Pursuing The Rainbow’s End
If I ever need a reminder to be careful about my pretensions to sophistication, I can always fall back on my love of country music. Every so often though, even this guilty pleasure comes to good account. Case in point, Keith Urban’s Days Go By. Urban’s song wrestles with the same aspect of time considered in my last article, namely the way time seems to fly. In turn, he suggests a specific view for approaching life. After highlighting the speed of life today, Urban closes both verses with the remarks “somewhere in the race we run, we’re coming undone” and “somewhere in the rush I felt, we’re losing ourselves.”1 If you’ll indulge me, I think we can accurately state that Urban is acting in the vein of a theologian by answering one of life’s fundamental questions: What does it mean to be human?
The foundation of Urban’s answer is found in the song’s bridge: “We think about tomorrow, then it slips away . . . We talk about forever but we’ve only got today.”2 A connection is being drawn between the passing of time and our humanity. Grasping for what is coming, we lose what is currently here. The chorus drives this message home as well: “It’s all we’ve been given, so you better start liv’n right now. ‘Cause days go by.”3 Per Urban, we are most human when we focus on the present.
This idea provides a jumping off point from which to return to Matthew 6:10: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”4 In the previous article on time, Milton helped us see a causal relationship between the two sections of the verse. Looking forward to the Kingdom’s consummation pushes us to see God’s will done in the present. Commenting on the two statements in the passage, Williams points out, “In fact, the two are really twins, partners in the typical Hebrew parallelism of the Old Testament poetic literature. Their closeness in meaning makes them mutual commentaries one upon the other, while their differences in connotation bring out insights which would be hidden were they not yoked together.”5
With this in mind, it is not for nothing that the next request in the Lord’s Prayer is for daily bread.6 Our request for sustenance to carry out God’s will does not look to the future, but solely at the present time. Even as we anticipate the kingdom’s coming, our focus on how we ought to live stays on the day at hand. This focus on the current day is suggested again when Jesus says “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) Between both directions, it is clear that we live life in the present and that is where our focus needs to be.
And yet, our focus is so easily drawn to the future. Not necessarily the furthest reaches of eternity, but certainly later in the day or week, perhaps the future months or coming years. Lewis’ Screwtape captures our danger well: “We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.”7 When our attention is grabbed by what might be, we trade the ability to concretely advance the kingdom now for the speculation of how we might work towards it in the future. To a degree, we are moving away from reality.8 Perhaps this is why Urban sees this as a process of “losing ourselves.” When the pace of time sweeps us off our feet, we are incapacitated. Rooting ourselves in God’s direction of all things, though, allows us to receive the grace needed to serve him right now.
What pulls your attention into the future?
How do you return your focus to the present?
4. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
5. Williams, Donald. The Disciples’ Prayer: An Intimate Phrase by Phrase Journey Through the Lord’s Prayer (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1999), 49.
6. Matthew 6:11.
7. Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 78.
8. Which is why Screwtape suggests that Wormwood keep his patient’s focus on the future. Pages 76-78 detail the crux of the thought process, though the whole chapter is rather instructive.
Photo courtesy of Daria Nepriakhina