What Was God Doing with Time and Eternity?

Why would God set up the universe so we would be cognizant of time?

The Christian understanding of God is that of “the” ultimate (maximal) Being, the architect and creator of everything (all that is seen and unseen as we say). God is the First and the Last. Reality does not exist outside or apart from God. Space/time (the universe we know) was created by God.

Christians also believe that God is transcendent (other) from the universe He created. When the writer of Hebrews says “the universe was formed at God’s command” and “what is seen is not made out of what is visible”, he is saying that God initiated the material universe from His immaterial, preexisting being by His command (will) out of nothing.

Nothing?

Yes, no material thing.

This is hard for us to grasp. It suggests that God is, in essence, immaterial – like unembodied mind or pure consciousness or something like that. It’s a mystery. We can’t go back prior to the beginning and “see” what reality or God was like, but we understand that the material universe had a beginning, which means that God is something other than material.

The beginning of the universe is confirmed by science. The universe began from the point of singularity that can be calculated to a point of mathematical precision. Before that point, which we can trace to the millisecond, we can go no further. This is a boundary beyond which our ability to fathom the material universe cannot go.

God, therefore, exists “outside” (transcendent from) the space/time continuum that we know as the universe. He is somehow different and distinct from it. As best as we can determine, He is timeless and immaterial

This concept of God differentiates Christianity from all the Eastern religions and from all forms of pantheism and paganism.

Though we may struggle to know “what God is like”, we can know something of God through the material reality He created in the same way we can know something of an artist from the art he creates. Knowing something about the artist from his works, though, isn’t the same as knowing the artist himself.

Still, we are not left completely in the dark. Paul says that God made Himself evident in the world He created. (Rom. 1:20) The fact that something exists instead of nothing is indicative of a creator God. We can know something of God by the very fact that He created a material world that is separate and “other” than Himself.

In a material world, we have to strain to find mutuality “others”. It doesn’t come naturally. We are very conscious of our separateness – from each other and our creator – so much so that we have some difficulty connecting with (emphasizing) others, and we are tempted to believe we have no creator.

Not being of the same “substance” as God (timeless and immaterial – what Paul calls “heavenly” or “spiritual”), we know the material world much more intimately than the realm in which God exists (not that He doesn’t also exist in this material realm – though He transcends it). Yet, being made in God’s “image” suggests that we also have some ability to connect with His immateriality in some sense.

I say these things in preface to my thoughts today, which come from the Old Testament: the book of Genesis, and the book of Ecclesiastes. My thoughts begin with the beginning:

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years….'”

Genesis 1:7

This isn’t the actual beginning, but very close to it. It is the first thing God does after creating “the heavens and the earth” (which is the Hebrew expression that means the universe). His first act of creation after forming the material universe was to call into existence “lights in the expanse of the heavens”, and He did it for a purpose.

(Not that these separate aspects of creation were necessarily a linear progression in the sense of completely separate “acts” of God. We might read these passages that way, but it isn’t the only way to read them.)

What was the purpose for which God established lights in the expanse of the heavens? To separate day from night and for signs, seasons, days and years – to establish measurements of time.

Interesting…. God wouldn’t need those things to measure time. What is time to God? Why did He create ways to measure time?

It seems obvious that He created the ability to measure time for us. Why, though, should we even want to measure time?

Maybe a better question is: why would God want us to measure time?

We don’t really question our need to measure time. We just do it. We take time for granted, and our “need” to measure it

But why?


And why would God set up the universe that way so that we would be so cognizant of time? He obviously desired it and designed the very universe to make us cognizant of time, but why?

Continue reading “What Was God Doing with Time and Eternity?”

A Remedy for the Utter Loneliness of the Human Condition

Even our closest friends do not really, really know us in our innermost being.

Depositphotos Image ID: 5949233 Copyright: olly18

Have you ever felt like nobody gets you? Have you ever felt that no one understands who you really are? Not even your family or your closest friends?

