Sunday, January 10, 2021

I Corinthians 7:29-31: God Only Knows

 The appointed time has grown short, Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth (I Corinthians 7:29). One of the ways you can imagine this announcement was made (and passed down to us) in a letter rather than in person to the Corinthians (and via transcript to us) is that no one interrupted at this point to ask, "What do you mean by short? Are we talking 5 years? That's certainly shorter than 50 years. Or is it 5 hours? Or possibly 5 minutes? What does short mean, Paul?"

The concept of the appointed time is found throughout scripture. It's phrased in several ways, this idea that God has a time for things that no one knows. That day and hour in Matthew 24:36. The day of the Lord in Jeremiah 46:10 and I Thessalonians 5:2. Even the appointed time is used elsewhere in scripture: Habbakuk 2:3 and elsewhere.

But we don't know specifically what time it means. It's like Surrealist art - recognizable and yet still not understood. Surrealism, which flourished in the second quarter of the 20th century, used the juxtaposition of images to express the subconscious. Which means that the artist may have been trying to communicate meaning through a piece of art, but the artist didn't really care if anyone else understood the meaning of the piece. One of the most famous pieces of Surrealist art is Salvador Dali's Persistence of Memory. We recognize clocks and trees/branches and sky and landscape in the image. But what it all means is largely mystery. The title may or may not be helpful. 

So perhaps a Surrealist painting is the perfect vehicle to convey the appointed time. Kay Sage's painting here is titled just that: At the Appointed Time. I have no information that it is a religious or Biblically-based painting. Still, the title invites us to take a moment and look at the painting with scripture in mind. What do you see in the painting (literally what can you describe...there is a darkening gray sky, there is a horizon line in the middle of the picture, etc.)? What do you think about what you see? What do you wonder about this painting?

Kay Sarge. At the Appointed Time. 1942. Newark Museum.

Is that fabric-draped element the appointed time? Or is that us shrouded in ignorance? Does all of time stretch out inexorably toward the horizon line? Or is the action at left the peeling back of guardrails that indicate some kind of breakdown? Are those vines growing up out of the break? Vines that may leaf out with new growth? Or are they mechanical cables? Is that an eerily waveless ocean? Or do the darkening clouds threaten the future? Or does the sky clear near the horizon line? Can we even see the appointed time? Or is it too far away? Or is that it right in front of us? Surreal.

We know there is an appointed time. We know that God knows when that is. And no matter how many people announce they have figured out exactly when that time is, only God knows. All we can do until then is be intentional about how we live as children of God and followers of Christ. Because the present form of this world is passing away. 

This week's Art&Faith Matters on Facebook looks at a still life titled "Time and Eternity." Click here

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