We know time because we see change. We see children growing, the seasons passing, the moon phasing. If we didn’t see change we would not know time. Man would not age, the sun would not set, and everything would be forever.1
But time as we know it is not stagnant.
It is God who exists outside time.2 His timeless greatness exceeds all constraints of time. Saint Augustine once quoted, “to say that God has never done something is to say that there is no time when he did it.” Before creation there was no time; time was created with creation as a measure of end; after creation time will once again cease to exist. Everything will be forever. Time is best explained by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when he pointed with his index and middle fingers and said, “The time of my arrival and the Hour [Day of Judgment] is like [the distance between] these two fingers.” Can you imagine the creation of this Earth 5 billion years ago and the time to its end, is comparable to nothing but a short distance before God. In other narrations the lifespan of a human in this world is like a small bubble that forms and pops on top of the ocean.
Thus, God says mankind is in loss against time (Quran 103:1-2).3 For God the life of a human is like a few milliseconds. He looks down onto the universe and onto earth as if watching an ant build his home only to be crushed. Time is a witness to this tragedy of human life. Man chases life to make the best of it, but ends up defeated by time. Man collects, hoards, and builds only to depart with death and buried 6 feet underground. Man builds a home, lives 80 or 90 year, and dies. And so another lives in his home, 80 or 90 years, dies, and the cycle continues. God watches down at the short life of man who works hard, but attains no mental happiness nor satisfaction. Always wanting more, ending with nothing.
Time is regret. If you ponder, what is mankind constantly loosing? – Time. When it is gone we only look back and wish we had more time or done things differently. Expressed love to our mother; spent time with our family; practiced healthy life styles; worried less about trivial things; cherished the true friends; stopped lying to those we cared about; taken advice from those who cared; kept our promises; stayed more positive; tried to improve our character; given more charity; learned about God; married and had a family. We live a life of entertainment, friends, education, and career-oriented independence so that we forget to give time to those who matter most. Our self-righteous, self-centered actions let time slip our grip. At a young age we think we have all the time in the world. We spend more than half our lives to educate ourselves, have a career, make money, and create a name. But in reality we are only in the illusion of “having” time. Only later—if time permits and death doesn’t consume us—does the meaning of time hit us hard. When old age comes and we have nothing or when old age comes and we have everything but true happiness; when our problems only grow bigger, health only depreciates, children only become disobedient, and money only leaves us. We realize then, the time we wasted learning from our mistakes, instead of learning from others’ mistakes. The regret for more time only leads us to a path of sorrow, depression, and hopelessness. The past is nothing but memories. The past is a time that no longer exist but in simple regret.
But if everything exists in time, is man always in loss?
Recall the description of God outside time, looking down on earth at the short tragic lives of humans. If these humans stepped outside time they would see the seasons, years, and centuries pass like mere seconds. These are the humans who are NOT in loss. Those who realize loss before their death (the definition of loss). Those who realize life is too short to be wasted with mere worldly goals. Those who realize what they chase is insignificant, what they worry about is trivial, what they work for is unimportant. They realize that one day they will live outside time with Him—in his abode.
These are humans who foresee loss if they spend a life of hard-work for mere material gain but no true happiness. They foresee a life full of trivial problems but no real solutions. These human will learn to work hard not for the material gains and worldly pleasures, but for the worldly gains to sustain life and for spiritual pleasures. They will realize “a long life may not be good enough but a good life is long enough.” They learn to live outside time while living in it, preparing for the reality to come. When they die is when they awaken to realize life was only a dream. Wisdom and death will be their motto.
These humans are not in loss if they know that the reward is not in this short life that will depart with death, equivalent to the span of a bubble on top of the ocean, but in eternity where man will not age, the sun will not set, and everything would be forever. They realize time is not to be competed or outsmarted but to be lived with wisdom. They live every moment knowing it is short, every moment learning from others’ mistakes, every moment according to His commandments, every moment attaining spiritual happiness, and every moment hopeful that one day they will live with Him outside time. These are the Humans not in loss.
God makes clear that mankind is in loss, “Except for those who have believed, done righteous deeds, advised each other to truth, and advised each other to patience” (Quran 103:3). These are words to ponder.
1Reference to Heaven
2Saint Augustine sayings in Confessions
3Surah Asr (103) in Quran