God and Time

By John Ruiz-Bueno

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Many people talk about God being "beyond time," but what exactly does this mean? Before I go any further, it's important to note the distinction between philosophy and theology. Specifically:
1. PHILOSOPHY seeks to solve problems and answer questions through the application of logic and reason.

2. THEOLOGY seeks to ascertain truth through the application of the Scriptures.
It is impossible to reach a theological truth without some degree of philosophy because at a bare minimum, one must have a base philosophical premise for how to go about interpreting the Scriptures (ex. exegesis vs. eisegesis). However, the less philosophy that goes into reaching theological conclusions the better. That is, one should not develop a logical idea and then go to the Scriptures to see what it says about the matter. Instead, one should begin with the Scriptures to use them as the foundation for their theological conclusions.

That being said, when we talk about God's relationship to time, we are talking about philosophical concepts based on current levels of understanding of the space-time continuum, gravity, and all sorts of other math, physics, and scientific models for understanding our universe. As a result, we can only, at best, develop an understanding that is consistent with Scriptures. We cannot conclude that the Bible has any definitive stance on these issues. With that in mind...

Basic concepts of relative time

It is a measurable fact that time runs at different rates under different circumstances. This concept comes predominantly from Einstein's theory of relativity, as well as the many appending theories that have been attached thereafter for clarification. The basic idea is that time and space are inextricably linked as part of a single continuum. So, when space bends, so does time. As a result, time has fluctuations based on the curvature of space and relative motion. This is why, for example, people often associate black holes with time travel — because the intense amount of mass at the core of a black hole (and mass is the primary factor affecting the curvature of space — the more mass, the more curvature) causes space to be curved so heavily that time would have to bend to a noticeable degree.

Consider a clock ticking in a field as a train rushes by. There is a person next to the clock in the field who observes the clock pendulum tick from left to right, indicating one second has passed. During that same period of time, a person on the train when it is 10 meters away and to the left will see the pendulum in the far left position. When the train is immediately in front of the clock, it is only 1 meter away and the pendulum is in the right position. To that person on the train, it takes longer for the light to travel 10 meters than 1 meter, so he will not see the pendulum in the left position as quickly as he will see the pendulum in the right position. The resulting effect is that the person on the train will get a compressed perspective of time. Accordingly, whereas the person in the field experiences one second go by, the person on the train will experience less than one second — because he will observe the pendulum swing at different rates depending on how fast he is moving relative to the pendulum. The result is that the person on the moving object will experience time at a slower rate than the person on the ground, even when the person on the train has a stop-watch that is perfectly synchronized to the clock in the field.

Now, the illustration above demonstrates the concept of relativity quite well, but it fails when it comes to explaining time inconsistencies because that is simply a perception difference. However, tests have been run numerous times with perfectly synchronized atomic clocks on earth and in space and have consistently concluded that those people moving at faster velocities do actually experience time at a different rate than those on earth. Specifically, those perfectly synchronized atomic clocks, without any mechanical defect or malfunction, demonstrate that a year moving at the rate of the International Space Station's orbital speed, for example, results in the people in space experiencing 0.01 seconds less than everyone else on earth. If this speed were increased to, say, 86.6 percent of the speed of light, then it would be a factor of 2 such that 1 year at that speed would equate to 2 years to everyone else. But this is an exponential relationship, so at smaller velocities that we see on earth, the differences are entirely unnoticeable.

How creation relates to an understanding of time in our universe

In the midst of all of this, virtually everyone agrees that time has a beginning. Stephen Hawking estimates that this beginning was about 15 billion years ago. Evolutionary creationists wouldn't dispute this number. Young earth creationists would say that time was created about 6,000 years ago when God created everything. My personal view on creation is what I call "Star Wars Creationism", which essentially says that God created an inherent history into the universe that he created. For example, no young earth creationist contends that Adam was created as a fetus in some non-existent womb. Instead, virtually everyone agrees that on the first day God created male and female (Genesis 1:27) and thus Adam was created at least old enough to have a rib, old enough for God to see that it wasn't good for him to be alone, and presumably old enough for God to communicate the first command to "be fruitful and multiply." So, if Adam was created with some inherent age about him, who is to say the trees weren't created fully-grown as well, as opposed to saplings? Or that God created the fish as fish and not as some pre-hatched embryo.

If we accept the concept that God created everything with an inherent history, things start to make a lot more sense and it fits in this mold of "relative time" that I described above. Specifically, the reason I call it "Star Wars Creationism" is as follows. Star Wars was released on May 25, 1977. On May 26, 1977, how old is the Star Wars universe?
1. One person might argue that it is only one day old, as the movie was just released "yesterday."

2. Another person would argue that it would have taken millions or billions of years for their universe to develop to the point that the events in the movie would unfold and that it would be ridiculous for Luke to believe that he was only a day old when he first purchased C-3P0 and R2-D2.
Put another way, from the perspective of the creator (George Lucas), the Star Wars universe was only a day old. But from the perspective of the characters within the story, it was billions of years old. This is why Einstein developed the concept of relativity. In his words, he said, essentially, "It is not enough to ask how fast something is moving; we must ask how fast it is moving relative to the perspective of something else." When it comes to understanding the age of our universe, I say the same: "It is not enough to ask how old the universe is; we must ask how old it is relative to the perspective of something else."

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Published 8-16-16