We rung in another year last week. It’s now 2014. But what time is it really? I watched the folks in Sydney Australia bring in 2014 at 10:00 am my time on the 31st of December, yet at 10:01 am my time it was still 2013 but for the folks in Sydney it was 2014. Or was it? How could Sydney be in a different year than me yet we are on the same planet.
In one sense, nothing could be simpler than time. What time is it? It’s 10:01 am. Simple! But time really has mysteries about it. It’s mysterious.
So what is time? Some say it is merely a measure of change. But that doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me since change doesn’t happen at a steady pace at all.
Some say it is just another way of clocking or measuring distance in the space/time continuum. Time and distance surely are related for sure. When we look at the stars at night we look into the past, for in some cases it has taken millions of years for the light of many stars to reach us through the vacuum and vast distances of space. Even the light of the sun is eight minutes old by the time it reaches us.
To me there’s just more to time than distance and we all know it. The Greeks had several words for time. Chronos was clock-time. Kairos was a complex notion of time as experienced subjectively. Thus ten minutes can seem like an hour or an hour can pass swiftly. Kairos is thus an elastic notion of time. And lastly there is Aeon (eternity, or the fullness of time). More on Aeon in a minute or two.
Yes, every New Year when the clock strikes twelve I ponder the mystery of time, I guess because time is so much on my mind. And as I ponder time, I am mindful that most of us think we know or have some understanding of what time is, until we are actually asked to define it in some meaningful way. It reminds me of what St Augustine once said about another mystery (the Trinity). And thus if someone asks me to define time I am tempted to say with Augustine: If you don’t ask me, I know. If you ask me, I don’t know. So time, while plain at one level is very mysterious at other levels.
I cannot list all such mysteries, but consider a few puzzlement’s about time.
The Mystery of Time’s Elasticity – We like to think that time is unvarying. 10 minutes here, is the same as 10 minutes there. But science has largely disproved that. For example, as an object approaches the speed of light, time slows down. Further, strong gravitational forces also slow down time. On a very large planet with stronger gravitational forces I would age less rapidly than on a smaller planet. Granted, it would take a huge difference in speed or gravity to be able to observe a big difference, but the Law of Relativity does demonstrate that time does not pass equally everywhere. In a way it is almost symbolized by a large, lumbering elephant compared to a tiny little mouse. As the mouse scurries across the floor the speed is amazing, almost as if the mouse were in a different time frame than the elephant.
The Mystery of Lifespans – Speaking of animals, why are life spans so different? Our dog Joey is, like me, a mammal. He has heart and lungs, a very similar physiology to me in most respects. Yet his clock is set to 15 years, my clock is set to 80 years. Certain turtles can live up to 150 years, Many types of parrots can live to be over 100. Other birds live only 10 to 15 years. Most fish live only a few years, but Carp (a fish) live up to 100 years. And so on. We all seem to have a built in biological clock, a designated life span. But that life span seems quite variable even among very similar species. We seem to carry the mystery of time with in our very being. I have never heard a satisfying answer to the wide variability of life spans.
The Mystery of our “inner clock.” Most of our understanding of time is clearly rooted in the celestial cycle. Thus, a “day” is the cycle of the sun, as is a year. A month (a least originally) is rooted in the cycle of the moon, and “month” is just a mispronunciation of “moonth.” Seasons too follow the Sun’s trajectory in relation to the horizon and length of day. But more mysterious is the 7-day cycle we call the “week.” Where does it come from? Anthropologically most cultures manifest a need to “reset the clock” every seven days. The Genesis account of creation in seven days surely influenced the Judeo-Christian culture, but other cultures show a similar tendency of seven days. But we seem, as human beings to have some interior clock with regards to seven days.
The Mystery of Eternity – Lastly there is the mystery of what we call “eternity.” Most people misunderstand the word eternity simply to mean a long, long, time. But that is not what is meant by the word. When the Greeks coined the word eternity, (Aeon) they meant by it “the fullness of time.” That is to say, Eternity is the past, present and future all being experienced at once. I cannot tell you what this is like, but I can illustrate it. Look at the clock to the left. The time is 1:15 in the afternoon. That means that 10:00 AM is in the past and 6:00 pm is in the future. But consider a dot at the center of the clock and see that at that spot 10 AM, 1:15 PM, and 6 PM are all the same, they are equally present to the center. We live our life in serial time, on the outer edge of the clock. But God does not. God lives in eternity. God lives in the fullness of time. For God, past, and future are the same as the present. God is not “waiting” for things to happen. All things to God just are. God is not waiting and wondering if you or I will get to heaven. He is not watching history unfold like a movie. In eternity, 10,000 years ago is just as present as 10,000 years from now. Scripture hints at God’s eternity in numerous passages. For example, But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. (2 Peter 3:8). Psalm 139 says, Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. (Ps 139, 15). Psalm 90 says, For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. (Ps 90:4). And then there is simply God’s name: “I AM” In this Name, there is no past or no future, just an eternal now, the present tense. Jesus declared to the crowds, “Before Abraham ever was, I AM.” (John 8:58). So here is the most awesome mystery of time, the fullness of time, eternity.
We use terms like “he or she had a long life”, or “that man died so young”. But did they really? God exists in eternity and in eternity there is no past or future. Therefore there is no years or gap between my death and the death of a person who died a hundred or a thousand years ago.
In a real sense it makes no difference if we live to 40, 50 or 90 years of age.
We also had no say into the time of history we would be born. The only thing that matters in the end is what we did with the time allotted to us. Time is the one thing in life we can never, ever get back. We can waste money and get it back. We can lose a car and get another back. But if we waste time we can never ever get that time back.
Spend your time wisely. Don’t take time for granted. It is one of God’s most precious gifts to us. How we spend our time will determine how we exist in eternity.
How we spend our time (how we live our lives) determines the size of our mansion in Heaven.
Ponder God’s glory and the mystery of time! It makes an awesome meditation.
Here’s a pretty good video on the mystery of time.