This is certainly outside the realm of our normal experience. For millennia, people assumed that the universe all moved together in “lock-step” – that time passed equally for everyone. Einstein first suggested that time changed depending on the observer through some famous thought experiments involving people on trains. His equations have been shown to be accurate to extreme accuracy. Strange things happen to atomic particles sped up to near the speed of light. Strange things happen near black holes. The astronauts who orbit the earth are just a tiny bit younger than the rest of us. It’s fascinating.
Another interesting thing about time is what happens if we consider it as another dimension. To understand this, go back to the Flatland example we covered in a previous post. Imagine a circle moving around in Flatland, going here and there as he chose. Now imagine that time is the third dimension – the flat world moving upward – like a deck of cards. If someone was outside this and could look at it, the circle would look like a sausage. When it was born, it would be small. It would grow and move around. And then it would die, and it’s particles would gradually fall apart and be used in another being. From the outside, past, present and future would all be there in front of the “observer”.
There are many more cool things about time, including directionality (can an event now affect the past?), discreteness (with all past states contained in Now), quantum time, etc. But we’ll stop there for now.
So what does religion have to say about this? First of all, we know that time is different for God. We read in 2 Peter 3:8, “…that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”. Joseph Smith also described this in Abraham, including the facsimile, where the time for Kolob is one day equals 1000 years. It also talks about this same concept in Islam where “verily a day in the sight of thy Lord is like a thousand years of your reckoning.” (Surah 22:47). So the concept of time being measured differently is certainly within religious teachings.
But is God beyond time? We read that God is endless and eternal. In Abraham, the one day equals a thousand years is given as the time for Kolob, which is “closest” to God so potentially NOT exactly God’s time if God were at a singularity where the measurement of time broke down. If God were outside our “mortal” time, He might be like the observer of Flatland. All things, past, present and future, would be before God. Maybe there is NO time for God?
But, this can lead to problems too. Assuming that God is NOT bound by our mortal time, according to LDS theology, there must be some sort of time where God exists. Why? When we read descriptions of heaven, we are told that people talk there, that angels sing praises to God, that we progress, etc. All of these things require time to exist. Speech requires one sound to be made before another one. Singing requires one note before another. And progress suggests to different states with different attributes of each state. So, maybe there IS time for God.
This is just a very brief overview about some of the cool things concerning time, but I’ll leave it at that for the sake of not boring everyone to death. It is interesting to me that the Bible and the Qu’ran talked about different rates of time centuries before Einstein. It is also interesting to me that, if God were outside our time, he would see the past, present and future all before Him. Perhaps we will explore some of the other religious implications of the directionality of time, quantum time, etc. in future posts. But for now…
- Do you think that God can SEE (ie. He knows absolutely) our past, present and future literally? Or do you jus think that He can “predict” what we are going to do?
- If God can “see” the future, what does that say about our free will? Are we still free to choose?
- Do you think time exists where God lives? If not, how do we eat, talk, sing, and progress?
- How literally do you take the descriptions of time in the scriptures? Did people in the Old Testament literally live centuries? Was the earth created in 6 days? Or 6000 years?
- Even if you feel that the times in the Old Testament were potentially the result of translations, etc, how do you reconcile D&C 77:6 with science suggesting an antiquity of the earth (it states: “…the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence”) This scripture was revealed directly into English, with no intermediary translation steps.
(NOTE: This is post #11 in a multi-part series exploring science and religion. For previous posts, click on Mike S in the Authors section to the right.)