Time Vs Eternity
C. Custance and
Does time have a beginning? What was God doing before He created the universe? St.Thomas Aquinas answered: Since time did not exist, God did not have time to do anything.
St. Thomas believed that time began when the universe was made into existence. There are those who believe that there is such a thing as an absolute time where there is no point where time began, where time is infinitely long (where there is no beginning and no end).
I respectfully disagree. Time as we know it can only be found in our universe because it can only be experienced in a specific manner in this universe. Although we, as individuals, feel time pass in the same manner, its speed can be perceived differently. If you’re preoccupied with something, time may pass more quickly than if you were bored. This effect of the stretching or compression of time is manifested in the psychological world (in your mind). Another, more counter-intuitive, phenomenon of stretching, and compression of time can be actually seen and measured in relativistic effects. These time fluctuations occur in the physical world. But what happens in the spiritual world? How does God perceive time? Or is He outside of time as we know it?
Whether we look at how time is relative in our perceptions as well as our measurements, we are still dealing with time, and not with eternity. To use a more familiar idea would be to talk about any number and infinity. The basic mistake that most people do is to conceptualize infinity to a very large number. If you take away 1 from a very large number (no matter how large it is), you end up with a very large number less one. But if you take away one from infinity, you still get infinity. As far as a large number is from infinity, so is time from eternity. These 2, time and eternity, are two different realms of experience. What we need to remember here is that when we step out of time, we step into eternity, and we cannot be in them both at once. But God can.
God exists in these two realms. I can say this because since time only began after the universe was brought forth we know God was there before time existed. How can God be bound by something He created out of nothing? And since we experience God through miracles and through Jesus, we know that God exists inside of time. Therefore God exists inside and outside of time. In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus testified to this capacity. The most striking example showing that God lives outside of time is the following statement from John 8:58: “Before Abraham was, I am.” Let’s look at this statement closely.
What we might have expected to find would have been the words, “Before Abraham was, I was” – which would have satisfied our normal sense of time. But this is not what the Lord said. What He did say is much more significant and is evidence of His living outside of time. The subject of the conversation was Abraham. The Lord took Abraham’s time as the point of reference and spoke of the ages that preceded Abraham, and all that followed (including the present). Jesus referred to the distant period before Abraham in the present tense even though it was centuries ago. To Christ, it was “now”. Why? Because Jesus is God, and to God, there is no passage of time, but all is “present”.
Another illustration of this apparent inversion of time is found in Isaiah 65:24, “Before they call, I will answer.” Most people have taken this to mean simply that God knows ahead of time what we are going to pray for and then can anticipate our needs. But this is not really what it says in Isaiah. What God says is that the fulfillment of the request will have been completed before the request is made, which would seem to render prayer unnecessary in the first place because if God has already answered, why pray? – From God’s point of view the prayer is already answered because from God’s point of view it is already prayed. Therefore, prayer is still useful and necessary in our timeframe.
Still another example comes from Revelation 13:8, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Again, the ordinary way to interpret this verse is to think of it as God’s foreknowledge. But it doesn’t say that the Lamb was foreordained to be slain. But in the text it is the Lord who is slain, from the foundation of the world – slain in fact, out of time. This was the sacrifice of God, an event that was timeless in and of itself. This is a truth that is by no means essential that a man should understand in order to be saved, but it is a wonderful thing to enter into God’s revelation and think His thoughts after Him. The Lord Jesus Christ continually lived in time for our sakes, and in eternity by His very nature. It is in this sense that He could speak of Himself while on earth as “the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13).
This next section needs some careful attention. It's here that we’ll apply what we just learned about the two categories of experience, time and eternity. This way of thinking will clear up quite a few mysteries in a wonderful way. When a Christian dies, he passes from this realm of time and space into another realm of pure spirit, that is to say, out of time as we experience it into a state of timelessness, the ever-present of God. As he makes this passage, every event in God’s scheduled program for the future which, as revealed in Scripture must come to pass before the Lord’s return, must crowd instantly upon him. He does not “wait” for the Lord’s return: it is immediate. But the Lord’s return is an event, which, in the framework of historical time, cannot take place until the church is complete and the end of the age has come. It must happen for him, therefore, that these events are completed instantaneously, though the living who survive him await these events in the future.
Yet, for him, those who survive him must in his consciousness also have completed their journey home, and therefore he will not even experience any departing from them, but they with him rise to meet the Lord on His way for His second triumph with all the saints. Within the framework of time, this general resurrection is future, but to the “dying” Christian, it is a present event. This is the meaning of the Lord’s words “The hour is coming – and now is…” (John 5:25).
Now, this can be carried a little further. The experience of each saint is shared by all other saints, by those who have preceded and those who are to follow. For them all, all history, all intervening time between death and the Lord's return, is suddenly annihilated so that each one finds to his amazement that Adam, too, is just dying and joining him on his way to meet the Lord: and Abraham and David, Isaiah and the Beloved John, Paul and Augustine, and you and all in one wonderful experience meeting the Lord in a single instant together, without precedence and without the slightest consciousness of delay, none being late and none too early (this could be the meaning of I Thessalonians 4:13-17.
For us who remain, this event is still future, an event greatly longed for: for those who have gone on, it has already happened but not without us.It is in this sense that Scripture twice affirms, observing events from our point of view, that no man hath yet ascended into heaven (John 3:13), not even David (Acts 2:34). David is not there yet, nor any others, because we are not there! As we have said, in one body, in one single experience, all pass together to be with the Lord and all intervening time being eclipsed, the Lord is at that moment on His way back.
[I welcome any doctrinal questions or corrections]