Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"It's About Time"

Those who know me know the impact C. S. Lewis has had on my thinking and theology. But perhaps the most influential idea I got from him was his simple statement that just because we live in time and space doesn’t mean God does (see Mere Christianity, “Time and Beyond Time”). We humans live life incrementally – one moment at a time. For us, life is arranged as a unidirectional series of moments: past, present, future. “One moment disappears,” he says, “before the next comes along: and there is room for very little in each.” What he means is that we actually live in a tiny little piece of time-space (to use Einstein’s term) called “now,” and in the very act of saying “now,” “now” slips past and becomes “then.” Indeed, “past” and “future” refer to moments to which we have no access. Our access is limited to that tiny little moment called “now.” And notice: Because this is the way we experience time, we naturally assume that this is the way God experiences time too. But Lewis says that this is surely wrong:

Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty – and every other moment from the beginning of the world – is always the Present for Him.

Imagine, he says, that time were represented as a line with the points A, B, C, and D representing moments of time out of our lives. You couldn’t move on to “Point B” until you had finished with “Point A” or “Point D” until you had finished with “Point C.” But not so with God. He experiences the whole line at once and has equal access to every point on the line. There is no point on the line God must “pass” before moving on to the next. His life is not dribbled out in increments, one moment at a time, as ours is. He is present to every moment and has infinite time to spend (read “eternity”) on each.

A simple idea, but the implications are worth considering. Take “Incarnation” for example, the belief that “once upon a time” God became a man. “Well, who was running things up in the cosmos while God was human?” we ask. But notice: My question smuggles in the assumption that Jesus’ life as God was a piece taken out of God’s life as a whole – “Point C” lifted out of the whole line. That is, there was a time before God was Jesus, a time when God was Jesus, and a time after God was Jesus. That is, the Incarnation is a period or “point” in the history of God’s life. But if God doesn’t “live in time” like we do, then this kind of thinking is surely mistaken. God has no history because to have a history means that there are “points” on your timeline to which you have no access. As Lewis says: “You cannot fit Christ’s early life in Palestine into any time-relations with His life as God beyond all space and time.” The mystery of the Incarnation is a timeless truth about God that all that we humans are – our weakness, our vulnerability, our ignorance, our pain, our suffering, our death – are somehow included in God’s life. Or as Paul says: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”

And therein lies the real mystery of the Incarnation – He became what we are so that we might become what He is. Maybe, if we have the faith for it, our lives too won’t always be measured out one moment at a time. And when that day comes, we’ll say, “It’s about time!”


Idell said...

Another beautiful post! It reminds me of hearing an Episcopal priest say that when the Body of Christ gathers for worship, particularly for Holy Communion, we leave “earthly time” and enter into God’s time, or “Kingdom time.” From my perspective, the Christian traditions that hold to some version of the Sacraments as a means of grace--as moments when the eternal intersects the temporal, seem better equipped to convey the mystery of incarnation. For example, believing in Christ’s real presence in the bread and wine at the Eucharist has great potential to keep us from relegating “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” to a remote event that occurred 2,000 years ago. We can know that God still dwells among us, that we are a part of God’s life, because He meets us at the altar each week.

Not that I expect Baptists to adopt this view--But hey, the last time I checked, C.S. Lewis was an Anglican.


R. Wayne Stacy said...

Well put. As a matter of fact, that's precisely what C. S. Lewis said about the Body of Christ (see Mere Christianity, "The Practical Conclusion). He reminds us that the Body of Christ is not merely an idea or concept, much less an organization, but is rather the physical organism through which the Incarnate Christ now acts. That explains, he says, why the new life God gives in Christ is spread not merely through mental acts like "belief" but also through physical acts like baptism and Holy Communion. If that sounds a bit too "primitive" for the modern rationalistic mind, Lewis responds in a typically trenchant quip: "There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God." RWS

Anonymous said...

The words, "God sent his son" have always been a source of pondering for me through the years. Most of the time I have just accepted the fact that Jesus did come to earth as a man. Then I wonder:

Suppose I send my son to Costa Rica to, say, build a church. He goes for two weeks, does what he can, tells the people he must leave now but he will return to them at some point, but he does not know when. It is up to me when he goes again.

Jesus said no man knows the date of His return, not even He, but the Father only. There seem to be two distinct minds working here. Are the Father and the Son two distinct beings, each with its own consciousness?

Are we a microcosm of what it's like in heaven? Or are we simply not prepared to grasp even the tiniest inkling of what "things are like"? I vacillate between the two but maintain my belief throughout.