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About Time
In Defense of the Faith
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Wendy Wippel

A lot of what confuses people in the Bible stems from the failure of our human minds to grasp that what can seem contradictory from our earthbound perspective, really isn’t. Particularly involving time, which is relative on our end and meaningless on God’s. It's also one of the biggest arguments among Christians; God even points this out. 

There are a lot of these apparent conundrums in Scripture, and from our human perspective, it seems like the choices are irrevocably contradictory.

Jesus: fully human, fully man.

Salvation: completely our choice, yet also predestined.  

For that one, my pastor explains the apparent contradiction with the analogy of a pilgrim on the road to salvation, with the contradiction related to his perspective in time: as he approaches the pearly gates he sees a wide, welcoming road that passes through a gate, and above the gate the banner reads “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. The pilgrim does believe, and passes through the gate to his reward. Looking back, however, on the other side of the gate the banner reads: “Chosen before the foundation of the world”.  The point? Free will and predestination seem contradictory, but are nonetheless equally true.

God even tells us that our earthbound perception of time is not really to be trusted:

“do not forget this one thing, … with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (II Peter 3:8 NKJV)

God is outside of time (He created it) so time really has no meaning in eternity, and past, present, and future get muddled up. (Einstein was almost quoting scripture when he said that scientifically, past, present and future are just “stubbornly persistent illusions”). We know that even from our perspective, inside of God’s creation, time is relative. Scientifically, time goes by at different rates depending on where you are in the universe.

So (though I feel like I may be taking my first step into a mind field) it may just be that the battle between Christians with respect to the age of the universe is one of these conundrums in which both perspectives, though seemingly irrevocable opposed, may be based on a difference which is really just a "stubbornly persistent illusion". 

Science (based on data from the Hubble telescope says 14 billion years old, while the Bible (and the Jewish calendar) says just under 6000. Which is true?

MIT-trained, orthodox Israeli physicist Gerald Schroder (who, BTW, says that he does not read modern Bible commentary because it’s irrevocably tainted by modern scientific theories) says that despite the fact that the two theories are antagonistic, both, according to the Bible are absolutely true.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First of all, if the universe has an age, that means it had a beginning, just as the Bible says (the only ancient religious scripture to do so) but science since the time of Aristotle has disagreed ever since then (well into our lifetimes) scientists agreed: the universe was eternal. 

Science proved otherwise in the eighties, reported in 1989 by Ted Koppel, who announced that science had decided that the universe had a beginning and read the first verse of Genesis, saying, in effect, that the Bible had been proven true.

What brought it into being? The scientists don’t know, although more than a few of them (having exhausted the possibility of a scientific answer) went off to churches in search of one. So much so, that physicist, Geoffrey Burbidge grumbled about colleagues flocking off to the "First Church of the Big Bang”. 

The Bible’s answer, obviously, is God.  But how long ago? That’s the big question, with a whole lot of bickering between the “old earth” and “young earth” Christian camps.

So let’s make sure we know exactly what Scripture says.  Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". Interesting right off the bat, because, scientifically, subatomic particles and light exist outside of time. Time didn’t begin until matter was formed, so time and matter are inextricably intertwined. And Genesis 1:1 reflects that.

The Jewish reckoning of time since the creation of the universe starts with the creation of Adam and adds up the generations since, yielding the Jewish calendar, which is presently in year 5774. So roughly 6000 years.  But Adam was created on the sixth day, so, for all of the time since creation, we ought to add six days on.

Just to be precise. 

Even though those six days were before the creation of an earth that rotated every 24 hours, the ancient Rabbis consistently defined those six days as consisting of periods of 24 hours. Since those six days, however, were described much differently than the days after Adam (from the creation of Adam on, dates and times are described by familiar terms, but for the days before Adam the days are described vaguely as “morning and evening”), the ancient rabbis removed those six days from their calendar, viewing them as being a separate time viewed from a different perspective.  In Schroder’s words, “it’s like the Bible looks at those days, not from Adam’s earthbound perspective” (since he didn’t exist yet), “but from God’s”. “A cosmic view of time.” 

What exactly, would God’s cosmic view of time be?

The 14 billion years that science says that the universe has existed is measured by very sophisticated earthbound telescopes. (Hawaii, specifically.)

Enquiring minds want to know.

14 billion years is calculated by measuring the furthest reach of the universe, and calculating, by the speed at which the universe expanded, how long it would have taken for that expansion to reach the edge observed by the Hawaiian telescopes.

