February 21, 2007

Transcendence in Time

2007 1506 page16 capore than 26 years after I was first shown Daniel 2, the prophecy remains for me what I believe it was always meant to be: powerful rational evidence not only for God’s existence but for His foreknowledge as well. Scripture makes no attempt to unravel the paradoxes arising from human free will contrasted with divine omniscience. Instead, whether by revealing intimate details of what someone will say or do in the next few hours (Mark 14:30), or by accurately predicting the rise and fall of empires (Dan. 2)—the Bible proves that God’s knowledge of the future is as absolute as it is of the past.
And why shouldn’t it be? Transcendence isn’t just God hovering above the world and watching everything that happens, like someone looking at a fish aquarium. Transcendence includes a God outside of time, above time, a God who sees the past, present, and future not only as discrete moments but all at once, just as He sees all the earth at once. Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity reveals, theoretically at least, how this concept is possible.
“The distinction,” Einstein wrote, “between past, present, and future is an illusion, even if a stubborn one.”
Special relativity showed that an event that occurs for a man on a train will occur at a different time for another man standing on a platform and watching the same event as it passes by him. In other words, the same event that happens, at one time, for the man on the train happens at another time for the man on the platform. And both men are right!
2007 1506 page16There’s no universal set time, no universal idea of simultaneity. Time is relative, depending on the speed and location of the observer, which means that one person’s “now-list”—all the events in the universe which at that instant are in that person’s “freeze-frame mental image” (what he “sees” or can imagine occurring at that instant)—happen at a different time from a person in motion elsewhere in the universe.
“Observers moving relative to each other,” wrote physicist Brian Greene, “have different concepts of what exists at a given moment, and hence they have different conceptions of reality.”
And, again, each is correct.
In fact, the farther the distance, the greater the time discrepancy between them. A person 10 billion light-years away and moving at a constant speed relative to someone on earth will have a “now-list” radically different than the person on earth. The “now-list” of the one moving through the cosmos could include events that happened 150 years ago here. Or, if he were moving in another direction, his “now-list” could include events 20 years in the future of the person he’s moving relative to on earth.
Greene compared the universe, both space and time, to a loaf of bread, with each slice containing a “now-list” for every possible perspective of space-time. In this loaf (the entire universe) an endless number of potential “now-lists” exist, which means that all the moments of time—past, present, and future—have an independent existence, depending on the location and motion of each observer. In short, events in the past and the future are as real as events in the present.
Does this mean that an observer 10 billion light-years away, moving in a direction that makes his “now-list” 100 years in our past, can get to the earth and change that past? No, because according to relativity nothing can exceed the speed of light. So even if he were able to travel that fast, by the time he reached earth 10 billion years would have elapsed and so the events he had wanted to change would, from his perspective, be long gone.
Stuck in our own narrow slice of space-time, and locked in by the velocity of light (186,000 miles per second), we’re restricted to the present. But for God—who can see every perspective at once and who isn’t limited by the lumbering speed of light—all space and all time exist before Him simultaneously. Thus, special relativity gives us, theoretically at least, the physics that show how God knows the future as well as He does the past, and that’s because, for Him, both are always the present.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. He also hosts a television program on the Hope Channel called CLIFF!