by Jack Hoehn
John Bunyan’s Christian starts his journey to the Celestial Kingdom with a huge burden, like an overweight backpack on his shoulders. This burden is so heavy and unbalanced that it threatens to tip Christian off the Way at any moment and into the deadly, foul Slough of Despair.
I suspect some of us carry a like burden, but unlike the common burden of guilt and sin that all Christians have been freed from at the cross, this burden we have picked up is “The Burden of Time,” especially deep time, long time.
Here is what the “Burden of Time” feels like. We live in the world of beauty and ugliness. We see the births of lovely children, and we see the deaths of equally lovely children. We thrill to true love and sob about sexual exploitation and abuse. And during moments of pain, suffering, tragedy, loss, disease, crime, and death we cry out with those suffering souls under Revelation’s altar, “How long, Lord, How long?”
We are burdened by the time creation is groaning. The Young-Earth-Creationist is burdened by 6,000 years of sin’s reign, and all the consequences we see in the present scheme of life.
Science comes to the Long-Term-Creationist and greatly multiplies the chronology of creation by revealing that the universe began not 6,000 years ago but 13.7 or 13.8 Billion years ago! Many of us feel this is intolerable. If we try to imagine the great controversy between good and evil going on for this long, we are overwhelmed and in dismay cry out, “No, it is impossible for a good God to permit evil for such a long period of time. I can hardly bear the evil I have seen in my time. Don’t make me believe this has been going on for billions of years.” The burden of time seems unbearable. Yet here are the facts:
|13.7±.1 BYA (Billion Years Ago)||Before Creation Days||“In the Beginning God Created the Heavens and the Earth”|
|4.5662±0.0001 BYA||Creation Day 1||“Formless and void and water was upon the face of the deep”|
|Oxygen created by photosynthesizing bacteria||
3.5 billion BYA till it rose above 10% O2
(Million Years Ago)
|Creation Day 2||“let there be a firmament… and God called the firmament sky”|
|Land masses created and plants created||
2.25 BYA continental land mass growth peaks.
635 to 580 MYA first complex plants.
|Creation Day 3||“Let dry land appear” “Let the earth bring forth plants bearing seed”|
|Completion of nearby supernova eruptions, dense molecular clouds, gamma-ray bursts, galaxy merging events, cosmic bombardment of earth||
Cosmic events subside about 562 MYA
||Creation Day 4||
“He made a greater light” (4.56 BYA)
He made a lesser light to rule the night”(4.36 BYA)[i] “He made the stars also” (Stable 0.562 BYA)
|Filling seas with life, then birds and dinosaurs||
|Creation Day 5||“Let the waters teem with living creatures and let birds fly”|
|Filling land with creatures||
|Creation Day 6||“Let the land produce living creatures”|
|Modern Humans appear||190,000-60,000 years ago.||“Let us make man in our image”|
|Cessation of new creations since modern humans appear, we mostly lose species.||Since Adam till now no new kinds of creatures or plants||Creation Day 7||“And God rested”|
Advent Hope That Time is Short
A few of us have been living for nearly a hundred years, others for 70 years, some for 30 years, and even teen-agers at times are overcome with the burden of time in this imperfect world. If we are honest most of us have wondered why we are still waiting 2,000 years after the resurrection for the “soon return” of the Christ. Isn’t it about time for Jesus to return?
Adventism offered relief to Christendom from this burden of time, and excited our spiritual forbearers with a date for the end of time, and then with anticipation that the burden would be lifted within the life time of those listening to Ellen White’s sermon, and then our evangelists and Revelation Seminars fan our hopes into at least a temporarily renewed expectation that soon “time shall be no longer.”
To be asked to bear the burden of 6,000 years of a reign of sin and death is bad enough, to have to bear the burden of 4.8 billion years of the same reign seems impossible. We all must surely slip into the foul Slough of Despair if science is correct and life has been slogging on with such impossible-to-comprehend eons of time.
How Long Have You Been Waiting?
How long have we been waiting for Jesus to come again? 2,000 years? How long have we had to live with death and tears and suffering? 6,000 years? 6,000,000 years? 4,800,000,000 years? And how many years can your God let you suffer, before you cease to believe that your God is truly good, kind, merciful? Let’s be honest. I have had many Adventists suggest to me that they might be able to permit God to allow sin to run its course for 6,000 years, but much longer than that would frankly make them questions that kind of God’s character. “I can’t believe in a God like that,” is sort of how it gets expressed.
