Ancient of Days
This week, I attended an extended-family funeral. I’ve come to the age where these occasions are not as sparse as they once were, so I find myself paying particular attention to the phenomenon. I’m in the eternity business, so I find there’s a part of me that stands objectively detached; data-gathering, measuring the spectrum of emotional responses, and passively observing the whole spiritual climate that surrounds the event. There’s also the very subjective (i.e. squirmy) reactions I observe in myself; an introverts’ natural aversion to highly charged, densely populated social gatherings, the intricate interpersonal negotiations with long-lost relations, and the painstaking navigation around embarrassing family secrets and other embargo subjects, all in the act of ‘saving face’. It’s a highly ritualized, collective dance of protocol and political correctness.
Unlike the similar, but simpler, circumstance of a family reunion or wedding, a funeral also carries with it the double whammy issues of both aging and death. Have you noticed? These spiritual heavy-weights do not come with how-to manuals. Not the hot topics of most normal conversations, we tend to circumvent them carefully, and for good reason. These giants are neither pleasant, nor simple to deal with. The passing of others forces us to face our own ageing foibles, and our attitude to our own demise. When you attend a funeral, the passage of time becomes heavily underlined (Wow! Auntie Lillian has gained weight! Jessie has really gotten grey!). Love it or hate it, we’re forced to acknowledge how our youth and energy were squandered. It’s a double-edged blade, because no one really likes growing older, but it’s still better than the alternative. Attend a funeral, and watch the whole buzzing hornet’s nest of identity, past, present and future, get kicked over. It’s not for the faint of heart. I’m still exhausted.
Stepping back out of the dark vortex of carnal thinking for a moment, however, let’s consider this. In the big picture, death is not the real problem. Death is but a moment, a transit across the shimmering membrane from one realm to another. Ultimately, it’s the harsh reality of the passage of time we are grappling with. Time, combined with the fallen nature of man, brings us into the merciless grip of aging and death. Is ‘Father Time’ our tyrant or taskmaster? Is it ‘double, double toil and trouble’, or simply the vehicle of transit, moving us towards point zero of destiny? What attitude do we carry to this force we cannot control or escape?
Time is an enigma. We cannot actually see time...only the effects of it, much like the wind. Because it is unseen, it’s fatally easy to ignore. When you’re young, arrogant and full of yourself, time is your oyster; you wind it around your little finger. The wake-up call blares, somewhere around your fifties, and it dawns on you that inexplicably, you’re in the dreaded ‘mid-life’. Life, as they say, happened while you were making other plans. Things didn’t quite pan out according to the trumpeting confidence of your High School graduation speech. Suddenly, you get a little more serious about your relationship with this illusive intangible. Interestingly enough, Time is one of the agents that showcases our true attitudes towards God and supernatural matters, as it blatantly exposes our most hidden attitudes to life. The values we exalt, the ambitions we vaunt and the idols we worship, all shape into definite sand castles of vanity as the shifting grains move through the hourglass.
One of my absolutely favorite vignettes in Scripture is found the book of Daniel 7. Breaking forth from the ninth verse, there’s a manifestation of Sovereignty we’ve never seen before. “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: a thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.” Daniel 7:9-10
‘The Ancient of Days’. What a title. I’m not sure what it is about this particular sobriquet of God that so moves me, but it does. It has great patriarchal tenderness. Something in the name captures His intense and intimate care, His passion for overseeing every day that was ever formed, for every soul ever created. Just knowing that this is an eternal, spiritual reality takes all the dread out of the fleeting seasons. My changing countenance, staring back from the mirror is testifying that I am not simply getting older, but I’m moving towards eternity. Aging, and even death itself, lose their stinging power. Life is not merely a vapor, lived in vain; a sickening hamster wheel one must tread. What this passage reinforces is that time is valuable, and there is a keeper of it. The real question we should be asking ourselves is whether or not we are in the flow of His plans for our time, not just our own. David laments about the way his life is being wasted by trouble in Psalm 31.
“For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength fails because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed. But I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said, You are my God. My times are in thy hand…” Ps 31:10, 14-15
“To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven”.
Contrary to the way this is used in a secular context, this is not a bland, generic statement. What this well-quoted scripture really says is this: In your lifetime, the Lord has an appointed season for all matters. When we live in the flow of His leading, we will not come to the end of life feeling empty, cheated, disillusioned or embittered. We will be satisfied. Even the moment of death will have its dignity.