On the clock

Anyone who was tuned into Rev Fisk in the twilight months of Life Before Covid, will remember his love/hate relationship with clocks. Joe Zadeh, the writer of a fascinating and philosophical piece for Noema seems to have read the Mad Christian’s mind. Zadeh wanders far and wide with his exploration of how time became “tyrannical”, arguing that a tool once used by us is now ruling us. 

Clock-like devices were invented by European monks in the 14th century, “crude iron objects that unreliably but automatically struck intervals to help bellringers keep track of canonical hours of prayer.” The first notifications! While towns and villages had previously kept their own local solar time, the boom of railways in the 1800s meant whole nations standardized their time zones to make everything easier. Protests broke out in many places, with rebels destroying clocks in public places.

The article issues a warning that Mad Christians will be aware of: “We need to urgently reassess our relationship with the clock. The clock…does not measure time; it produces it.” This is something we can agree with. God gave us days and seasons, which is a mercy for our finite bodies and minds, yet he made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath. So while clocks can help us in many ways – honoring our employers and neighbors, keeping our commitments – we don’t always have to be “on the clock.” Zadeh warns “The more we synchronize ourselves with the time in clocks, the more we fall out of sync with our own bodies and the world around us.”

There is great freedom to be found by recognizing the limits of measuring time as modern society does. Stepping away from The Schedule, to pray the Psalms, spend time with our families, tend a garden or indulge a hobby, are gifts from our changeless and timeless Creator. While cynics view God as a clockmaker, dispassionately standing by as time takes its toll on every life, we know his perfect plan will come to pass, with this vale of tears giving way to life without end in the new earth. God be praised!

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