The burden of deep time, of long ages, or a progressive creation over millions or billions of years is an unbearable burden for many Adventists, and they refuse to accept the possibility of a long chronology.
Lay Your Burdens Down!
The good news is that I have come to believe that the “Burden of Time” is a burden we need to gladly lay down (along with our personal burdens of guilt, shame, and sin) at the foot of the cross. The Sin Bearer is also the Time Bearer, and at His Cross all burdens including the
Burden of Time, roll away.
God in mercy has made provision for the burden of the length of the great controversy. No one, not one human, not one man or woman or child, has ever had to wait for Jesus, has ever had to bear the burden of suffering and woe, longer than one lifetime!
You have waited for the Second Coming exactly as many years as you have lived, and not one second longer. You have had to watch good and evil in conflict; you have had to suffer those consequences, exactly as long as every other human. One lifetime at most, and often – thank God – only a minority part of that lifetime has been burdened by pain, suffering, and despair.
You have not been waiting for Jesus to return for 2,000 years! We all have waited the same relatively short period of time, one lifetime.
Your share of the suffering in this life is exactly the same as every other human’s share of the suffering in this life, one lifetime.
Elohim decreed long ago a command that all have perfectly obeyed. “Man must not be allowed to live forever.” No one does, do they? And after death Adventists know you are not hanging around watching the game. The Adventist soul sleeps, unconscious of the passage of time be it days, weeks, months, years, or eons of deep time.
It is not “mankind” or “the church” or “the human race” who has suffered long. Because each human, each church member, all the races have been given an identical share of time to bear. One lifetime. No more, no less.
Hasn’t God Shown You Good During Your Short Time?
Have you found God in general good to you, during your life so far? Has God kept his promise that you will not be tested above what you are able to bear, but will always provide a way of escape from these trials? If so then bear your share of time, your share of trouble, your share of suffering bravely but hopefully. And remember that even if this world has had life on it for 6 thousand, 6 million, or 4.8 billion years, no one has ever had to suffer or bear the burden of conflict during that life for more than one lifetime.
There is Only One who is a Long-term Sufferer
Yahweh-Elohim is named “long-suffering”. You and I and every other human who has lived are all short-suffering.
So it may be a fair question to ask why you or I have to suffer a little or a lot for 60 or 70 or 99 years, but it is not fair for us to assume the burden of deep time, and hold this against Yahweh-Elohim.
“How can a loving God permit suffering to go on for so long?” is a question only God can answer. If God has chosen to take 13.7 billion years to prepare this stage for human life, that is His problem, not ours. No creature, no plant, no animal, no human has suffered more than one lifetime.
The Question of the Chronology of Creation Should not be Biased by the False Burden of Time
The question of the chronology of creation should not be biased by a false assumption that only a short-term creation story is good for the character of God, and that a long-term creation story is against His character. It may be against our preference, but the so-called Burden of Time is a false and unnecessary burden. It is not one, thank God, we must bear.
Ellen White gives a fascinating insight when she discusses Adam’s attitude to death. “Though the sentence of death pronounced upon him by His Maker had at first appeared terrible, yet after beholding for nearly a thousand years the results of sin, he felt that it was merciful (of) God to bring to an end a life of suffering and sorrow.” In a severe mercy the length of man’s life has since the flood been even further shortened.
We are flesh, weak, mortal, and time bound. The Creator is Spirit and not time bound. The chronology of creation is not what we think it should be, the chronology of creation is what it is. We can argue about the dates, but we should not dismiss them because we unnecessarily feel burdened by the long ages science has revealed.
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
the grass withers,
and the flower falls off,
but the Word of the Lord endures forever.”
1Public Domain, non commercial use.
3I use astronomer Hugh Ross’s “Why the Universe is the Way It Is?”(Baker Books, 2008) as a major source for this brief outline of creation time. (The correspondence to Creation Days is my own suggestion, however.)
Please read Dr. Ross’s book for detailed discussions on the reasons why this universe needs such a long time to become what it is today, a place suitable for advanced life and civilization. See especially chapter 3 of his book.
4Lawrence Livermore National Library, 8/17/2011, Moon and Earth may be younger than originally thought, Anne M Stark, LLNL, (925) 422-9799.
6Exodus 34:6, KJV.
7Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, page 82.
81 Peter 1:24-25, in modern English says “You very short time. Christ, the Word, very long time.”