A Wrong Time for Everything

There’s a right time for everything under the sun (Ecc. 3:1–8). That means, apart from God, we creatures find a wrong time for everything under the sun, too.

Writes Karl Barth (CD IV.2, §65, 413–14):

The stupidity of man consists and expresses itself in the fact that when he is of the opinion that he achieves his true nature and essence apart from the knowledge of God, without hearing and obeying His Word, in this independence and autonomy, he always misses his true nature and essence.

He is always either too soon or too late.

He is asleep when he should be awake, and awake when he should be asleep.

He is silent when he should speak, and he speaks when it is better to be silent.

He laughs when he should weep, and he weeps when he should be comforted and laugh.

He always makes an exception where the rule should be kept, and subjects himself to a law when he should choose in freedom.

He always toils when he should pray, and prays when only work is of any avail.

He always devotes himself to historical and psychological investigation when decisions are demanded, and rushes into decision when historical and psychological investigation is really required.

He is always contentious where it is unnecessary and harmful, and he speaks of peace where he may confidently attack. …

In Eccl. 3 we are given a list of different things for which there is a proper time — in accordance with the fact that God Himself does everything in its own time.

The genius of stupidity is to think everything at the wrong time, to say everything to the wrong people, to do everything in the wrong direction, to lose no opportunity of misunderstanding and being misunderstood, always to omit the one simple and necessary thing which is demanded, and to have a sure instinct for choosing and willing and doing the complicated and superfluous thing which can only disrupt and obstruct.

New Creation Literacy

Perhaps the most significant passage in Scripture explaining the power of awakened (or illuminated) literacy is found in 2 Corinthians 4:6, and it’s particularly interesting given the parallels:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” [first creation], has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [new creation].

Gospel awakening is an act of new creation finding its appropriate parallel in the initial act of cosmic creation. And just about everyone from Matthew Henry onward has acknowledged this. But the context of this passage has everything to do with reading (2 Cor. 3:15). If we ourselves read over this too quickly we can miss is how new creation illumination, enacted by God on a spiritually dead heart, brings with it a permanent and abiding change to the literacy faculties.

But Christian literacy is more than mere noetic intellectual awakening because, in Christ, Christian literacy is God-appointed means for the regenerated soul to live and move and have its being. Scripture itself takes on new meaning and significance to us, it begins to live, it affects us, it begins to claim us, and it begins to change our behaviors and attitudes. This is a key point Karl Barth understands and well articulates in Church Dogmatics (IV/3.2, §71.2):

“In thy light shall we see light” (Ps. 36:9)… There is a god of this world — we are reminded of the darkness in Col. 1:13 — who has darkened the thinking of unbelievers “lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4). To continue the quotation already adduced: “For it is the worst evil that can befall us not to see the light.” But the true “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness (Gen. 1:3), hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). As His God, “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” He gives him “the spirit of wisdom and revelation” in which he may know him, “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe,” in short, what is proffered to man and awaits him in Him (Eph. 1:17f), and what is the structure of the mystery concealed from all eternity in God the Creator of all things (Eph. 3:9). Man is called as this knowledge is imparted to him. By this knowledge Christians are distinguished as the called from others who are not called.

If we are to understand this process, however, we cannot pay too much attention to the fact that in it we really have to do with a new creation. According to the speech and thought-forms of the Bible, concepts such as light, illumination, revelation and knowledge do not have, either alone or in their interrelationships, the more narrowly intellectual or noetic significance which here as elsewhere we usually give them. The light or revelation of God is not just a declaration and interpretation of His being and action, His judgment and grace, His endowing, directing, promising and commanding presence and action.

In making Himself known, God acts on the whole man. Hence the knowledge of God given to man through his illumination is no mere apprehension and understanding of God’s being and action, nor as such a kind of intuitive contemplation. It is the claiming not only of his thinking but also of his willing and work, of the whole man, for God. It is his refashioning to be a theatre, witness and instrument of His acts. Its subject and content, which is also its origin, makes it an active knowledge, in which there are affirmation and negation, volition and decision, action and inaction, and in which man leaves certain old courses and enters and pursues new ones.

Illumination, we find out, is a sovereign act of God (in the gospel) in bringing new creation. It plays an important role for God in making his children’s lives into a theater, a witness, and an instrument for his own glory and use.

Here we discover one of the profoundest purposes for Christian literacy.

God Is For Me

I treasure the for me/for us phrases in Psalm 56:9/Romans 8:31. It is a majestic thought that the holy God of the universe can be for me/for us. It is a divine reality so startling that we can only explain this favor as a gift of grace. It should drive from us all vain thoughts of spiritual superiority.

In my reading over the years I’ve gathered a small collection of quotes to help me meditate on this amazing truth. Here are three examples:

John Piper, sermon, “God Did Not Spare His Own Son,” August 18, 2002:

O how precious are those two words, “for us” [Rom. 8:31]. There are no more fearful words in the universe than the words, “God is against us.” … We live forever with God against us or with God for us. And all who are in Christ may say with almost unspeakable joy, “God is for us.” He is on our side.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/2 728:

What can and should and must be done by the man to whom the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth has stopped down from his eternal and inaccessible majesty in inconceivable goodness and overflowing majesty to take man to Himself by taking his place and bearing his curse and burden? What can and should and must be done by the man to whom it is given in the quickening power of the Holy Spirit to accept the fact that God is for him in this way? What remains for the Christian to do? What is his part? Or rather, what is he allowed and commissioned and commanded to do? Since this is the case, and he knows it, in what consists his Christian freedom? There can obviously be only one answer to this question. This is the simple and unequivocal answer that he must accept and receive the One who comes to him and that which is given in and by Him; that he must be content in unconditional and childlike confidence to hold to the fact that God is for him; that he must acknowledge and recognize and confess this; that he must place himself on this ground and walk on it without hesitation or vacillation; that he must be satisfied and rejoice and constantly return to the fact that he may be undeservedly but quite indisputably be the child of God.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, evening of July 13:

It is impossible for any human speech to express the full meaning of this delightful phrase, “God is for me” [Ps 56:9]. He was “for us” before the worlds were made; he was “for us,” or he would not have given his well-beloved son; he was “for us” when he smote the Only-begotten, and laid the full weight of his wrath upon him—he was “for us,” though he was against him; he was “for us,” when we were ruined in the fall—he loved us notwithstanding all; he was “for us,” when we were rebels against him, and with a high hand were bidding him defiance; he was “for us,” or he would not have brought us humbly to seek his face. He has been “for us” in many struggles; we have been summoned to encounter hosts of dangers; we have been assailed by temptations from without and within—how could we have remained unharmed to this hour if he had not been “for us”?

He is “for us,” with all the infinity of his being; with all the omnipotence of his love; with all the infallibility of his wisdom; arrayed in all his divine attributes, he is “for us,”—eternally and immutably “for us”; “for us” when yon blue skies shall be rolled up like a worn out vesture; “for us” throughout eternity. And because he is “for us,” the voice of prayer will always ensure his help. “When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies be turned back.” This is no uncertain hope, but a well grounded assurance—“this I know.” I will direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up for the answer, assured that it will come, and that mine enemies shall be defeated, “for God is for me.” O believer, how happy art thou with the King of kings on thy side! How safe with such a Protector! How sure thy cause pleaded by such an Advocate! If God be for thee, who can be against thee?