The dominating time-piece is nothing if not thought-provoking. British inventor John Taylor’s “Chronophage” (literally ‘time eater’ from the Greek chronos and phageo) keeps watch outside Cambridge’s Taylor Library of Corpus Christi College.(1) A foreboding metal grasshopper with an ominous chomping mouth appears to devour each minute with eerie pleasure and constancy. The toll of the hour is marked by the clanging of a chain into a tiny wooden coffin, which then slams shut—”the sound of mortality,” says Taylor.(2) The pendulum also speeds up sporadically, then slows to a near halt, only to race ahead again as if somehow calculating the notion that time sometimes flies, sometimes stands still. The invention, according to Taylor, is meant to challenge our tendency to view time itself as we might view a clock. “Clocks are boring. They just tell the time, and people treat them as boring objects,” he added. “This clock actually interacts with you”—indeed, striking viewers with the idea that time is nothing to take for granted.(3)
The Christian worldview is one that recognizes at the deepest level that something about humanity is not temporal. Easter, in fact, is the celebration that this is not just a suspicion, but a reality. Christians believe in eternal dwellings, a day when tears will be no more, and in one who is preparing a house of rooms and welcome.(4) And yet, we also very much live with the distinct experience of these promises within time. Christ is not merely the one who will be with us in all eternity, the one who will dry our eyes at time’s end. Christians believe he is also alive and among us today, welcoming a kingdom that is both present and approaching. “Remember, I am with you always,” ends one of account of the life of Jesus, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). For the Christian, all of time is filled with the hope of resurrection, even as it is filled with Christ himself.
Why then, I wonder, are there moments when time seems so oppressive, the hope of eternity a distant glimmer, the presence of a resurrected Christ beside the daily pendulum an inapplicable promise? If the Christian life is about moving closer and closer to the glory of the resurrected Christ, why is there not more light and less darkness, a more vibrant Church and less grumbling, greater outreach and less greed, followers who look more like Jesus and less like the world around them? The expectation in the life of a Christian is that there will be a dramatic difference, or at least steady progression, of lives transformed by Christ. But instead we often find little difference—or we find the opposite of progression, so that both inside and outside of the church people are left wondering: Where is transformation as all this time marches onward?
John Taylor’s menacing grasshopper is an apt image for such a confession. Time marches on oppressively, unapologetically, while the promise of “being transformed into [Christ’s likeness] from one degree of glory to another” seems to remain a distant mirage.(5) Christians begin to doubt. Skeptics point out the obvious fantasy of faith. *But perhaps something in Taylor’s clock also challenges this fearful view of time and transformation. Time is indeed a linear progression, marching onward in precise increments, but our experience of time is far less like this. We are at times startled by its passing, other times painfully aware of its tedious movement. We interact with time knowing that some minutes are fuller than others, but that time is always more than a linear, monotonous experience.
Similarly, when I think of transformation, I often think of dramatic change: an acorn turned into an oak tree, the apostle Paul changed from zealous tormentor to zealous Christian, Lazarus moved from death to life. And I believe there is indeed something quite like this that takes place in the life of one willing to follow resurrected Christ—a creature who actually stops being one thing in order to become something else. It should not be surprising that around the world we find Christians in the most unlikely places, administering aid, speaking hope, exhibiting this change of which the gospel speaks. For clothed in Christ’s perfect nature, the nature of a person is truly changed. Though we stand before God imperfect and discouraged, it is the Son the Father now sees. And this part of Christian transformation is as dramatic as it is complete, allowing us—and the world—to stand assured of God’s work within.
But this is not to say that God is finished working. To the one who has been united with Christ, the daily indwelling of God is a gift! Within the Christian’s experience of time, the message of the gospel is all the more transformational, the vicariously human Christ is our moral influence daily, and through the Holy Spirit we are being further transformed into his image. This kind of transformation is neither the dramatic change often expected, nor the steady linear progression for which we might hope. Like Paul himself, we can find ourselves doing the things we don’t want to do, falling back into mindsets that need to be renewed, imitating a broken world more than we imitate Christ. Transformation at these times seems far less like Lazarus rising from the grave and more like a would-be butterfly refusing to come out of its cocoon.
But even here, Christ is surely near, the eternal urging the world of souls to see the potential even in this very moment: “The intermediate hope—” writes N.T. Wright, “the things that happen in the present time to implement Easter and anticipate the final day—are always surprising because, left to ourselves, we lapse into a kind of collusion with entropy, acquiescing in the general belief that things may be getting worse but that there’s nothing much we can do about them. And we are wrong. Our task in the present… is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day.”(6)
That is to say, Easter is being implemented. Whether we make our bed in the depths, whether we fall repeatedly or seem to be moving backward, God is both near and at work, the reality of the resurrection working its way into every ticking minute. In the experience of time before us is the radical promise of both the intermediate hope and transformation and the gift of looking glory full in the face. By the power of the Spirit, God takes the most wretched of creatures and changes it into the likeness of Christ, the most beautiful creature. Whether time is flying or standing still, for the worst of us, even menacing grasshopper types, this is indeed very good news.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Maev Kennedy, “Beware the time-eater: Cambridge University’s Monstrous New Clock,” The Gaurdian, September 18, 2008.
(2) Robert Barr, “Fantastical New Clock Even Tells Time,” MSNBC, September 19, 2008.
(4) Luke 16:9, Revelation 21:4, John 14:2.
(5) 2 Corinthians 3:18.
(6) N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (New York: Harper, 2008), 29-30.