~ Eternity Is Not Endless Time ~
Terms like “foreordained” and “predestination” continue to be the subject of doctrinal disputes. Part of the reason is that these words are time-dependent and God is not. He doesn’t look into the future because God is already there, so to speak; All-knowing, All-present, the First and Last, the I am. Keeping this in mind will help add another dimension to scriptural understanding.
For instance, Revelation 13:8 states, “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (NIV). Here we have a paradoxical tension between future and past. It seems to imply that the names in the book of life were chosen before the people lived, while the Lamb of God (Christ) had been sacrificed before the fall of mankind.
While many Christians like the book of life part since it fits nicely into their belief in a predestined chosen elect, the “slain Lamb” part presents a “problem” to be explained. So some translations actually read, “…written from the creation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain.” While that twists scripture into conformity with human doctrine (of some people), it greatly compromises the original Greek rendition.
This also leaves us to contend with 1 Corinthians 2:7-9: “We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. However, as it is written, 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (NIV). That wisdom which existed before time began was the Word, the Christ, the slain Lamb.
The only other place in the New Testament besides Revelation where the descriptive “Lamb of God” is found is in John’s Gospel (John 1:29). John opens his account by declaring “through him [the Word] all things were made…In him was life” (John 1:3-4).
So let’s look at eternity and time from three angles. First, time was created since many passages mention “before time began,” including the one from 1 Corinthians cited previously. Thanks to Dr. Einstein and colleagues who pioneered the theories and mathematics of Relativity, time is treated as a dimension of matter, just like length, width and height. In the quantum-particle physics of nuclear laboratories, time measurements that warp, change, slow down and are a fundamental property of matter and energy must be part of the equation. Relativity is no longer a theory. When God created matter, He created its properties, which included time. More on this can be read in the past Reflections “Following Up on the Pondering and Praise of Prayer” and “The Big Bang and a Big God.”
Now let’s think about our experience of time. We are all familiar with a sense of timelessness produced by theta and delta brain waves as during deep prayer or sleep. We may have vivid dreams that occur in time, but upon awakening we have no idea at all whether we were sleeping for an hour or ten hours. Even during the more wakeful alpha state of concentration and focus, two hours may feel like two minutes, especially if we are having fun! But two minutes of intense pain may feel like two days.
Because we experience time subjectively and differently than others, we can project into the future, or live the future in the present. An example is the decision of a parent to provide his or her child with a puppy dog. The child wants the dog with all his mind, loves the dog with all his heart, and in his limited wisdom and life experience, he sees himself being a live-long partner with the dog. In the child’s mind, neither he or the dog will ever die or part.
In your greater wisdom and perspective, you know by providing this wonderful gift, you are also deliberately insuring your child with suffering. If things go well, the dog will die before the child. It may be a violent death, or a peaceful one, sudden or after prolonged suffering. You are predestinating pain for your child and you know it, but you know it not as a future-seer. You know it by wisdom. You know how the economy of life is constructed. You can choose to not predestine your child to suffering, but that would mean choosing to not predestine him to experience the learnings, joys and love the relationship of the dog would provide.
During those dog-years, while you participate in the joys of your child, the time of its end has already taken place in your mind. You have anticipated and prepared for it. When the dog’s death enters the time of the child, you are ready with your consolation and plans to help your child learn, heal and grow from the experience of sharing life and death with his beloved animal friend.
I know you can already see the connection between the parent and child with God and us in this metaphor without much explanation. The metaphor, however, falls short of fully tasting just a morsel of the divine mystery. Parent and child are both living in time. God lives outside of time (“a thousand years and a day are the same to him”) while time is a property of our physical existence. As God penetrates our bodies and spirits with His Spirit, He also intrudes into our time, at just the right point. There is even a Greek word describing this, “Kairos,” God’s “special time” in our lives bound by time. (The Greek for the latter, or human time, is “Chronos.”)
So let’s end by peeking at the third angle, that which is ineffable but able to be tasted a bit by revelation of His Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). The Second Person of the Trinity is always described or referred to incarnationally. That is, the Word, Christ, is always presented as intersecting or infusing the created world of matter. All things were made through Him and all things continue to have their existence in Him, holding all things together. (See Colossians 1:16-17.) While “He is seated at the right hand of the Father,” He also continues to abide in us, suffer with us, rejoice with us. Whatever we do to and for each other, we do to and for Him, which is to speak literally, not metaphorically. As He says, He will continue to be with us in that way until the “end of time” or “the end of the age.” (See Matthew 28:20.)
Christ is the Son of God and the Son of Man (or humankind), at the same “time.” As the Alpha and Omega, He always was Son of God and Son of Man, before time and during time. He always was the “Lamb that was slain from the creation.” He did not “become” the Son of God and Man at some point in human “time.” He is changeless, always having been what He is now, in and out of time, in the visible and invisible. There was not a point in time when God the Father “mutated” into a Son-Person. The Triune God did not develop “in time.” The Trinity was always complete and God was in His fullness in the eternity before time began when He said, “Let Us make…” So all things are asked and done in “Christ’s name”.
We trust the child in our metaphor won’t scream, “Why did you ever get me the dog in the first place? You knew he was going to die and break my heart!” But maybe not. In our miniscule wisdom and perception, many people, including a few prophets, cursed God for creating them. But like the parent in our metaphor, God was ready to reveal the “hidden wisdom He destined for our glory before time began,” and manifest the slain Lamb into human time.“ ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV).
Paul writes we can see “only darkly now, as in a mirror.” As we look into mirrors, we see only reflections of reality, and those reflections are reversed besides. What I write here are just my reflections. Add your own and let us be content, even ecstatic, at being able to glimpse the resplendent mysteries of God. At the end of the age, when time is no more, our glorified eyes will be free from another spiritual cataract. Our vision will be clearer in due timelessness.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © February 22, 2003
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