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Time And Eternity

by Tim O'Hearn

My friend, David, is much more of a football fan than I am. Unlike me, he does not like baseball. He once told me that football was better because it had more action. When I watched a Cubs game (baseball) and a Redskins game (American football) at the same time I kept track and was able to show him that baseball had just over two plays for every one play in football. To this his only response was, “But football is a macho sport.” At the time I didn’t point out another significant difference: it would be possible to play baseball in heaven, but not football. Why not? Because baseball, cricket (in some cases), and tennis are the major sports that are not constrained by a time clock, while football and most other sports require a clock. If heaven is in eternity, there is not time there, which means no football.

We are people of time. More particularly, we are people of linear time. We can only go forward in time. Maybe that is why we are so fascinated by time-travel movies, books, and television shows in which a person goes backward. (Among my favorites are -Portrait of Jennie and the remarkable Somewhere In Time.) A favorite question is, “If you could go back to any age of your life (or any period of time), what would it be?” We also dream of forward time travel, of being able to see what will happen, but most people seem to be more obsessed with the past.

Because we are constrained by time, we find it difficult to understand a God who is outside of time. It could even be argued that by creating day and night, God created time. As the creator, he is beyond the limits of the creation. When God said he was “I AM” we can understand the he is now, but we have difficulty with the concept of “I am, not was, yesterday” and “I am, not will be, tomorrow.” The Sadducees of Jesus’ day had the same problem. When they mocked the resurrection, Jesus replied, “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matt 22:31-32)

We speak of pre-dicting the future, as if it is something yet to come. But with God it is not predicting, but simply stating what is, to him, a current event. How could God know that Babylon would capture Jerusalem years before it happened? How could Jesus predict the destruction of Jerusalem? God knew that they would happen because to him they were currently happening. Of course, this leads to what is in our mind a paradox: Why would God create man or the devil, knowing they would rebel against him? The problem is, since we are constrained by time we cannot understand the intricacies of the mind of one who has no time. What to us may seem a paradox may be routine to God.

Along with this comes the issue of causation. . If God knows it is happening/going-to-happen, then does that mean it cannot help but happen? Can we choose to do something and change God’s perception of what is? Does God’s “foreknowledge” (which to him is current knowledge) cause something to happen? Certainly not. If we know that two trains are approaching each other on the same track, does our awareness of an impending crash cause the crash to happen?

It seems to us inadequate to answer all these questions with the thought that the mind of God is so much beyond ours that we cannot understand it. Still, to use Twain’s example in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, to many in the Middle Ages our ability to accurately predict a solar eclipse would seem magical. It might even be interpreted as causative. Yet, we no more cause the eclipse than we can add eighteen inches to our height. In the same way, God’s knowledge because he is outside of time, seems magical to us.

We don’t understand it all now. But when we are, ourselves, in eternity, “we will understand it better by and by.”