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How Much Time?

Written by Gary North on May 21, 2016

It should be obvious that a suitable strategy for a marathon runner is considerably different from a sprinter’s strategy. If you have 26 miles to cover, your pace will be a lot steadier, end you will be called upon to maintain considerably greater reserves of energy. The sprinter will give a lot more attention to the crouch, the starting blocks, and the signal to start. The distance runners do not even bother to crouch; there are no starting blocks; and you never see a false start by those anticipating the starting run. It is endurance, not speed out of the blocks, that will determine the success of the marathon runner.

The Hebrews were promised a kingdom land in Canaan. Yet the promise took several centuries to come true, from Abraham’s day to Joshua’s, and the period of training involved years of captivity and four decades in the wilderness. So while their advent into the promised land was a sharp discontinuity from the point of view of the Canaanites of Moses’ day, from the point of view of the Hebrews, it was a long-term process. The foundations had been laid between Abraham’s era and Joshua’s; the seemingly rapid completion of the structure was possible only because of the centuries of theological, ecclesiastical, and institutional investment that had preceded it.

The kind of institution a person or a group builds depends upon their estimation of the capital, skills, and time available to them. If they are convinced that there is insufficient time to bring the project to its completion, then they have the architect redesign the plans. Similarly, if they are convinced that the skills or the capital available are minimal, they will design the plans accordingly. It is senseless to start construction without estimating in advance the likelihood of its being possible to bring the project to completion (Lk. 14:28-30). Furthermore, if a person thinks the structure will be in service for 50 years, he will use one set of construction materials. If he expects it to be in service for several centuries, he will select a different quality of building materials.

Does it make sense to criticize the short-run builder? It depends. The British in the early nineteenth century built their rails with the best, most expensive steel available. It consumed huge quantities of financial capital. Americans built their railroads using cheaper materials that were only expected to last a couple of decades. Meanwhile, tremendous gains were made in metallurgy, and by the time the American rails were worn out, they could be replaced with far better rails-than the British possessed, and at a far lower expenditure of capital. Throughout the intervening years, the builders had the extra capital to use for other purposes. They “built cheap,” and let technology come up with the better product later on. The same thing has happened in our era with computer technology. It is not sensible to “buy ahead” when you buy a computer; increased needs in the future should be purchased in the future, when prices will be far lower and capacity will be higher.

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