Time and eternity

September 1, 2014

A few months ago, I read an article about “How to Tell Time in Heaven.” Wait a minute, I thought. Time in heaven? I thought heaven existed outside of time.

Not that I had really ever thought about it much, that I can remember. I had a philosophy professor in college (a Baptist liberal arts college where the Christian faith was a part of every field of study) who challenged some notions people commonly have about heaven, even among Bible-believing churches.

For instance, it is a common idea in our society that dead people become angels. I grew up reading The Littlest Angel (still one of my favorite Christmas-themed stories), and while I knew it was fiction, I guess I more or less accepted its premise of a human boy becoming an angel.

Then in high school, our youth group at the Baptist church did a study on angelology, a branch of theology I hadn’t even known existed. (Not that I knew much about theology in high school, but I was an avid reader of Christian books, both fiction and non-fiction.) Scripture gives little information about angels, but it certainly never suggest that any of them were once human beings.

But most churchgoers don’t study angelogy, much less people who have no use for organized religion (though they may still believe in angels). So the idea of people becoming angels persists, helped along, no doubt, by various movies (two I can think of offhand are It’s a Wonderful Life and The Heavenly Kid, and I’m sure there are several I haven’t even seen).

Another common idea my professor challenged is thinking of heaven as some ethereal region for disembodied spirits, while the Bible talks about resurrected bodies on a new Earth. He also challenged the belief common among Christians that our souls are eternal by their nature, explaining to us that we will remain created beings, and the eternity of our lives will still be, on and on throughout eternity, a gift of God. What I don’t remember is any discussion of time versus timelessness in that regard.

What I do remember, from attending churches throughout my life, is singing hymns such as “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” that state that “time will be no more.” Discussions of whether a believer goes to heaven immediately upon death (as opposed to “soul sleep”) also assume the idea of timelessness in heaven.

Michael Patton discusses this concept in his Parchment & Pen blog, in a post from 2009 that I apparently missed. As he explains, and as I read elsewhere when I started thinking about this, the verse in Revelation that says “time will be no more” would be more accurately translated “there will be no more delay” before certain end-times events take place.

Some of the articles and blog posts I found on this subject state that there must be time in heaven because the nature of life – even eternal life – requires it. Thinking, talking, and acting all involve a succession of thoughts, words, and actions, and for one thing to come after another there must be passage of time. One of these discussions points out that time is an essential element of music, which is generally agreed to have a prominent role in heaven.

Now, it doesn’t bother me to be told that heaven is different from how people, including many Christians, commonly think of it. The Bible gives very little in the way of direct description of heaven. Much that Scripture does say about heaven is in the form of visions, and it is hardly surprising that such visions would make heavy use of symbolic language to try to convey experiences and ideas that go beyond the limits of earthly human understanding.

In some ways, speculation about the details of heaven is pointless. We neither can know nor need to know now the particulars of our future existence. For the most part I see the entire topic as something God will take care of and I’ll find out when I need to.

It’s fun to imagine huge libraries in heaven where I can read as much as I want to, but even if books don’t exist in heaven (which I find highly doubtful considering that God used Scripture to reveal Himself to us), I am sure I will not be bored. I don’t think we’ll sit around all day playing harps, but I would be happy to be able to play the harp.

Would I just instantly find myself able to play, however, or would I have to learn? Learning implies change and change implies time. God made us humans naturally curious and eager to learn new things, and it seems strange to think that trait would be gone in heaven. I love the idea of learning for eternity.

What about other kinds of personal development? For years I attended churches where it was assumed that whatever level of spiritual maturity one had reached upon death, that was the level one would be at for eternity.

I suppose this teaching (not generally stated explicitly but I think it was occasionally) was based on the idea of timelessness in heaven, and it was used as a means of motivating people to pursue spiritual growth so they wouldn’t be stuck at some low level of spirituality forever. After all, if you could be certain not only of being saved but of gaining the highest level of spirituality immediately upon death, why would one work hard at spiritual growth in this life?

If there is time of some kind in heaven, however, then there would seem to be the opportunity not only to learn more about God’s creation and to create (books, songs, works of art), but also to continue to grow in one’s relationship with God.

What there won’t be is the sense of time as a burden, either having too much to do before a looming deadline, or having too much time and too little that is meaningful to fill the empty hours. My husband, in a recent sermon on the eternal nature of God, talked about a kind of “timeless time” that we spend worshiping God – not just someday in heaven but here and now.

Time can be meaningless, he said, when we are in the presence of God. It’s hardly that time ceases to exist, merely that it does not constrain us. And that is the kind of time that I suppose we will experience in heaven – or on the new Earth, to be precise, but “in heaven” in that we will be in the eternal presence of God.


