F. Beliefs about time and change

The society believes that time is linear, and therefore there is hope for improvement in the lives of human beings and nations

Hope is an important factor in a culture’s progress from poverty toward prosperity. If a culture views time as linear (that is, that history moves forward in a sort of “line” so that progress can be made), it has hope for improvement. A linear view of time bolsters hope that individual lives, as well as entire nations and their economies, can be made better.

On the other hand, if a culture believes that time is circular and repetitive (so that the same things happen again and again, year after year, with no progress), then it tends to think that there is no hope for life in general or for the nation to improve. The things that happened in the past will merely occur again.[1]

The entire structure of the Bible argues for a linear approach to history. The Bible starts with a beginning at creation (in the book of Genesis) and moves forward to a conclusion that predicts a final judgment and a glorious future (in the book of Revelation).

Jesus also implied a linear view of time in which God’s purposes progress toward a goal and his influence on the earth increases. For example, he told a parable of a mustard seed that grew to become a large tree:

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.

It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matt. 13:31-32)

The apostle Paul also taught that history is moving forward toward a culmination in a final judgment. He told the pagan Greek philosophers in Athens that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed” (Acts 17:31).

Landes says that the linear view of time was one of the crucial factors that led to a joy in discovering new and better ways of doing things, and a widespread cultivation of invention. He summarizes the European view of time as follows:

[One reason for the European joy in invention and discovery was] the Judeo-Christian sense of linear time. Other societies thought of time as cyclical, returning to earlier stages and starting over again. Linear time is progressive or regressive, moving on to better things or declining from some earlier, happier state. For Europeans in our period, the progressive view prevailed.[2]

  • [1] Miller and Guthrie, Discipling Nations, 272-79, have a very helpful discussion of a Christian view oftime in contrast to animist and secular views of time.
  • [2] Landes, Wealth and Poverty, 59.
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