What if only the present exists? No past! No future! Only the present!
Sounds like science fiction stuff – the kind found in the Star Trek. Fifty-three occurrences of time travel exist in the Star Trek universe: 5 episodes dealing with time travel from “The Original Series,” 12 in “The Next Generation,” 11 from “Deep Space Nine,” 12 in “Voyager,” 9 from “Enterprise,” and 4 movies involved time travel in all of the Star Trek movies.
The first “time travel” tale to ever appear on television was in 1959 on The Twilight Zone. Since then television brought us Quantum Leap (1989-93) and Voyagers! (1982-83). And scores of movies found their central theme in time travel, like:
- Back to the Future, Back to the Future, Part II and Back to the Future, Part III (Years: 1985; 1989; 1990)
- The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Years: 1984; 1991)
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2003)
- Groundhog Day (1993)
Perhaps the British TV program series, Doctor Who, best illustrates humanity’s quest to travel time with the ease of sailing a ship or driving a car. The Doctor belongs to an extraterrestrial civilization called the Time Lords who produce the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space). A properly maintained and piloted TARDIS can transport its occupants anywhere in time and space.
In “The Snowmen” (aired on the BBC, December 26, 2013), the Doctor is forced out of hiding to investigate some mysterious, sentient snowmen that are building themselves. He meets Clara Oswald, a governess, also investigating the snowmen. In this video clip, they ascend a staircase to the sky to return to the TARDIS. When the Doctor and Clara enter the “Police Box,” the interior stuns Clara into silence because the interior of the TARDIS is much larger than its exterior. The Doctor informs her that he can transport its occupants to any point in time and space.
Issues of time travel captured my imagination ever since I read a children’s version of The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (late at night under the covers of my bed so my parents would think I was asleep). And for the past 30+ years I have entertained the idea that “time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.” Never mind where I stumbled across this concept – OK, I read it on the wall of a bathroom stall in Walter Library at the University of Minnesota.
If time sequences events, then removing time would cause all events to occur simultaneously within some kind of “eternal present.” Imagine a football game without a clock – all 133 plays from scrimmage would happen as one play. Our minds cannot begin to separate the chaos. We need the perspective of eternity in order to enjoy the 3 hours and 10 minutes of an average NFL football game broadcast — in just one second.
So, What would this “eternal present” look like? Imagine the deaths of the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther and my father within this “eternal present.” The Apostle Paul died about 68 AD, Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546 in Eisleben, Germany, and my father died on September 16, 2008 in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Without time to provide sequencing of events, they entered eternity simultaneously. In fact, from the vantage point of eternity, each of them died at the exact same moment.
How would this “eternal present” impact our reading of the Bible? How would our concept of God change? Would conflicting issues surrounding predestination vs. free will disappear completely?
We must begin with God’s self-disclosure to Moses at the burning bush.
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’ ” (Exodus 3:13-14 NIV).
God’s name is “I AM” (or in Hebrew, Yahweh or YHWH). Thus, God does not dwell in the “eternal present;” God is “Eternal Present.” As the “Eternal Present,” does God see all of human history as a kind of NFL football game that is broadcast in its entirety – all 3 hours and 10 minutes – within the time span of a nanosecond or less?
Ok, now we must enter the world of philosophy and talk about cosmology!
Cosmology is the study of the universe, especially the origin, growth and overall structure of the universe. Because cosmology refers to this understanding of the universe, it often describes the worldview of a group of people at a particular time. Awareness of their cosmology provides a critical tool for the interpretation of their speech or literature.
Somehow we must synthesize physics and theology in our cosmology. Einstein once said, “For we convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, however persistent.” And, many more blogs are required to mine this idea of time! However, at this point, I start with the greatest miracle of all – creation.
In creation, God allowed finiteness to coexist with God’s infiniteness. Every speculation about the beginnings of the universe stumble over this miracle. Whether or not we call this “Separation” the Big Bang (or parallel universes existing before the Big Bang) misses the critical reality that God allowed a material universe to exist within God’s own infiniteness.
Carrying the analogy of the football game forward, within the universe we observe the game played out in 3 hours and 10 minutes while God sees the same game played out in the “eternal present.” Thus, God “knows” the next play and the final score because, in the “eternal present,” events have no sequence. Past and future do not exist in the “eternal present.”
Foreknowledge is the norm. In fact, foreknowledge does not exist in the “eternal present” because “foreknowledge” assumes future. Predestination also becomes irrelevant when all of human history occurs in the “eternal present.” Issues of conflict between predestination vs. free will disappear when we adopt this cosmology.
From the perspective of the “eternal present,” my next blog is being posted as you read this.