And there’s the key to putting the ongoing argument about the age of the universe to bed: the expansion of the universe.  When Michio Kaku or Stephen Hawking tell you that the universe is 14 billion years old, they take for granted that you understand the rest of the sentence, unspoken: “As measured on earth.”

We’ve all seen Planet of the Apes, right?  At this point all of us realize that time is relative, that its value depends on things like light, speed, mass and gravity, and that it goes by slower in space than it does for us on earth.  What changes the speed of time, relative to another location is basically the expansion of space.

Which God confessed to being the author of, a long time ago, through the prophet Isaiah, and through avid and Job: 

He alone spreads out the heavens. (Job 9:8)

O Lord my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain. (Psalm 104:1-2)

It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. (Isaiah 40:22)

I am the Lord, who makes all things, Who stretches out the heavens all alone, Who spreads abroad the earth by Myself; (Isaiah 44:24)

God stretches, and is still stretching, space. Space is not emptiness, but a “fabric” (Psalms calls it a “curtain”) that is literally stretched as the universe expands.

It is that stretching, that results in the observed differences in time relative to where it is being measured.

Real differences, not just perception. (Watches on the space shuttle run slower than those on earth.) 

This is complicated, so here’s a hopefully helpful illustration: Imagine that you decide to send a text message to a friend on the other side of the universe. And you promise that you will also send a cute family picture, in just a second. (And you do.)

Will said friend get second picture a second after she gets the first one? No.

Assuming that your phone sends things at the speed of light (I have no idea, but that’s the max possible), the launch of the two messages are separated by the amount of time that light travels in a second, which is about 200,000.000 miles. So they have a long way to go. And since the universe is expanding, the amount of time that the second message takes to travel the same distance depends on how much space stretched between the two pulses, because every minute they travel space is still stretching.

(Schroder helpfully mentions, “This is standard astronomy".)

What it means is that the “second”, (that initially separated the two messages, completely truthful on your end), will be experienced very differently at your friend’s house. She may experience that “second” to be several million years.

Two perspectives on how much time elapsed; but both absolutely true. 

Moreover, we now have the scientific knowledge to evaluate exactly how perceptions would have differed back at the very beginning of cosmic expansion (those first six days) from our time perceptions now.

What scientists found (reported universally in current physics textbooks), is that time near the beginning differed from time now by a million, million. (Because space has stretched to be a million, million times larger than that first point of energy that God placed into existence.) 

Here’s where it gets really interesting. Schroder’s initial calculations were based on the fact that Adam was created (according to Genesis) halfway through the sixth day (the point at which the perspective of time in Genesis switches from cosmic time to earth time, ostensibly because Adam existed then to start counting the time. Those five and a half days of earth time, stretched a million, million times, yields 15 billion years that would be perceived the edge of the universe (the cosmic perspective). Five and half literal days here would be 15 billion literal years there.

Noting that NASA estimate is 14 billion years, Schroder observed that “Considering the many approximations, and the fact that the Bible works with only six periods of time, the agreement to within a few percent is extraordinary.”

But that isn’t quite the end of it.  At a university lecture in 2011, a fellow physicist pointed out an error in Shroder’s calculations.  (Schroder had forgotten to factor in the fact that the expansion rate of the universe is actually still increasing.)  And when his calculations were corrected, the apparent age of the universe at its edge was 13.8 billion years, virtually identical to the 14 billion years calculated by using the %.5 days (established in Scripture) before Adam’s creation, and increasing that by a million, million.

Starting, then, from Genesis, the 6000 literal years since Adam’s creation on earth, and the 14 billion years measured at the edge of the universe, are both true.

As Schroder defines it: One truth, seen from two vastly different perspectives. Both, however, absolutely true.   

The renowned Hebrew sage, Ramban was one of the scholars that specified, from his understanding of the Hebrew text, that the first 6 days of Genesis were literal 24-hour days.

He also said that that those six days, nonetheless, contained “all the ages of the world.”  How would he know that?  I don’t know, but it would seem that it could have only been through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as he read the Hebrew texts. 

And it could only have been similar inspiration that led James to describe God as the “Father of lights”, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning”.

The word translated “shadow of turning” is the Greek word trope, which describes the changes in perspective (like the phases of the moon) caused by the relative moments of the astronomical bodies. Our perspective, for both time and space, changes because we’re earth bound and time bound. But the Creator is, obligatorily, a being outside of creation, and therefore the only entity who is not subject to changes in perspective that thereby arise. 

There is no shadow of turning with Him (and no time dilation).  He created it all.

And every once in a while you get a fresh look at just how majestic He is.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Pain with a Purpose

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