Carpe Diem Redeemed, Os Guinness. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.
Summary: A consideration of how, in our present day, we ought make the most of the time, to properly seize the day.
The collection of epigraphs alone may be a reason to acquire this book. The book opens with fourteen pages of epigraphs on the subject of time spanning the gamut from Lao Tzu to Richard Branson. The epigraphs explore various perspectives on time and our relation to time, and how we live within it. The one thing all of us recognize in our most reflective moments is the brevity of our life span and how rapidly it passes. As the author of this work, it is “the dash between the two dates on our gravestones.” The perennial question is what the meaning of this transient existence is and how we might make the most of it.
Guinness interacts with a similarly titled book, Carpe Diem Regained, by Roman Krznaric, who believes there is no transcendent source of meaning, that we must create that meaning for ourselves, and then “seize the day” Guinness argues that carpe diem requires a vision of life that makes sense of time and history, and roots this in the Judeo-Christian account found in the Bible.
He contends for a covenantal perspective on time in contrast to cyclical or mere chronological views of time. Time has a telos that is shaped by the relation between a sovereign God committed to his creation including human beings created with real freedom to respond in love or rebellion. This freedom involves both real risk and the possibility of redemption. Our lives are neither determined nor part of an endless cycle.
We exist in an era in which the precision and coordination of our time-keeping eventuates in a life of constant pressure. At a deeper level, our modern understanding of time is shaped by a narrative of progress, a presumption that the latest is the greatest, and the paradox of the avant garde becoming the rear guard, an inevitable fatality of progress.
How then does he propose we seize the day within these contemporary dynamics of time. The beginning is not an idea, but a “walk,” daily, with God, the daily rhythms of trust and obedience that shape a life and not just an ideology. Secondly, this means discerning the times, understanding what is really happening in them and how God is working in them. Then it means serving God’s purpose in that time. Christians practice a kind of prophetic untimeliness or “resistance thinking” against the ways that the culture distorts past, present, and future.
This kind of life may be costly. Guinness relates some of the cost to his own family, former missionaries in China. He lost a brother and sister to starvation during World War 2 and his parents suffered arrest under the communists for several years. It was tempting to wonder what they accomplished, yet there hope was that “the end is not the end,” that our hope is in the coming of Jesus.
He summarizes his argument as follows:
Those with the greatest view of time are those best able to use and enjoy the time they have. Life is short, but we are called to rise to our full potential, making the most of it and seizing each day. Within the biblical view of time and history, life offers meaning and opens prospects whose significance far outstrips its shortness. (p. 136)
This is classic Guinness, down to the three alliterated points in many chapters! But there is also something different. There is a personal character to this work as well. Guinness shares more of himself than I’ve observed in many of his books, and we have the sense of one who has been long at this journey imparting vital wisdom. He speaks into our time-pressured and experience-oriented culture of a vision of carpe diem that is far more than filling one’s life with as much experience as we can cram into the brief space of our lives. He reminds us of the biblical wisdom that understands life within our covenantal relationship with a transcendent and yet loving God who makes sense of the flow of time and its ultimate end. This is a God who invites us to walk with Him, to see our times with his eyes and serve his purposes in our generation, and trust that this is enough. We also seize the day, not in a self-fabricated purpose or an endless cycle, but in the faith that the employment of all our energies toward the purposes of God will bring joy and our time and matter for eternity.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.