God and Time

Pam and I arrived in Tokyo yesterday morning after a marathon series of flights from Columbia. It was quite a journey, taking us west to Houston then on to Los Angeles. After wandering through the endless hallways, elevators, moving sidewalks and shuttle routes of the LAX International Airport we miraculously found our seats on our flight for the twelve-hour final leg. Getting here wasn’t easy.

But that’s not the half of it. The bigger part of traveling to the far East from South Carolina is the time differential. You go through twelve separate time zones as well as crossing over the International Date Line, where today becomes tomorrow. If traveling in the opposite direction, on the other hand, your yesterday would turn into today.

The act of dividing the world into 24 time zones–a sensible contrivance that keeps distant locations functioning on a synchronized schedule–quickly becomes unsettling over long distances. You get disoriented and confused in a hurry. At least I do. For instance, while I’m blogging right now in Tokyo at 5:00am on Friday morning I’m thinking how it’s yesterday at home. My head may explode at any moment.

On the flight over I tried to figure out the intricacies of how this time-change worked but gave up. As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which says time moves slower the nearer an object approaches the speed of light, apparently isn’t the explanation. In other words, according to the great scientist, time isn’t an absolute value in the universe but is instead a function of speed.

But smarter people than me say that’s not what happens with a long distance trip. I’m not so sure. It just makes more sense to me to believe that if a jet is able to take a person from yesterday to today, some basic article of physics is more in play than a random line on a map. Maybe even a metaphysical principle. Then again, my degree is in English.

I’ve always thought of God in terms of time. I think this was because my first exposure to biblical theology was through Exodus 3 where God revealed himself to Moses as YHWH, a personal name taken from the Hebrew verb for being. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM'” (Exodus 3:14).

God’s name revealed a crucial facet of His nature. He wasn’t bound by the same limitations of time as Moses. For Moses and the Israelites the past formed a rigid template for the present that in turn determined the inexorable passage of events into the future. No artificial creation of time zones or date lines could alter time’s tyranny. Moses would age and die within the limitations of time, as would his people and his nation. As will we all.

Not so with God. He alone is eternal and free from time’s constraints as well as its ravages. C.S. Lewis described the relationship between God and time in an unforgettable way. He pointed out that while we perceive time as having a past, present and future, God sees it all at once, in His “boundless now.” Lewis grasped the biblical affirmation that while humans exist in time, time exists in God.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has set eternity in the hearts of men.” Every time we long for something beyond time’s constraints we’re offering proof that God exists and that He made us to seek Him. In my time-haunted life I look in my own heart and find comfort in knowing how true that is.

Anyway, for the next few days Pam and I will be in Japan then in Thailand, visiting family and trying to minister to some faithful folk representing Jesus to this strange and wonderful corner of the earth. I pray it will be time well spent.