Epilogue: Time Out of Mind


Time is Godís first and foremost invention, for without time, there would be no change, and without change, there would be no life. This central trinity, time, change and life, beget the growth of novelty. Only God could figure out how to create something beyond eternal perfection, even if that creation involves struggle and suffering. Time begets life and death, for all life lives in time, and all life dies in time. Good and bad, yin and yang, life and death allow for growth, creation and novelty. But death has a sting. When a person dies, they are often completely forgotten, as if that person had never lived. A human life has a duration, and then we perceive it to be completely gone. This annihilation stings, and we wonder if it is worthwhile.

But there is another perspective on time. Since we donít really know what time is, could the duration of a human life, or anything else that happens in time, have an intrinsic value that we donít understand, and a meaning that transcends our everyday perception of time? Certainly everything that happens affects everything else, and any human life has connections and causes other things to happen, creating a cascading effect on the rest of reality that never goes away.

Quantum physics hypothesizes that at the smallest scales, time itself is really the relationship between and amongst causes and effects, that is, when particles and energy fields interact, time is the resulting ordering of outcomes. In other words, without events, causes and effects, there would be no time. Time without events is meaningless. Words canít do justice to this subject, but there is something about time that leaves a door open for meanings beyond our normal perspectives. Certainly time allows for the novelty of creation and evolution of great things. Shouldnít there be a destiny, a purpose and a meaning to each human life beyond its end point at death?

For instance, what about my ancestors. Ordinary though they were, what about Dr. John Stephens of Gloucester (1589-1675) who emigrated to Virginia in 1634. Without him, my Stephens family in America would not have existed. Or what about his descendant, Revolutionary War veteran Moses Stephens, who migrated to Kentucky after the war and raised a large family of daughters and sons. And then what about Civil War Union soldier Louis Stephens of Kentucky, and my grandfather Sherman Stephens, a WWI veteran who helped liberate Paris? My father Kenneth Stephens married Wilma Vanover, and the Vanover family also had deep roots in southeastern Kentucky. The Vanover family helped found Indian Creek Baptist Church in cave in McCreary County Kentucky. I attended the simple white church house that succeeded the cave, and loved the God-fearing ladies who brought the fried chicken, dumpling and pies to the church picnics. My maternal grandmother, Elsie Vanover (nee Crabtree) was as good, gregarious, wholesome and lovable a person as ever lived. What about all of them, do their lives count for nothing now that they are gone, or is there more to this than meets the eye?

On the other extreme, consider the person Jesus of Nazareth. By any standard, He is still influencing more people than perhaps any other person. He took the Jewish ideas of people being created in the image of God, and therefore the infinite worth of every human, and spread it worldwide. Surely His life is interconnected with everything today, and to a lesser extent, so are the lives of every human who has ever lived. And even after He lived and diedÖ

Something happenedÖ

An empty tomb was foundÖ

What it meant who knew? But after the women found the empty tomb, His disciples kept seeing Him in appearances of various kinds. An empty tomb, appearances, not of a Zombie, not of a resuscitated corpse, but of a victorious glorified person in a glorified body. His followers saw that something happened, they went from utter despair and depression to joyful confidence and exuberance. They didnít know what had happened but they knew something had happened. It didnít make sense but then maybe it did. Something had happened, and although we may never know exactly what or how, it mattered, it matters and it will always matter. When something happens, it makes a difference and this was and is the extreme example.

