Time and Eternity

It happens every year. I step from summer’s easier pace to the starting gate of autumn. It’s there I see the valley below traced with the winding hills of a forthcoming marathon—a new school year, an overabundance of midweek events, winter’s frigidity and scrooged sunlight, and so many other things that stir an unwelcomed anxiousness. I don’t know about you, but I really struggle this time of year.

“I don’t know about you….”

I suppose that’s a strange phrase because odds are, I do know about you. As different as each of us might be, we’re also very much alike. I’m guessing that, like me, as you travel around the sun on this ever-spinning planet, you meet with those moments in life when time itself feels like an irregular heartbeat, like the world had slowed to a crawl before suddenly launching into lightspeed. It’s enough to give someone emotional whiplash. You know the sayings. Time flies when you’re having fun. A watched pot never boils. Fast or slow, the passage of time often feels relative to the things occurring within it.

I’m probably thinking about these things because of an article by Ronald C. Lasky I happened upon last week in Scientific American. The piece was entitled “Does Time Tick at the Same Rate for Everyone?” While I’m not much of a scientist, I was captured by the idea. It turned out to be a rather interesting examination of Einstein’s general theory of relativity and how it generated other concepts like time dilation and the “Twin Paradox.” Using a narrative of twins (one stationary and the other on a high-velocity, round-trip mission to a distant star) to explain the premise, and then pointing to successful experiments, the answer to the article’s title question was, essentially, no, time does not tick at the same rate for everyone. In fact, if certain factors were true, it’s entirely possible for the oldest in a group of siblings to leave the others and return as the youngest, implying that time could be manipulated. Near the end of the article, Lasky rested the contextual boundaries of his complicated discussion within the words, “The traveler’s actions define the events.” In other words, where the person is and what he is doing ultimately determines the person’s relation to time.

That’s intriguing. For me, it was a reminder of something else entirely. Saint Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:16 came to mind: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

As Christians, outwardly—physically—we’re in decay. Inwardly—spiritually—we’re being revitalized and renewed.

The first thing Paul acknowledges here is that we’re all coming undone materially regardless of our scientific theories. We’re wasting away. And he’s right. No one has ever outpaced death. However, secondly, Christ conquered death and rose from its bondage to this decay (v. 14). As a result, by the power of the Holy Spirit for faith in His sacrifice for us, we’re not destined for death but for life. This is Paul’s way of saying that we’re not winding down toward a dreadful end, but instead, with our eyes of faith fixed on Christ, we’re winding up toward the timelessness of eternity (vv. 17-18). Relative to Lasky’s article, Paul just explained where faith puts a person—and what it has that person doing—all in relation to time. Because of our newness in Christ, time moves at a different pace for us. What’s more, we’re inclined to use time differently because we have an altogether different mindset about its purpose, one born from the divine knowledge of the resurrection. Even our decaying bodies will one day be restored! Jesus’ victory reaches into that, too! By this, the unwinding of time can’t ever become something prompting us to live every moment to the fullest in a carnal sense, doing all we can to achieve and gather everything our heart would desire in this life before we pass away. Paul gave a sarcastic wink to this decadent Epicurean philosophy in 1 Corinthians 15:32. Essentially, the Apostle admitted that if the resurrection to eternal life is a hoax, then we might as well eat and drink for tomorrow we die, and beyond that, there’s nothing.

But Paul knows the resurrection to eternal life isn’t a hoax. It’s real. And it’s ours in time right now. This being true, we don’t see our days in this life as self-serving. We already have everything we need—Jesus Christ, the Giver of eternity—the greatest treasure both time and timelessness could ever afford. From this ever-renewing perspective, we’re now found applying each of our moments toward faithfulness to Him, retaining this advantage over time, and trusting that whether we live or die, through faith in Christ, we’re already children of heaven’s eternal glory (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Maybe this is far too complicated a thought for an early morning musing. Well, it is what it is. And to be clear, this analogy breaks from the original intent of Lesky’s comment about the traveler’s actions defining the events when we remember that we’re not the traveler. Jesus is—with a capital “T.” His person and work define our existence in relation to time and eternity. We’d be lost if our actions were to define or determine the events. We don’t have what it takes to break this time barrier. Time would expire, and we’d not only be found undone outwardly but also undone inwardly forever.

And so…

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:51-56).