Eternity is not a time warp.
We somehow have the idea that “eternity” means, “forever.” But that word–“forever”–implies the passage of time. That notion diminishes what eternity is, and it distorts the reality of the eternality of God. God is not eternal simply because He’s “been around forever”. Just as in His holiness He is separate from sin, so in His eternality He is separate from time. He transcends the dimension of time, a created thing by which He is unaffected.
I was struck this week by an article in the November 2012 Canadian edition of Reader’s Digest, much of which is devoted to the workings of the human brain. On page 106, Claudia Hammond introduces her piece, “Temporal Shift”, by observing,
We measure time in even, regular units, but that’s not how we actually experience it. Instead, it seems to stretch and shrink like a rubber band. Researchers have gone to extreme lengths to find out why this happens and how we can control it.
Hammond goes on to describe an experiment by neuroscientist David Eagleman, who asked volunteers to free fall from a tower wearing specially designed chronographs. He did this on a windy day at a Texas amusement park; despite the controlled conditions, the volunteers were terrified.
Everyone who participated in the experiment reported that the event seemed to take longer than it actually did; the fall stretched out every one of those petrifying seconds….Eagleman had demonstrated that the brain’s sensory processing doesn’t actually slow down when we’re afraid, like in a slow-motion movie sequence. What changes instead is our perception of time.
The article also references the effects of memory and chronobiology–the body’s biological rhythm independent of night and day–in our perception of time. God has no memory. He doesn’t need one, as He is eternally all-knowing. And since He is spirit, not body, biological rhythms are irrelevant to Him.
Psalm 90 is a wonderfully poetic treatise on God’s eternality. In verse 2, Moses writes,
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
It is significant that Moses wrote this psalm, as it was to Him that God described Himself as “I am”, (Exo 3.14) the same name that is used of Jesus over half a dozen times in John’s gospel.
Moses goes on to write in verse 4,
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
It’s all a matter of perspective. God’s perspective is unaffected by time, as He exists beyond its reach. For us, time can be like a heavy chain that makes us our troubles seem interminable, or like a cannon that rockets us through an experience and leaves us panting and bewildered, wondering how it ended so quickly.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Moses’ plea in verse 12 is that of a human being locked a dimension not of his own making. Time is something we all have in common, regardless of geography. language, culture or status. And its stewardship is something for which each of us will be held accountable by the One who created it.
When Peter echoed Moses’ words in 2 Peter 3.8, he was writing of the return of Jesus. When the Lord rose from the dead and ascended once again into heaven, was not “beamed up”. He left the dimension of time by which we are held captive, and His perception of it is nothing like ours.
Eternity is not science fiction. It is reality, and if we know our God through faith in Christ Jesus, we can live in time with an eternal perspective.
Quotations of the Reader’s Digest article were taken from pages 106 and 110, respectively. The photo comes from the blog, bigthink.com. Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.