Time Doesn’t Heal

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At the risk of sounding hyper-critical, the old adage “time heals” is not true. We can add this advice to the list of well-intentioned yet sentimental errors. Time, in fact, can’t heal for time is merely a measurement of chronological advancement. The hands on the clock move faithfully but the hands themselves are impotent to effect any change.

But at the same time—and I apologise for the mixed metaphor—we should not throw out the timepiece with the proverbial bathwater for time is often an essential factor in the healing process of grief, trauma, and, of course, physical healing. To be fair, this is usually what we mean when try to comfort others with the words “time heals.”

The Christian understands, or at least should understand, better than anyone that God heals. The triune God—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—is the one who heals hurts, souls, and bodies. Let me illustrate.

John Calvin, insightfully commenting on Deuteronomy 8:3 (“Man shall not live by bread alone”), writes, “Though we live on bread, we must not ascribe the support of life to the power of bread, but to the secret kindness by which God imparts to bread the quality of nourishing our bodies.” In other words, it is by God’s power through bread that we are sustained.

Think of Jesus’ teaching about the farmer who sows seeds and eventually receives a crop (Mark 4:26–29). Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like a man who plants seeds and then sleeps. In due time, a crop grows. Jesus wasn’t teaching that sleep causes horticultural growth. Rather, his point was that God, over a season of time, combines interactions of soil, rain, and seed to produce a crop. Time does not guarantee a full silo; rather, God’s power working in the seed and soil over time results in a harvest. So it is with many things, including Christian maturity. It is over time that God normally brings forth fruit.

Two people can be converted at the same time. Over ten years of time, one may be a mature disciple and the other an immature disciple. The variable is clearly not “time” but rather their individual response to the word and to God’s Spirit. In other words, time has no power to produce holiness, but God uses faithfulness over time to produce a harvest of righteousness.

But this principle also applies in every realm of life, including our anticipation of the end of the coronavirus pandemic. Time will not cure this ill. But God can. And he may do this over a short time or over a longer time. It’s important for us to grasp this because, if we anticipate “the summer season” as our cure for COVID-19, well, look at the United States. It’s summertime there and cases are skyrocketing. No, time is not our hope; the Trinity is. Therefore, we need to pray. We need to pray to God, asking him to be merciful to the world, our nation, our family, and our church. The Great Physician may indeed provide the cure over a prolonged course of time. He may wonderfully surprise us all and remove it miraculously in a short space of time. We don’t know. But we do know that this universe is ruled by God, not by time. And so when God lifts his heavy hand from our world, we are to give him thanks.

God’s healing hands will most likely use scientists such as epidemiologists and chemists and others in the medical field. And we should thank those who so labour. But ultimately, we give thanks to God for these. Because all of the time and all of the talent in the world is impotent apart from the wisdom, power, and mercy of our triune God. Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us take the time—lots of time—to pray to Yahweh-Rophe: the God who heals (Exodus 15:26).

Praying with you,

Doug