Many of us of advanced age and/or who suffer from life-threatening health issues decided in 2020 to withdraw from the world and isolate ourselves because we are at high risk of catching covid19. Since last March we have voluntarily quarantined ourselves from society and live in small bubbles available only to a small number of people. Over the last year our lives have become very much like the 1993 film Groundhog Day. In the film Bill Murray plays a Pittsburg weatherman who covers the Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, PA. He becomes trapped in a time loop forcing him to relive February 2 repeatedly. Eventually he recognizes that he is in a time loop, although no one else does.1
Life in the bubble is repetitive and there is a sameness to the events of a typical day: wake up; dry and put away dishes; check email; prepare breakfast; TV news; morning ablutions; retire to respective offices to do whatever; prepare lunch; short nap; back to the offices; walk for an hour; check the snail mail (bills); evening news and dinner; doze before TV; retire. This pattern is repeated the next morning and ad infinitum. As a result, I find I am beginning to lose a sense of progress and continuity in time and history, since I seem to be living in an eternal present where everything repeats itself.
History is defined as a “chronological record of significant events, often containing an explanation of their causes.” If truth be told, however, we humans invented the concept of time to explain our obsolescence and demise (aging and death), and we discovered the ellipse of the earth around the sun in a 24-hour period. We invented and named the hours of the day, the days of the week, and the months of the year. We even invent the connectedness of events by explaining their causes (about which historians frequently disagree) and this becomes the basis of our linear concept of time.2
A competitor to the linear view of time is the “concept that the universe and all existence and energy has been recurring and will continue to recur in a self-similar form and infinite number of times across infinite time and space.” This concept is called the eternal return or the eternal recurrence.3 One biblical writer who seems to reflect such a view of time is Ecclesiastes:
That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been. (Eccl 3:15)
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun. (Eccl 1:9)
In this biblical writer’s tone lies a deep weariness and monotony (Eccl 1:2-11; 2:11, 17, 22-23; 7:1-8), occasioned by how he has come to view life:
The central theme of the sage’s reflections is that life is disappointing and transitory—like a momentary breath (1:2-11). There is a weary sameness to life (3:15); it passes like a shadow (6:12). Being governed by chance (9:11-12), life is unfair: the righteous perish early and the wicked live out long lives (7:15).4
The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, had a theologically based linear view of time.5 He believed that he lived between two great events, the time of God’s great victory over sin and death at the crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus, on the one hand, and the Parousia (appearing) of Jesus and the end of the world (1 Cor 15:20-24; I Thess 4:13-18; 1 Cor 6:29-31), on the other. As such he lived between the already and the not yet (Rom 8:15/ 8:23; 1 Cor 1:2/1 Thess 5:23-24). That is to say: he already had received the blessings of salvation, but he still looks forward to the completion of his salvation. Thus, in Paul’s view the follower of Christ was numbered among those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11), that is, between the end of the old world/age and the beginning of the new. In other words, Paul saw time moving forward in a linear way from the resurrection to the time of Christ’s coming again and the end of time.
This brings me back to the present pandemic moment: are we locked into a series of repeating 24-hour elliptical cycles, or does time actually move relentlessly forward in a linear line toward some unknown goal?
Missouri State University
1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day_(film). The film was selected by The Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry and the term “Groundhog Day” has made its way into the English language to describe a monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive situation.
2See Hedrick, “History, Historical Narrative, and Mark’s Gospel,” Sunday December 3, 2013: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=history
4Hedrick, The Wisdom of Jesus. Between the Sages of Israel and the Apostles of the Church (Cascade, 2014), 70.
5Hedrick, “Time—does it move forward or in Circles,” Saturday, June 1, 2019: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=Time