Movies: God’s Not Dead

August 31, 2014

I had not planned on watching God’s Not Dead with the church youth group. I was taking our younger son, and since we don’t live nearby, I was going to spend the time in another room reading a novel rather than make the trip to church twice in one evening.

But the meeting got moved from the church to someone’s home, and when I was invited in to join them, it was naturally assumed I would be joining them all to watch the movie. I decided it was probably just as well, as this way I would know what my son had seen and be better able to answer any questions he might ask.

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Books: The Auschwitz Escape

August 26, 2014

I usually like reading historical fiction, but it’s hard to read about the awful things done by the Nazis in their death camps. Looking through the fiction choices in Tyndale’s Summer Reading Program, however, I thought it seemed like a better choice than most of the others.

I had heard of Joel Rosenberg and had for some time thought about reading one of his novels, but I never got around to it. (There are always so many other good books to read.) When I saw that he had written this historical novel set in WWII, I decided to give The Auschwitz Escape a try.

My initial impression, from reading the six chapter of Part One, was that I was not particularly impressed. It deals with the character Luc, an assistant pastor in a small town in France, who ends helps Jews who are escaping from Germany and other Nazi-occupied territories. That’s admirable, certainly, but as a character Luc seems rather flat. Read the rest of this entry »


Books: While the World Watched

August 9, 2014

When I saw While the World Watched on the Tyndale Summer Reading list, I decided this would be a good opportunity to learn a piece of history that had never been covered in any classes in school. When I was growing up, the Civil Rights Movement was too recent to be in our history books, but by the time I was in middle school (and had actual history classes instead of just an occasional social studies lesson), it was no longer part of current events. I remember seeing a picture of Governor George Wallace in a wheelchair, when I was in seventh grade (the year after he was shot), but I had no idea of the history behind that.

At church I occasionally heard references to the importance of race relations, but I had no context for understanding what they were talking about. My parents were friends with a black family, as well as with the black janitor at church, but that was about the extent of my experiences with people of other races. I was only a baby when the church bombing in Birmingham took place, and in first grade when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I knew vaguely that there were places where whites and blacks didn’t get along but gave it little if any thought.

Reading the firsthand account of Carolyn Maull’s experiences growing up in Birmingham gave me a new perspective on the whole subject. I had, over the years, picked up some general knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement, but seeing it through the eyes of a child who lived through it gave it a vividness and emotional immediacy that whatever I had read previously lacked. It’s one thing to read about the fact of atrocities committed decades ago. It’s another to feel her anxieties as she tries to cope with the violent death of her friends.

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Books: The Antelope in the Living Room

August 9, 2014

Looking through the list of non-fiction in Tyndale’s summer reading list, I decided that a humorous book about marriage sounded worth checking out of the library. Light reading, with some insights thrown in about making marriage work, all from a Christian perspective.

For the first few chapters of The Antelope in the Living Room, I was delighted. I enjoyed her light-hearted style and her self-deprecating humor, and I smiled as I read. (I didn’t laugh, but that’s me, not the book – there really isn’t a lot that makes me laugh.) I looked forward to enjoying the whole book.

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Books: Murder Must Advertise

August 2, 2014

I first remember hearing of Dorothy Sayers in college, as an example of a Christian writer of the best sort, one who wrote from a Christian perspective but not necessarily about Christian themes. I always meant to read something by her, but somehow never got around to it. Back when I was in college, I had no interest in detective novels.

Having finally read encountered Miss Marple in two of Agatha Christie’s books in recent months, I had thought I probably ought to check out something by Sayers and meet Lord Peter Wimsey. But when I’m in the library on Monday evenings after Toastmasters, somehow I don’t think of that. Until two weeks ago, when I happened across Murder Must Advertise in the library’s collection of books on CD.

Early in the novel, I found it difficult to keep track of all the many characters. It doesn’t help that, since I was listening to this rather than reading it, I had trouble keeping track of who was speaking. Some narrators make it fairly easy to distinguish different characters by their voices, but either this narrator does not do this as well as others or there were just too many of them. And Sayers apparently lets conversations go on quite some time without reminders who is speaking. Read the rest of this entry »


Books: Winter of the World

July 27, 2014

As I had read in book reviews that Winter of the World picks up where Fall of Giants left off, I was surprised and somewhat disappointed to find out that this was not really so. There is a gap of nine years, with the sequel beginning in 1933 with Hitler’s rise to power. Perhaps in terms of world events nine years isn’t so long, but I was expecting continuity in terms of the characters.

Nine years is long enough that the main characters of the first book have receded into the background and it is through the eyes of their children that we see events unfold. The parents are there, but they are no longer very interesting. And there is little explanation for how they got to where they are now. Grigori, in particular, seems much too content with his comfortable position in life as a general in the Red Army. I realize that it would have been dangerous for him to oppose Stalin (he escaped being purged by not being important enough at the time), but one can’t help but wonder what happened to his thirst for a just society.

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