Time and eternity

This was a talk I prepared for a parish Renew 2000 group meeting.

Opening prayer:

Lord, we are spread through time as you made us, but we have a hope not always to be limited like this. Help us to understand as much of time and eternity as we can, without being frustrated that we can't understand all. Let our thinking and praying about time and eternity make us more patient and less obsessed with things that will pass away with this earth.

Read John 1:1-3; Genesis 1:1

When I was small and read Genesis for the first time (or more likely, had it read to me in Sunday School), I had an idea that time and space were already there, and God made stuff in them one after another; first the Earth and Sun and Moon and so forth, then moss and magnolias and moles and mammoths and men and women. Later, when I studied physics and theology, I found out that time and space were some of the things God created - or maybe a by-product of God creating things. That had gradually a strong effect on my thinking, though it was too big an idea to absorb all at once. (I still haven't completely understood it.)

Read: passage from Augustine's Confessions, 11:13-15

This is exciting stuff theoretically, but does it have any practical meaning for our moral or devotional life? I think it does.

  1. Knowing that God made a whole, consistent space-time universe, not a space-universe that is constantly changing, should make us more conscious of the seriousness of sin, and the greatness of Christ's work in cleaning us from sin. All past moments still exist, all the future already exists; so our past sins are in some way as much a part of us as our fingers and toes. Yet God has said he completely washes away our sins, if we go on working with him in that and not against him.

  2. But we shouldn't let thinking about the wholeness of space-time drive us into heresy concerning free will.

  3. Thinking about time in this way should also make us more patient. God has spread our consciousness out along the time-length of our bodies for some good reason. All space-time (and much else) is 'now' to God; well, one tiny bit of space-time is 'now' to us, and we should be obedient in focusing most our attention and care on this 'now'. We can offer our ignorance of the future and forgetting of the past to God as we offer our other sufferings, as in sickness, and pray that He will use them to clean us from our sins and build his kingdom around us.

  4. A good theme for meditation is to thank Christ for taking on this, that and the other human limitation in coming into our world to save us. Not least of those limits he accepted was having his consciousness squeezed into a moving 'now'. How could he do that?

  5. If we see that the past and future coexist and are continuous through our 'now', we can see that all humans are organically connected - like one animal with many souls in one body. And Christ became part of us this way - he is organically connected to all of us through his Mother and her ancestors and their connections to our ancestors. We can't despise any fellow human, then - the most annoying and unnattractive of them are branches of the same tree as ourselves and Christ.

Read: 2 Peter 3:7-14; Revelation 21:1-6

Email the author of this page: Jim.Henry@pobox.com.
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