Some of my favorite, pithy expressions of weighty theology come from the children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. In one story, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the children are told the time has come for them to leave Narnia and return to their own world. The children are reluctant to go, and they especially don’t want to be parted from Aslan. A conversation ensues, which, despite its simplicity, reminds us of a profound truth about God.
“‘Do not look sad,’” Aslan told them. “‘We shall meet soon again.’"
"‘Please, Aslan,’" said Lucy, "‘What do you call soon?’"
"‘I call all times soon,’" said Aslan.”
“I call all times soon.” At first, a statement like that doesn’t seem to make any sense. And if you or I said that, it wouldn’t make sense. We live inside of time and can only measure it by looking back into memories and hearsay of the past, or by peering with wonder and uncertainty into the unseen future.
But God is not bound by the framework of time as we are. He created time, and He holds it in His hands. The entire span of time, which stretches on and on for us like a long, undulating ribbon, is for Him one unified entity. He looks at it as if at a painting, and He sees the big picture. We experience it brushstroke by brushstroke, as if actually wading through each dab of wet paint. God views time as we look at a painting, taking in the whole composition all at once; all of it is “soon,” in His eyes.
When we understand how God sees time, it explains a lot of other things too. It reconciles what we believe about God’s purposes, His providence, His goodness, and His power, with the times of difficulty, sorrow, and anxiety that we endure. And we may learn that those trials have to do with how we experience time, rather than being in contradiction to His nature.
This is a concept the painters of classical art would have understood. In the 17th century, artists began experimenting with how to use contrasts of light and shadow to achieve greater depth and beauty in their work. The variations of light and shadow in these paintings add life and color, but are so subtle they are hardly noted. Only a close-up look at the paint reveals that the picture is indeed made up of distinct regions of light and darkness.
So it is with us as we journey through time, moment by moment. There is the play of light and shadow, and we are right in the midst of it. When we are in the shadowy parts, they can seem huge and everlasting. It can even begin to feel like the entire painting must be made up of shadow. But then light breaks through with sudden splendor. In those moments, looking at how surprisingly our circumstances have changed, we can exult, “Isn’t that just like God? Bringing good out of that experience, when I would never have expected it!” At those times, we may be reminded that God sees the whole painting, how the scheme of light and shadow works together.
In fact, God does not only have the complete painting framed in the palm of His hand. He is the one who painted it. He planned and carefully placed each instance of light and shadow, in such a way as He knew was needed to give it the greatest beauty. One day, we will stand beside Him to look at the great masterpiece of all time, and we will give all glory to Him.
As 2 Corinthians 4:17 puts it so succinctly, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (ESV)
In the meantime, we may not be able to envision the magnificent sight that light and shadow are creating, and the passing times will not likely seem any more “soon.” But we can know that we can trust Him, even when we don’t understand all.