Back to the Future, Backwards

It has often been said—based on a journal entry by Søren Kierkegaard—that life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. There’s a lot of truth to that sentiment. But what if the sequence were reversed? What if we started out as old folks and got younger with the passing of time? What if we went from being slobbering seniors to drooling infants rather than the other way around? Would that contradict another truism that says youth is wasted on the young?

Welcome to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a 1922 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 2008, the piece was made into a film by the same name starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett (story by Robin Swicord and Eric Roth; directed by David Fincher). It was also made into a stage musical in 2019. I’m captivated by the mind-bending thoughts prompted by just a cursory glance at its plot.

Born under “unusual circumstances,” Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) springs into being as an elderly man in a New Orleans nursing home, and he ages in reverse. Twelve years later, he meets Daisy, a child who flits in and out of his life as she grows up to become a dancer (Cate Blanchett). Though Benjamin has all sorts of strange adventures over the course of his life, it’s his relationship with Daisy, and the hope that they will come together at just the right time, that drives Benjamin forward. One of the money quotes in the film, which is often misattributed to Fitzgerald himself, is this:

“For what it’s worth, it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

We always want that fresh start, don’t we? We always feel the need for genuine newness, but we worry that the sand in our hourglasses will run out of grains before we get there, leaving us with a pile of broken dreams and regrets. That’s why we write pop tunes like, “If I Could Turn Back Time” (Cher), and song lyrics like, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future” (Steve Miller Band), and clever aphorisms like, “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays” (Meredith Wilson). 

We even have a whole series of contemporary movies called Back to the Future. And then there’s Dr. Who’s TARDIS, the British time machine-spacecraft that can go anywhere in space and time at the push of a button. It’s all fantasy, of course, but these stories reveal that we’re a species obsessed with going back and starting over.

Thankfully, it’s a gracious God who provides genuine newness in Christ—the one who said we can be transformed spiritually, from the inside out, like a caterpillar to a butterfly, as if we we were being born all over again (John 3:3-8; 1 Pet 1:23).

Moreover, it’s a good and wise God whose timing is always perfect. He has promised to make all things new (Rev 21:5).

So trust in him. Lean into him. Wait on him.

Whether you’re coming or going.

Image Credits: wallpaperflare.com; ineedit.club; canstockphoto.com; writersinspire.org.

For Everything There Is A Season

“There is a time for everything, 
and a season for every activity under heaven: 

a time to be born and a time to die, 
a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
a time to kill and a time to heal, 
a time to tear down and a time to build, 
a time to weep and a time to laugh, 
a time to mourn and a time to dance, 
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, 
a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 
a time to search and a time to give up, 
a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
a time to tear and a time to mend, 
a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
a time to love and a time to hate, 
a time for war and a time for peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

And Guide Us When Perplexed

The Sunday before Thanksgiving is typically a precious time of worship for many believers—on at least two counts. First, according to the liturgical calendar, it’s the last Sunday after Pentecost, known in many traditions as Christ the King Sunday. Worshipers take the opportunity to ascribe glory and honor to King Jesus, who is Lord of chronos (or “unfolding”) time as well as kairos (or “epochal”) time. It’s a way of putting an exclamation mark on the longest season of the church year before the calendar starts all over again next week with the season of Advent. King Jesus “was, and is, and is to come.” He is Lord of all time.

Second, on the civil calendar in the United States, it’s the Sunday leading into Thanksgiving Day. Many North American worshipers therefore take the opportunity to thank the Lord for his many blessings and providential care throughout the year. “We Gather Together” is a meaningful hymn that we often sing on this day, but we skipped it this year because so many parishioners aren’t able to gather in person. Instead, they livestream the service to avoid exposure to the virus. Equally poignant to me, however, is Martin Rinkart’s evocative and stately hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.” This piece, too, puts a lump in my throat, and we’re singing it today.

Rinkart was a German clergyman who served in the town of Eilenburg during the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Overrun with refugees during the Great Epidemic of 1637, he conducted between 40 to 50 funerals a day. I can hardly imagine such a calling. Nevertheless, he found a way to be thankful under the most trying of circumstances, penning these memorable words:

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

I’m especially struck this year by the line, “And guide us when perplexed.” No doubt the presence of all that plague and war death around him took its toll personally and emotionally. How could it not? Rinkart, however, turned his mystification into a prayer request. “Guide us now, Lord, in these perplexing times. And as you keep us in your grace, free us from all ills, in this world and the next.” Such a request is appropriate in any age.

We’re not always sure why life unfolds the way it does. Chronos can be confusing sometimes, but believers know the ultimate kairos is on its way. Christ is coming back for his people, and all will recognize him then as the true King. Every knee will finally bow to him (Phil 2:10). “For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.”

Amen.

Image Credit: myjewishlearning.com.