First of all, congratulations, because you are being honest. It’s uncomfortable to be that honest.

I could be wrong. Maybe it’s only me, but I think many of us would rather pretend people know us better than they really do. We connect on the surface. We connect the best we can, but there are parts of us few people know or understand… if we are honest.

I sometimes feel as if everyone else “gets it” (this thing we philosophically call life) but me. Perhaps, everyone else is connected in a way that I am not. Nothing feels more isolating or lonely than feeling disconnected and alone.

I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way, though. This is the human condition. If we are being brutally honest about it. This is reality.

If this is the reality, what do we do with it? How do we live with the brutal honesty of it? We yearn for connection deep down, but many of us feel utterly disconnected and isolated from others at the core of our being.

Continue reading “A Remedy for the Utter Loneliness of the Human Condition”

Living with the End in Mind

The end is our fate, but the end is only a new beginning. This is not all there is.

Terminal



“Terminal” is the beginning and the end of a new project by Jon Foreman, one of my favorite musical artists. (See “The Wonderlands”,  (http://www.jonforeman.com) and the video posted online by Relevant Magazine produced at the Guitar Center.)

Jon Foreman, like Bono, repeats the theme in his music that these lives that we live are short compared to the expanse of time. We “die a little every day”. Our lives are terminal.

We all think about it from time to time, though most of us would rather not dwell on it. Yet, there it is: in the back of our minds, nagging. It never quite goes away. Though we try to drown out the beating drum of time marching on, the incessant cadence continues on, always under the surface of our consciousness.

Like many ancients, Jon Foreman does not shrink back from the reality. Unlike most, he embraces it. Continue reading “Living with the End in Mind”

The Joy of C.S. Lewis

cslewisThe death of C.S. Lewis was eclipsed by the death of John F. Kennedy on the same date in history. Ironically, Aldous Huxley also died on that date in 1963. Unlike the overshadowing at his death, the life of C.S. (Jack) Lewis and the legacy of his writing and thinking endures. He is perhaps better known today than even during his life.

I have always been enamored of C.S. Lewis. He became a Christian in the secular environment of academic pursuit at Oxford. I became a believer in college in the same type of environment, though hardly of the same high academic and intellectual standard. His autobiographical book, “Surprised by Joy,” stands as a favorite book for me, and one which has become a waypost in my own life. It can be a tough read, not only for the enormous detail of classic and philosophical references, but for the somewhat self-indulgent inward looking preoccupation of the author – but, after all, it is an autobiography.

For me, the importance is not in what he did, but in his journey of thought. Lewis was an uncompromising thinker who diligently, methodically, and with integrity and brutal honesty, journeyed from childish religiosity, past the death of his mother, where the emptiness of religion without connection to the Living God is found to be wholly wanting. From there he careened to the opposite shore, finding comfort in the grim, cold world of materialism, exactly for the reason that no Cosmic Interferer dwells there to bother a fiercely independent soul.

Lewis was nothing if not driven to seek ultimate truth through the enormous volume of reading material that he devoured with relish. He traveled the path of logic and truth, tested by personal experience, through the various stages of his journey, which he described as a search for “Joy”. Lewis read the classics in the actual Latin and Greek and went from genre to genre and era to era tracing the breadcrumbs of literary history left by the greatest of the great writers. Through the cold air of atheistic materialism in his early twenties broke the warm sunlight of Christian thought from writers like G.K. Chesterton along with the fluorescence of the occult. From the unlikely combination of these sources, the possibility of the miraculous and magic pierced the hard shell of purely rational and materialistic thought. It was not long thereafter that Lewis abandoned the barren ground of atheism for the swampy soil of agnosticism.

Lewis says that he was tempted by the occult, but he was also fearful of it, like a person who does illicit drugs but has enough sense to know the line not to cross. He rejected that path even before finding his Destination in the same way he rejected physical lusts and other temptations. He found them ultimately to be counterfeit, substitutes for the real Joy of which he had gotten glimpses at different points in his life. This Joy became his measure for what he sought. He described it variously, but perhaps best, as a longing that in the longing was the most fulfilling of experiences one could know. It was for Lewis an inner compass pointing true North.

