Think in lines not circles.

Photo by Dmitri Popov on Unsplash

In the 1940’s it was Dr. Theodore Woodward who’s given credit for the expression “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebra’s”.  He applied this to the idea of medical diagnosis with the idea that the most common thing is usually the most common thing. Don’t go looking for something that’s not there. He helped the practice of medicine to move forward by helping keep things simple.

It was the God of the Bible and the Hebrew people who established the original and revolutionary idea that when it comes to time and history “think lines not circles”They helped to completely change the way humans view and understand themselves in the context of time.


The way we view and understand time is a direct result of the Hebrew people and the God of the Bible.

In most ancient cultures the predominant understanding of time, the passing of time, and how history works would be best described as being cyclical.


How would a cyclical understanding of time affect your understanding and perspective of the universe?


When you believe your life and everything you do is part of a wheel that keeps spinning or rather a cycle that keeps getting repeated you view your being in a particular way.

For example, if everything is cyclical then there’s no such thing as something new. If my life is just a wheel that’s spinning what hope do I have for some kind of different future. If a repetitive cycle is the way of the universe then my entire being is pre-planned and pre-prepared and i’m just going through the motions.

Where’s the fun in that?


In his book “The gift of the Jews” Thomas Cahill discusses how it was God working with his people that brought all of humanity the gift of a linear time.



It all starts with Abraham but has profound effects on how we now see and understand time, the universe, and ourselves.


In Genesis 12 God calls Abram and has a mission for him. In vs 4 there are 3 little words that change the course of history and our understanding of time from that moment on.

It says… “so Abram went”.

This is a huge deal, God calls Abram, and Abram went.


People didn’t do this. They didn’t leave their land, their tribe, their people.

There was no real advantage to venturing out on their own and they understood time as a circle  which means you can’t change the course of history.


But Abram went.


The fact that God calls him and that he goes, changes everything.

Things can change. I’m not bound by a repeating cycle.


If time and history is no longer a circle then what is it?

It’s a line. 


What does that mean?

Well a couple of things actually.


First, it means that for the first time in human history you can have both a past that you can move away from and a future that you can look forward to as well as have the ability to change should you so desire.

Imagine what a mind blowing concept this would be.  To move from the idea that we are only ever destined to keep repeating the same mistakes, that we can’t learn from them, that we can’t correct them, to the idea that how you live determines your future.


Second, If I now have the ability to learn from my past and to work towards a better future then it also highlights the importance of the now.

This is the first civilization to live in real time. To live as if how they live in the moment actually matters. Think of how this would effect their ability to live out God’s calling to Abram that through him all nations would be blessed.

This couldn’t have happened with a circle understanding of time and history. This God is up to something new and ground breaking and phenomenal.


Lastly, this now means that our story is going somewhere. This whole thing known as the human existence is a progressive story. It’s moving forward. It’s shifting, It’s changing, it’s re-arranging and we get to be a part of it.

This means that we can grow and develop and get better. That we are not ultimately doomed just to keep doing the same thing over and over but rather we get to participate in guiding and shaping the future of all things.


How exciting.


You know what this means?

I’m not defined by my past.


You know what this means?

I get to create my future.


You know what this means?

What I do now matters.


When you think lines not circles you can really go somewhere.