Yes, the title is a pun. Time puns are inevitable. I nearly called this, ‘a second’s time around’. The previous article ‘God & Time’ pondered the question, ‘what is time?’, and clarified why time is truly a theological issue. But what about length of time – time as duration? Time is one thing – our experience of time is quite another. How do different entities experience time? Electrons spinning around an atom travel vastly further distances in one second (a second’s time around!) than humans will in a lifetime. Adult mayflies live out their entire lifecycle in 24 hours, bristlecone pines over 3,000 years, humans in 80 years. Each experiences time differently: cycles, rhythms, seasons, change, aging. In addition, 10 minutes waiting in a queue feels exceedingly different than 2 hours watching a great film – or 10 seconds’ drop down a high rollercoaster. And what of sleep? Or hibernation? – when time feels like no time at all – yet we never question that we are still ‘in time’.
So how does God experience time? Yes, 2Pet 3:8 tells us ‘A thousand years is like a day…’ and Christians often take this to mean that God transcends time – that past, present, future are all the same to God. But I don’t think so. These are durations. While God may experience time differently in relation to each of his creatures, that does not imply he’s outside time. The universe God created is a time-based universe; if God were outside time, he would (by implication) be outside the universe and have no relationship to us. If God is with us, he is ‘in time’. We innately accept this: nobody prays, ‘Lord, please help England win the world cup last year’. It’s utterly irrelevant to speculate about God’s experience outside time or the universe – if even possible.
Modern humans have a warped sense of time. The discovery that our 13.7 billion-year-old universe is ‘winding down’ and our sun is burning out (in 3-billion years) elicits a deep existential angst. Yet our entire human existence is merely a blink in that time-span! What then of eternity? Our own ‘second time around’ (i.e. life after death), is not ‘outside’ the time-space continuum. The biblical concept of eternal life is not timelessness, but everlastingness – a great, undefined length of time – perhaps experienced in a wonderfully different way from the life we experience today. For how long? Time will tell.