June 26, 2010

Will There Be Time in Eternity?

I've met Christians, both lay and clergy alike, who have claimed that time will cease to exist once we enter eternity at the second coming of Christ.  Indeed, I held such a view myself for many years.  I imagine that we are largely influenced by some of our hymnody.  For example, one well-known tune speaks of the day the day when "time shall be no more."  I also suspect that we are influenced by dualistic platonic philosophy that has seeped into popular culture pitting this world of time, space, and matter against the next world of purely spiritual existence.  Whatever the reasons, though, we would do well to turn to the scriptures for our answer to questions like this.

When we do turn to the scriptures, the concept of time seems present in the first clause of the first verse of the first book of the Bible: "In the beginning."  The notion of beginning is incomprehensible apart from the concept of time.  As we proceed through the opening chapter of scripture, we find that time is present repeatedly.  There is evening and morning that mark the days of the first week.  Indeed, five of these evening and morning cycles pass before human beings are created on the sixth day, and an untold number of these daily cycles pass before sin and corruption ever enter the picture in Genesis 3.  It would seem clear that time and linearity are part of God's pristine creation upon which he pronounced his approval of "very good."  If time is part of God's original and good creation made for human beings to inhabit, I see no reason why we should suspect that time will ever be done away with.  We must conclude, regardless of one's interpretive approach to Genesis 1-2, that time is said to precede humanity and, by chronological necessity, human sin. Time is not a sinful and wicked perversion of God' creation; it is, rather, a part of God's original creation that is presently in need of redemption.

Moving from original creation to the vision of new creation in Revelation 21-22, we find evidence that time is brought forward into the new earth.  After the return of Christ and the consummation of his kingdom, it is said, in Revelation 22:2, that the tree of life produces fruit twelve times a year (or monthly), a truly astounding vision for those who've made a life in agriculture.  This text would seem to clearly indicate that linearity has been given a place in new creation as well.  Time is not to be cast off; it is to be renewed.

Let me be clear.  I'm not proposing that our experience of time in the new earth will be exactly as it is in the present.  Like all creation, time is eagerly expecting its freedom from bondage to decay into the glory of the liberty of the sons of God.  Like all creation, there will be both continuity and discontinuity between our present experience of time and our future experience of time in the new creation.  Whatever that turns out to be like, scripture seems clear that things will forever be moving forward in a measurable linearity.  We can conclude then that through and through the biblical vision of the original pristine creation, the present fallen creation, and the future and eternal new creation is marked by the presence of time.

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NB: I must give credit where credit is due.  The first person to introduce this notion of eternal time to my thinking was my friend John S.  So, thanks to him for pushing me to take account of the biblical material rather than be misshaped by popular music and bad philosophy.

3 comments:

BroBrian said...

matt, I have not given this as much thought as you, but how we will deliniate time, i believe, will change.

REV 21:23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
and
25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.

also, doesn't "in the begining" suggest an "in the end"? creation needs "time" so that eveything does not happen at once, but how we mark them may change.

Something to think about...

Matt O'Reilly said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for your comment. I agree that there will be many ways in which our experience of time will differ from the present. I don't want to say too much about what that might look like specifically. A good rule for our thinking on new creation is that there is both continuity and discontinuity between creation in its present state and the coming new creation. Christ's resurrection is a good example of this. After the resurrection, he ate broiled fish and continued to bear the marks of the cross. However, locked doors didn't seem to get in his way. Likewise, our experience of time will have continuity and discontinuity. We will expereince some sort of linearity, but as you point out, the typical ways we delineate that in the present (night/day) do appear to disappear.

On your second point, I would disagree that a beginning necessarily implies an end. When God made the world (in the beginning), it was free from bondage to decay. Only in the course of human sin did creation enter into a state of decay and begin to deteriorate toward an end. The world was not made to end. The potential for an end is a perversion of the original intent. Creation will, of course, be brought to a consummation at the coming of our Lord. But this will not mark an "end" in any ultimate sense, merely the end of the present reign of death, sin, and decay.

Thanks for your comment.

Matt

ἐκκλησία said...

Matt, for time to be freed from the bondage of sin, does not invalidate the point that creation post-sin will be consistent with creation pre-sin.

For time, itself, to be freed from the effects of sinfulness, it too will be restored to its pre-sinful state.

Romans 1:20 clearly says that creation reflects the character of its creator. Its creator is a righteous God who is unchanging and without variation, and has been so eternally. God purpose also reflects his character and so his purpose in creation is also timeless, and unchanging and eternally the same.

His creation must necessarily exhibit the same character after sin, as before it. Likewise, the righteous work of Christ's hands (i.e. creation) will only ever be righteousness, and eternally consistent. This further suggests that the clearest way to see renewed creation is to see it as it first was.

It doesn't matter if there is agreement in this point, however, for knowledge of what creation will be like, is not a precondition to salvation.

Your point is correct that man will have learned from his sinful experience (at least those who survive judgement). It is still possible for post-judgement man to possess the capability to sin (the choice), but never to be tempted. (For example, anyone is free to choose to rob a bank, but thankfully few actually do).

Because one is capable of doing something, does not mean that they will necessarily. It is temping to think that the only way to rid creation of sin is to deny man the ability to sin, but this reasoning is committing the fallacy of modal logic which confuses the possibility of sinning from the necessity there will be sin.

Within creation sin was never either impossible or necessary, therefore sin has only ever been a contingent property of creation. With judgement - that will not change (the property of sin will also remain consistent and eternal)

For sin to continue being contingent-ally possible, does not mean the source of temptation cannot be removed or that man will necessarily sin. The fallacy of modal logic .. is very common in theological thinking, very subtle, and much like the devil, holds great appeal - but it is still only a fallacy (and not sound reason).