Children aside, most everyone understands that this life is fleeting. We hear that time marches on, but most days it feels more like a steady gallop. As we move through the week, we accumulate stories with no time to tell them. With our mobile devices ever at our side, we take countless pictures with no time to look back and enjoy them. We tell ourselves we should slow down, but the next thing we know perspiration is rolling off our brow and we are engaged in yet another elbow-pumping sprint through the week.
All of this came home again to me yesterday, but in a unique fashion. I was involved in a training with a group of people I had never met. It began with the usual awkward, grade-school ice-breaker questions. One of the questions in particular caught my attention. The question was this: What gets you up in the morning? For the sake of the exercise I gave a pat answer but then quickly turned inward to reflect further on the query.
My urge to reflect further stemmed from an experience I had just a few hours prior. Earlier that morning, I had been reading through Augustine’s City of God. My experience is that resonance comes and goes when tracking through the work, but on this morning I found myself drawn into and engrossed in his discussion regarding death. As I thought back on the passages during the group exercise, my genuine answer to the question became apparent. What gets me up in the morning? Time is running out. It is running out for all of us. That is a simple way to put it. Listen to Augustine articulate it more eloquently.
For no sooner do we begin to live in this dying body, than we begin to move ceaselessly toward death. For in the whole course of this life (if life we must call it) its mutability tends toward death. Certainly there is no one who is not nearer it this year than last year, and tomorrow than today, and today than yesterday, and a short while hence than now, and now than a short while ago. For whatever time we live is deducted from our whole term of life, and that which remains is daily becoming less and less; so that our whole life is nothing but a race toward death, in which no one is allowed to stand still for a little space, or to go somewhat more slowly, but all are driven forward with an impartial movement, and with equal rapidity. For he whose life is short spends a day no more swiftly than he whose life is longer. But while the equal moments are impartially snatched from both, the one has a nearer and the other a more remote goal to reach with this their equal speed. It is one thing to make a longer journey, and another to walk more slowly. He, therefore, who spends longer time on his way to death does not proceed at a more leisurely pace, but goes over more ground. Further, if every man begins to die, that is, is in death, as soon as death has begun to show itself in him (by taking away life, to wit; for when life is all taken away, the man will be then not in death, but after death), then he begins to die so soon as he begins to live. For what else is going on in all his days, hours, and moments, until this slow-working death is fully consummated? (City of God, 13.10)
In this “Best Life Now” world full of self-salvation and false gospels, our immediate reaction to Augustine’s words may be revulsion. It is an assault on our victory-through-optimism attitudes and Life is Good t-shirts. We should not be so quick to dismiss it. For without such a sobriety in our approach toward life, we end up operating head-in-sand, without a perspective aligned to reality. The perspective is Biblical.
O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Psalm 39:4
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Psalm 90:10
Moments are being impartially snatched from you and me right now. Every once in a while, we should use one of our moments to park here. We should think on it and live and die accordingly. Glorify God. Enjoy Him. Obey. Repent when we don’t. Rest in God’s complete sovereignty. And as much as is possible, devote ourselves to our unique role in building Christ’s kingdom now before this “slow-working death is fully consummated”.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12