Essay:Time and Eternity
[Note: this is a pre-existing essay I originally wrote for an English class.]
The formal definition of time is “the system of those sequential relations that any event has to any other, as past, present, or future; indefinite and continuous duration regarded as that in which events succeed one another” (“time”). Yet the definition of time does not fully communicate the wide understanding of the reality of time. Everyday people understand time in the context of their life and schedule. The scientific theories of time go far beyond the everyday notions by proving time is relative and possibly a dimension unto itself. Theologians also have their own understanding of time as a construct of God.
Albert Einstein changed the modern understanding of time in his theory of relativity by proving that time is relative to space and the speed of light. Theorhetical physicists such as Brian Green and Michio Kaku have theorized that time may be the fourth dimension, or some other numbered dimension. In the field of Eschatological Theology, thinkers such as Jurgen Moltmann, Ted Peters and Langdon Gilkey have worked with the theological understanding of time as it is described in the Bible. In the New Testament, there are two different Greek words used for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is the understanding of time that is most commonly used. If one wanted to know what time the bus arrived, that would be chronos. Kairos is the understanding of God’s time or God’s timing. If one takes these various understandings of time and brings them together in a dialogue, a new understanding of time and eternity can be developed.
People use the word “eternity” almost every day, but they almost never do so correctly. People usually think that the word “eternity” means “forever.” In reality, however, this is not the case. “Forever” means the sum of all time, such as the sum of all chronos. Eternity is quite literally outside time altogether. Eternity, or Kairos,is the “abode” of God.
Every event from the big bang through the upcoming election to the heat-death of the universe takes place on a single timeline. People often think of timelines as actual lines drawn on a sheet of paper. Continuing with this analogy, one can say that eternity, in its proper definition, would be the paper on which the line is drawn. A being residing in eternity would see everything that ever did happen, is happening, or will happen all at once in a single everlasting now.
All things native to time have an origin, earlier than which it did not exist; and an end, later than which it also will not exist. It has only a specific segment of existence in time. None of this is so with things native to Eternity. If the theorhetical physicists are correct, and time is another dimension, then chronos is a created phenomena just like space, and according to the theologians, God is its Creator.
However eternity, or Kairos, would not be a created phenomena. Not only would a being native to eternity not have an origin, it would be logically impossible for it to be otherwise. For an “origin” is by definition when the thing in question first came into existence, and when is a word that presupposes time. It is for these very same reasons that a being native to eternity cannot cease to exist either.
An Eternal being would have several different interesting qualities in its relation (or more specifically, its lack thereof) to time. It would be no more affected by or bound by our universe’s time than an author is affected by the timeline of events of a book they have written (Thomason). The metaphysicist Brian Leftow has suggested that it also “… [would] not exist earlier, later than, or at the same time as anything [temporal]; It [would have] a peculiar sort of omnipresence to time” (Leftow).
The “Amateur” [While he was technically an amateur in that metaphysics were not his profession (He was a professor of Medieval Literature), he is still widely considered to be one of the most remarkable and influential metaphysicist of any sort] metaphysicist C. S. Lewis has suggested that the present is differentiated from the past and future parts of time because the present is where time and eternity meet. He also says that “[The Future] is the most temporal part of time—for the past is frozen and no longer flows, and the present is all lit up with eternal rays” (Lewis).
In conclusion, a broader understanding of time as instructed by these two separate disciplines would require a broadened vocabulary as well. Forever can be seen as the sum of all time, or chronos. Eternity, or Kairos, is connected to the realm of God and is therefore unaffected by the passage of time. Ultimately, while this broadens the understanding of time it also creates more questions about the nature of God, such as, “what happens when time (chronos) ends and only eternity (kairos) remains?
- Works Cited
dictionary.com. time. n.d. web. 10 March 2016.
Gilkey, Langdon. Reaping the Whirlwind: A Christian Interpretation of History. Seabury Press, 1976. Print.
Greene, Brian. The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for Ultimate Theory, Norton, 2010. Print.
Kaku, Michio. Beyond Einstein: The Cosmic Quest for the Theory of the Universe. Anchor Publishing,1995. Print.
Leftow, Brian. Time and Eternity. n.d. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. New York: HarperOne, 2007. Print.
Moltmann, Jurgen. The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology. Augsburg Books, 2004. Print.
Peters, Ted. God - the World's Future: Systematic Theology for a New Era. Fortress Press, 2015. Print.
Thomason, W. Allen. "Gesturing at Eternity, pt. 1." Chesterfield, SC, 31 August 2003. public.