Richard Tighe Harris was my great, great grandfather. The only reason I know this is that he was relatively eminent, having co-founded Juneau, Alaska. I also know that his wife, my great, great grandmother, was a Tlingit woman named Kitty. However, I know very little about my other 14 great, great grandparents. I could probably only name one of them. Unless someone is deemed historically significant, they are quickly forgotten, even by their own descendants.
We tend to measure time in relation to our own lifespans, so 100 years ago seems far away now. And it’s true that it is a long time ago when you consider how much the world has changed in that period, due to the exponential development of technology. But have we changed that much? Has human nature changed that much? Although we live in a very different world from our historical ancestors, we’re basically identical from a developmental and biological standpoint.
Imagine plopping the power of airplanes and iPods into the laps of people 2,000 years ago. Apart from the initial shock and amazement that would be fun to watch, people—or at least their kids—would have no trouble learning to use the technology. They’d be no less cognitively equipped (or ill-equipped, depending on your perspective) to handle it than we are. Even so, 2,000 years seems like a long time ago to us, and for Christians especially, it represents an important time in history, the coming of Jesus the Christ. We now have two millennia of Christian heritage (some honorable and some not so honorable) to draw on and point to and live from. Our long history seems to add stability and credibility to our tradition and our faith.
But from a deep time or “God’s eye” perspective, 2,000 years is a drop in the bucket. When you consider scientists’ estimates for the age of the Universe (13.7 billion years), the advent of human religion suddenly becomes an extremely recent phenomenon. This is a humbling reality. All of a sudden, scriptures like Psalm 90:4 have a lot more meaning:
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
If you feel threatened by such suggestions, consider what exactly is being threatened. God? Or your too-small view of God?
There are many advantages to a deep-time perspective. For one thing, it is absolutely mind-boggling and awe-inspiring, just as a deep-space perspective is in a galaxy of hundreds of billions of stars in a Universe of hundreds of billions of galaxies:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
As deep space puts our size in proper perspective, deep time puts the span of our days in proper perspective:
“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
From a deep time perspective, religion is a tiny speck on the cosmic timeline. But the good news is that Jesus is on that same speck with us. Why is this good news? Because the closer we allow Jesus to be to us, the closer we allow ourselves to be to God. Put another way, the more human we allow Jesus to be, the more like God we allow ourselves to be. In contrast, when we separate ourselves from Jesus, putting him safely on a 2,000-year-old pedestal, we don’t really have to worry about being like him. We tell ourselves that it’s impossible. We regularly describe Jesus as “fully God and fully human,” but if we really took “fully human” seriously then we’d also have to take seriously just how fully God a human can be. That’s what Jesus demonstrated for us.
The Apostle Paul called the Son “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Are we to then say that Jesus is but we are not? Did Jesus bear the image of God but not us? If we were not created in the image of God, then who exactly are we? Was God at work in the world during the time of Jesus but not in our time? If he worked through Jesus in his time, then who does he work through now in our time? And if it’s not us, then who is it? How can we say that God was present then but not now, when on a cosmic scale we live in virtually the same instant as Jesus? In God’s eyes, we could say that Jesus came and went about two days ago. From this perspective, Jesus is truly our contemporary.
Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter how much time has passed between Jesus’ time and ours. The Spirit of Christ is eternal, and we have that same Spirit! But that’s precisely my point. If we think 2,000 years is a long time, or that 2,000-year-old Christianity is a big enough container to hold the Spirit of Christ, then we’re failing to see who Jesus really was, which also means that we’re failing to see who we ourselves are. The truth is that we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17) Just as we are brothers and sisters in Christ to each other, so too are we brothers and sisters in Christ to the 1st-century man, Jesus of Nazareth. He is one of us!