Consider my younger sister, Amy Stephens. A sweeter, kinder, more gentle and worthwhile person never lived. She was born 20 weeks premature and at less than 2 pounds, had to have critical surgery to remove one of her malformed lungs. It was more than 6 months before she finally got out of the hospital. Then because of her small size and weight, and less than robust lung, she was in and out of the hospital several times as an infant for various serious infections. Always on the small size, she was a bit fragile, but she was fun loving and loved horses and all animals. Everyone loved her. She was always there to console me when I was down as a teenager and in my twenties. She had a knack for knowing when she could help me just by being there and talking and walking with her older brother. She was beloved by her family, her schoolmates and by the congregation of the small Afton Baptist Church. As we drove to the church on Sunday mornings, we often stopped to pick up an elderly gentleman who waited on the side of the road, to take him to church with us. He seemed to us to be 100 years old. He especially loved Amy. On his birthday every year, he always sang solo and a capella, the old African American spiritual ďJust a Closer Walk with TheeĒ. He could barely mouth the words, and his voice was so weak that he could hardly be heard. One wondered whether he could finish the song each year, but he always did, stumbling along to the bitter end no matter what. It was as moving and magnificent as Pavarotti or Caruso.

I am weak but Thou art strong
Jesus keep me from all wrong
I'll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee

Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be

When my feeble life is o'er
Time for me will be no more
Guide me gently, safely o'er
To Thy kingdom's shore, to Thy shore

Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be

Did this manís life matter, does it still matter? How about my little sister Amy? Amy oh Amy, how could it be, how could it happen. At the age of 17, just as her life was coming into focus, it was Christmas season and she had her first paying job, as a nurses aid in an old folks home, those seniors loved her and she sure loved them, she was doing good, her life had more meaning, her problems were fading. For the first time in her life, she had enough of her own money to go out and buy Christmas presents for each family member, with her own hard earned money, and she was out shopping and on her way home but running a bit late, with a little snow and ice on the road, and she skidded off the highway just a quarter mile from our driveway. As she veered into a neighborís yard, she must have seen the fence pole heading for her windshield, surely she could avoid, re-do or somehow correct the error, the horrible situation of the moment, the awful still framed frozen moment, and then it rammed right through the glass and right into her skull, Oh no how could it be, how could she endure how could this happen? Amy I didnít believe it and even when I visited in the hospital and saw your swollen head I could not accept it and refused to believe it how could God let this happen how could it happen? Oh Amy, my angel.

My Dad heard the accident and was the first on the scene to see the obscene wooden fence post rammed though her brain. His baby girl, his pride and joy, his angel. My parents were never the same, ever. It was senseless, beyond belief or understanding. After she died, my dad paid the hospital bills and totaled up the insurance payment to discover insurance had paid for everything except $1.01. Which he somehow recalled was the amount the insurance company had overpaid when Amy was in the hospital as a new born infant, through all her medical trials, $1.01. The next door neighbor made a big deal out of needing reimbursement for his damaged fence. The books were balanced here on earth but not in heaven.

What is, was and will be the balance of Amyís life? Itís not just a mechanical record of 17 years. I recall brother Jones at Afton Baptist church, preaching from the pulpit in full sweat, I have been to the mountaintop, I hear the music of heaven and I know my Redeemer liveth. He will dry every tear and right every wrong, we will be reunited at the river, over Jordan, just a closer walk with thee. Jesus offered peace and love to everyone, He taught the Sermon on the Mount, blessed are the poor, the peacemakers, the humble, He willingly went to the cross to offer His life for his friends, He asked his Father to forgive those who crucified Him, He forgave the thief on the cross, he didnít say you had to be Catholic, or Protestant, or Jewish, He gave His forgiveness and His sacrifice for everyone, He didnít say you had to have just the right dogma or theology or beliefs, you just had to love God and your neighbor, and trust in Him. He wasn't prejudiced against Hindus, Buddhists, or future Muslims...He did tell us to love one another, turn the other cheek and love our enemies. Huh? Hard to fathom...He did say our righteousness needed to exceed that of the Pharisees and other clerics of His day...no respecter of rich or powerful people...blessed are the poor. He loved. I have seen the light hallelujah and Iíve seen the first and the last, the resurrection of the lamb. Thatís all, Hallelujah. I put all my hope in Him.

And if I get on the wrong side of some debate, some ideology, some formula or some belief, one thing I am certain ofÖ

Wherever I am welcome is where Iíll be.