This Day and That Day

The Pressures of Today and the Returning King

Let’s talk about your calendar. How is it looking these days? If yours looks like mine, then you see color-coded calendars within calendars. Light blue for personal events, dark blue for exercise, yellow for administrative responsibilities, orange for work activities, purple for birthdays, and green for today’s events. One glance at my calendar app will treat your eyes to a multicolored time-management piece of art.

Whether you keep a rigid calendar or not, we live in busy times. This makes the calendar of the German Reformer Martin Luther so well-timed for us in our cultural moment. He wrote simply, “I have two days on my calendar: this day and that Day.”

This Day

One reason we might endeavor to keep a well-organized calendar is that we intuitively feel the significance of today. A wasted life consists of wasted days, so we desire not to let unproductive days pile up. And what can add to the pressure is the reality that today is the only day we ever occupy. Yesterday is gone. The future, to us, is unknown and unlivable. This day is all we have at our disposal.

Uncle Screwtape, a fictional demon from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, concurs with “the Enemy’s” (God’s) priority of the present. He writes to his nephew Wormwood,

The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. (75)

Knowing this, the senior demon advises his young nephew to tempt humans with the past and the future as a way to keep them from the present — this day.

Two Threats to the Present

The struggle with attending to the present is often that the past and the unknown future dull the importance of today.

It is easier to live in the past. We often get caught up in the riptide of past regrets, missed opportunities, could haves, would haves, and should haves that pull us deeper into the ocean of the past. The nostalgic good ol’ days mentally box out the mundane, same-old present moment — dishes again, cutting the grass again, making the bed again. Likewise, the future calls us, as if commissioned on the Starship Enterprise, to explore strange new worlds of possibilities, dreams, and aspirations. This does not mean we shouldn’t reflect on the past and plan for the future. Living in the past and yearning for the future, however, challenges the importance of being fully present this day.

While tempting someone to live in the past has some benefits, Screwtape explains, the goal is to keep human eyes locked on the future. Screwtape elaborates,

Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it, we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time — for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. (76)

Scripture Addresses Us Today

We ought to accept Luther’s calendar invite and be mindful that “this day,” the important present, is the only day of activity that we have. The present — and there alone — Screwtape says, “all duty, all grace, all knowledge, and all pleasure dwell” (78–79). The Scriptures call us to many things we can do only today:

  • “Look carefully then how you walk [today], not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15–16).
  • “Walk [today] in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Colossians 4:5).
  • “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
  • “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear [today], slow to speak [today], slow to anger [today]” (James 1:19).

We pray this day for today’s bread (Matthew 6:11) and keep tomorrow’s anxiousness at bay (Matthew 6:34). This day is when we obey the many one-another commandments. The commandment to love God and love neighbor can happen this day. Likewise, we may dream of doing great gospel exploits in the future, and yet the present moment is when all gospel exploits happen. The race, looking to Jesus, is run this day.

“Yesterday is gone. The future, to us, is unknown and unlivable. This day is all we have at our disposal.”

We may grieve that we have not obeyed these commands well in the past. We may hope to do it better in the future. This present moment though, this day, we have marvelous opportunities to practice. Eugene Peterson captures this well: “The only place you have to be human is where you are right now. The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day: this house you live in, this family you find yourself in, this job you have been given, the weather conditions that prevail at this moment” (Run with the Horses, 148).

That Day

Yet this day was not the only day on Luther’s calendar.

Celebratory days, such as holidays or our own birthdays, occupy many places on the calendar. In reality, however, only one person has a day that is specifically called his own. “As the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day” (Luke 17:24).

Scripture describes this return in various ways: his coming (1 Thessalonians 2:19), his revealing (1 Corinthians 1:7), his appearance (2 Thessalonians 2:8). Luther’s quote points us to an additional description of the promised return of our Lord Jesus: “that day” (2 Timothy 1:12, 18).

That day will be a day of judgment and salvation (Revelation 6:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7), retribution and reward (2 Thessalonians 1:5–9; 2 Timothy 4:8), calamity and blessing (1 Thessalonians 4:15–17; 5:3). Wrath for the enemies of Christ; salvation and endless blessing for his people.

History is marching toward the day of the Lord — not as an “if,” but a “when.” More is certain than death and taxes. The two men in white robes ensure us, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). While the future is unknown and tomorrow is not guaranteed, “that Day” is engraved upon every calendar. The resurrection of Christ guaranteed its coming arrival (Acts 17:30–31). Jesus says, “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).

Two Days

How do these two days relate?

“History is marching toward the day of the Lord — not as an ‘if,’ but a ‘when.’”

How does Jesus’s return influence our today? Does Jesus’s pending arrival shape how we change diapers, how spouses engage in conversation, how the not-yet married pursue singleness and dating? Does “that Day” reshape how we seek justice, work to resolve cultural issues, react to Supreme Court decisions, and manage money? Does his appearing cause us to patiently persevere through suffering, pursue racial reconciliation, and sacrificially love our enemies?

Paul reminded the Thessalonian church that while the day of the Lord is going to surprise some like a thief showing up in the night, others will not be caught off guard. “You are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:4–5). Paul spelled out the implications of this reality: “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober [today], having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). We are to encourage and build one another up continually in light of the day of the Lord.

First Thessalonians 5:1–11 is one example among many of how the future pours into the present. This is not a foreign concept to us because future days often influence our present days. The future paycheck encourages you to get up and to go to work today. The future result of a fit body inspires you to go to the gym today, even if you don’t feel like it. Your future graduation ceremony motivates you today to get your homework done. To save yourself future car trouble, you get an oil change done now. In reality, the future is stamped on today more often than we might realize.

How much more should the future day of judgment and salvation drive our today? We live, today, as those who are waiting for Jesus’s return. Martin Luther rightly had two days on his calendar: this day and that Day.