Theology of Time

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I was a young lad in high-school when I solved the mystery which had bedeviled medieval theologians–how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? None. Why you ask. Because angels can't dance, say I. Sophomoric, you say. Yes, I was in my second year at high-school.

This simple insight about the differences between the physical Universe and the spiritual Universe has blossomed and grown into a giant tree. The idea that angels (or any spirit beings) cannot dance because they have no moving parts evolved into the thought that time is a measure of change (movement). Without change there is no time. Since God does not change, God does not exist in time. Rather, time is part of God's creation. We exist in a space-time continuum–God does not.

So, who is God? I think the writer of Exodus 3:14 put it best: I am who am. It is perceptive, profound, simple, elegant, definitive, complete. There is nothing more to add. (Contrary to conventional wisdom, God is static, not dynamic. God does nothing; God just exists.) God did not create the Universe in some Big Bang billions of years ago; the creation of the Universe is an ongoing process which emanates from God and has no start and no ending.

These differences regarding time between God's reality and our reality have led me to develop my tongue-in-cheek Theology of Time. God knows time one way; we perceive it another. We view time like the historical time-lines found in school textbooks. Across the page runs a line with marks to indicate the points of significant events:

                4BC         1492     1776   1969

4 BC, the birth of Jesus; 1492, Columbus lands in the Bahamas; 1776, the Declaration of Independence; 1969, the Eagle lands on the Moon; etc. This is how we view time–a sequence of events.

You may also remember from school that a line is a one-dimensional collection of points which is infinitely long in both directions. So what happens if we turn the longitudinal line 90º and look cross-wise through it's length. We see all the points merged into one point–there is no start or ending. (The line is both very long and very short.) If these points represent events on a time line, then everything occurs altogether, simultaneously at one point in time. There is no past or future. There is no sequence of events. We have taken the one-dimensional line and mapped into a non-dimensional point. This is how God knows time:

4BC   1492

1776   1969

These different perspectives of time are like an optical illusion–it is very hard to see, but once we figure it out it is impossible for our mind to go back to our old view. Ah, interesting, but so what? Well, if we are able to let ourselves go or go with the flow, or whatever idiomatic phrase fits, then suddenly we are able to reconcile some of the most contentious issues which have confronted and divided mankind over the ages. Free-will man and omniscient Deity–no conflict, just different concepts of time. Evolution and creationism–one and the same, just different perspectives of the same process. Catholic trans-substantiation and Lutheran con-substantiation–spiritually identical, just different expressions of the same reality. This way of thinking about time can have a profound impact on other big-issue topics, such as morality and sin, life and death, the nature of the soul, even heaven and hell. I will elaborate on these topics in other essays.

Two points to conclude:

  1. This insight into the nature of time does not prove any of the above thoughts, e.g., that mankind has free will. Rather, it gives us a way to climb the mountain and overlook the battlefield below. It's a free ticket to the really BIG picture. Enjoy.
  2. It is not easy to see the optical illusion. It requires practice and it takes getting used to. I remember explaining this concept to one of my coworkers more than forty years ago. He immediately dismissed the whole idea as bunk. But then–about six months later–he broached the topic and admitted there was some merit to the thought. I do not think he used the word profound, but his manner shouted out the word.

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