Only God can do that. But God uses his people—with all the variety of their gifts—to help do his work in people's lives. It doesn't all depend on me. When there is a need, often there is someone else who can meet it better than I can. So I simply need to trust the sovereign God to take care of all the things I am unable to accomplish.

There is one more thing to learn from our limitations, which is that we are made for another world. Why do we get so frustrated when we don't have time to do all the things we want to do? In part it is because we are destined to live forever. As the Scripture says, “God has set eternity in the hearts of men” (Eccles. 3:11). But right now we are still living in a world where time is running out, a world doomed for destruction. As the Scripture also says, “The time is short” (1 Cor. 7:29). And every day takes us one step closer to the end. Though we do not like to admit it, we know that this is true. And because we were made to be immortal, we rebel against the limits of time. We are longing for the dawn of a longer day, when we will open our arms to receive infinity. In the meantime, finitude is like gravity: we can't escape it. So why not embrace it?

©2018 Tenth Presbyterian Church.

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