[EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is part of our series on controversial questions. A NO post will normally follow a YES post. Join in by posting your comments.]
by Bob MacDonald
That is the question.
As I was walking to the medical clinic for my quarterly blood test – following up on cancer treatment, I was muttering away to my God about semantics and things like that, wondering if the unassigned category in my Hebrew data could be reduced with automation. On my return walk (a little under a mile to the clinic) I heard my Love say “and what about that question from Steve? You know – about time and such?” And I heard a distant voice in a serious spondee pulse, “God has a Plan for you.” And I laughed. People were sparse on the street, so no one turned. But perhaps I laughed to myself. I don’t quite remember now.
Beloved, did I need to say all that to get you to laugh? Did you laugh with joy or with disdain?
What can we say about time? About the Future! I would not want you to be without hope. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Well I should stop here, shouldn’t I? Obviously Time is constrained. The future is done.
A long time ago, but still with me, is an essay I wrote over 50 years ago in University on Time and Space in Paradise Lost. I was also studying Physics and particularly the Special Theory of Relativity. I found Milton harder than Einstein. I had little use for theology in those days, but I loved Physics class. Every new revelation from Einstein left me speechless. Time dilation to the point of zero passage of time at the speed of light made me see that life was not and could not be what we think it is, i.e., a race to get the most goods, a traumatic beginning and a fearful dead end.
Time is not linear. It is relative. Time depends on the speed of light and that speed is limited. It used to be thought that light moved instantaneously. I am sure you will find citations in Aquinas to this effect.
A quick search reveals this (now there’s light – the internet).
Now no local movement of a body can be instantaneous, as everything that moves from one place to another must pass through the intervening space before reaching the end: whereas the diffusion of light is instantaneous.
But we know now that Aquinas is wrong here. Light is both a body (a particle) and a wave. And it is not instantaneous. And – mind-blowing to our parochialism – time is dependent on light. Time slows to zero. God is in the light. (God is light.) The present is therefore everything and the Presence is in the present.
There is no foreordaining to do for all is open, revealed, and present to the one we have to deal with.
If there is no future, but all is present, then our perception of future is deceptive! When they first sinned, time began, they were born as human, and they knew something other than the present. They could plan, they could kill, they could accumulate wealth, they could exploit. They did not have to be present to their evil. They could put it behind them. They could pray about it and ignore the object of prayer. They could make laws and take refuge in them. They could use weapons of mass destruction, pocket sized nukes. No more dependence for me, they say. I am my own refuge.
It’s all in the psalms of course. And it’s, well, sort-of, indicated, if you can read slowly in my book, Seeing the Psalter, in which I touch on many human things like time.
But there is no index entry for time, Bob.
No? – Look under Hurry. Psalm 22, “But you, Yahweh, be not distant, My hart, to my help, hurry.” And similarly in Psalm 38, the last verse, 40, 55, and its first double in Psalm 70. Psalm 71 a special psalm for the gray-haired, another plea for presence, and finally in Psalm 141. Such urgency is expressed nine times in eight psalms.
Well I suppose I should spell it out. Everything in the Psalms is for us to learn how to get back into the present and do the right thing with God. That is where Jesus learned from – the Psalms, how to be a child of God, how much it costs, no sword, no shield but the shield that is God, utterly naked and vulnerable, a refugee, drinking the cup to the dregs. It’s all in the Psalms. And that’s why Peter can say in his epistle – “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you….” You can read on. But don’t just get the words right. Get into the present and the past and the future with that Uniquely Anointed One, whose birth we recall this day, and in him, let us change our minds about the gifts we have, so that all humanity, rich and poor, one with another, (Psalm 49:3) may share that immense and inexhaustible wealth.
Then we will make the future, the hope of all the earth, present, and the One who is Present will be God With Us, Emmanuel.