The new atheist has no prior claim to the ground Lewis Lewis already traversed with his academic mentors who were firmly and rigorously entrenched in rationalistic, materialistic thought. Peering through the prism of the greatest thinkers from every age, he found it ultimately one dimensional. Lewis trusted the “inner man”, the individual conscience and personal experience, guided as it were through the various veins of thought, testing each one in turn for dependability, harmony with the amalgam of ideas sifted through many ages and many thinkers and, not the least, as reflected through the natural world itself. Of this last strainer of thought, Lewis would echo the writer of Romans (1:20):

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made….”

From the abandonment of atheism for the more plausible, but uncertain, reality that there lies behind the veneer of this material world a Source of that Joy that became his fixed pursuit, Lewis journeyed into the realm of belief again, much the wiser and.

He does not spend a great deal of time describing his examination of the gamut of religions before landing on the steps to the House of the God of Abraham, leaving the impression that his pace from atheist to agnostic to Christian accelerated along the way, as if he found the guideposts clearly marked and the compass firmly fixed as he emerged.

Lewis does not spare himself in the chronicle of this journey. In fact, he is almost surgical, in the most intimate way, in his analysis of the various stages of his thought life, not holding back any information, however self-deprecating. In this way, Lewis demonstrates well the wisdom he gained along path: that the worst of the attitudes, and the furthest from God – the Source of Joy – is human pride.

His conversion is almost anticlimactic. He simply gives in one day to the only proposition left at the end of this long journey. Like the Psalmist who said, “Where can I go from your presence? Where can I flee from your spirit?” (Psalm 139:7), Lewis had nowhere else to go; the trail led to one Place only and only one: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Though some claim that Lewis never had a true conversion (and how would they know?), the rest of his life from this submission to God at the age of 31 bespeaks a man who came to rest solidly and squarely on the foundation of the Bible, the cornerstone of which is Jesus Christ. It became his defining Truth, the Compass for all future thought, and the filter through which the body of his written work clearly flows. That he wrote of fantastical creatures and magic and used imagery that is often accused of being occultist is a product of his enormous memory bank of all the great writings in history. He conjured up these things, like the classic and romantic writers – Milton and others, Christian or not – who borrowed from the same historic library of great writings.

These images are allegories, and Lewis was a master of allegory. For Lewis, the myths of all ages reflected truth, like shadows dancing on walls from the bright sunlight through prison bars, but the sunlight is Christ. 

Of the fact that he brought all these images into submission to God, I have no doubt. This was the world Lewis knew, and this world of knowledge he used as a prism to show in radiant color the truth and the light of the Gospel – Jesus Christ, and him crucified, dead, buried and resurrected, the hope and salvation of all mankind to as many as will believe, offering grace for sin, life for death, having made the way for men to be made right and to have fellowship as sons and daughters with God the Father – the Source all Joy.

What Lewis learned early, and what led him on his journey, was not to settle for a false joy, which is merely a shadow of the real Thing. What he discovered is that the real Thing is not the joy, itself. The Joy he experienced resulted from close encounters with the Living God – catching glimpses of the Creator of heaven and earth – who reveals himself to the man who searches, who opens the door to the man who knocks, and who is found by the humble and submitted heart. The real Joy is found in God Himself. Joy, the experience, is only the shadow; God is the Source.

I recommend Surprised by Joy to anyone who likes C.S. Lewis or would like to follow his journey. Here is another take on this underrated classic by Dr. Bruce L. Edwards, English professor at Bowling Green: http://personal.bgsu.edu/~edwards/surprised.html; and for a collection of thoughts and essays on C.S. Lewis: http://personal.bgsu.edu/~edwards/lewisr.html.