Participating in Eternity

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RabbitDragonflysignIt was a rainy Tuesday morning.  The clouds hovered low and ominously over my city of Lancaster. As is my habit when I visit the Central Market (Tuesdays are always the best day), I ducked into my favorite café the Rabbit and the Dragonfly- a shrine to the Inklings of the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  It’s there I like to sip a warm cup of coffee stirred with a bit of solace before going about my business.

WardrobeAs I was exiting the café, I caught a glimpse of the coat area. The back wall was painted with a lamppost and snow, as though we were looking through the wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia.  A brilliantly, fitting choice artwork, if I do say so myself.

As I stepped outside the café, the rays of sunlight briefly blinded me, as my pupils adjusted.  I was only in the café for a few minutes.  When I entered, it was stormy, and when I exited back onto the Lancaster city streets, it was a gorgeous, sunny day.

There is something that draws me to that café, more than a cup of coffee.  For me, it is a spiritual experience.  I’m sure the owners – Christian friends with whom I go to church, intended for that to be the case.  Within those moments in the café, my heart experienced a transformation of sorts.  Call it a sudden good mood if you’d like.  But I feel as though I had crossed the other side of the wardrobe into a land full of experiences where no time had passed at all.

If you’ve experienced C.S. Lewis’ timeless story – the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you will recall how when the four children cross the threshold of the wardrobe, they leave their homes in the English countryside and venture into the land called Narnia.  They spend years, decades even, running from danger, fighting wars, restoring the land to peace, and living as kings and queens.  But when they return through the wardrobe, back to their “homes” in England, no time has passed at all.

There is an eternal truth presented here, mysterious, spiritual, but I am convinced true.  When we speak of God, we use words like “eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent.”  These are words that make sense to our faithful hearts, but they defy everything we experience in our world.  We can’t relate to being everywhere at the same time, or knowing everything, or being able to do everything.  We are limited by our time and space… and gravitational laws.

Perhaps this is why many scientists scoff at the idea of god, let alone the God of Christianity.  How can one possibly be eternal or omnipresent?

I watched the movie Interstellar recently.  It’s a movie about a dying earth and a determined group of astrophysicists who are searching for a viable planet to transport earth’s population.  The plot is complicated; it’s based on a lot of scientific theories like wormholes, black holes, and time-space relativity.  The closer the astronauts travel towards the black hole, the slower time gets.  This time dilation corresponds with Einstein’s theory of relativity.

For the protagonist, this means his mission is time sensitive.  Having left all of his family behind, he knows that a few hours exploring a planet close to a black hole corresponds to many earth years away from his family.  Quite simply, his quest to find a planet means that his children will age without him, while he himself does not age at all.

Towards the end of the movie, something curious happens as the protagonist finds himself in the predicament of being sucked into the black hole.  Suddenly, he is able to communicate with moments that have passed on earth because he himself is at the point of singularity – a region where the spacetime curvature becomes infinite.  Because of this, he is able to communicate with past events that result in a change of the future.

Perhaps this helps to explain an eternal world filled with an eternal God.  Scientifically speaking, the world we call heaven might look much less like earth and much more like something similar to a black hole.  It is a world of singularity, suspending our experiences and laws of time and gravity, where all things travel at the speed of light, if not faster.  And thus, time, at least as we know it, does not exist.

In C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, he writes,

Almost certainly God is not in Time.  His life does not consist of moments following one another.  If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty.  Ten-thirty- and every other moment from the beginning of the world- is always the Present for Him.  If you like to put it that way, He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashed in flames.

Whereas we experience events on a linear timeline, with one event happening after another, God does not have experiences like us.  We speak of cause and effect because what we do now affects the next moment.  That is not necessarily the case with God.

So while our experiences are quite different than God’s because of our gravitational world, participating with God in His eternal realm has some extraordinary implications.

If C.S. Lewis is correct, imagine prayer.  If I pray, I am speaking into the eternal realm.  God is not necessarily hearing that prayer today.  As C.S. Lewis explained, He is listening to it in His eternal sphere.  “Today” means nothing to someone in a point of singularity or eternity.  My prayer may concern something that will occur tomorrow – a job interview, good weather, a doctor’s appointment, etc.  So let’s suppose instead of praying for something tomorrow, I pray for something that occurred yesterday.  Is my prayer still effective?  We might say, “No, it isn’t.  Because what’s happened has already occurred.”  However, if God knew that I was going to pray on a future date for something that occurred in the past, and for Him, there was no effect of time, we might say that it is theoretically possible for a future prayer to affect a past event.

This idea of participating in eternity also helps make sense of curious Biblical passages.  In Revelation 13:9, we read, “And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain.” (ASV).  Many have questioned whether the modifier “from the foundation of the world” refers to those written into the book of life or the Lamb that was slain.  I contend that both could be correct.

I recognize that when I suggest that people’s names are written in the Book of Life before even the foundations of the world, I’m suggesting something along the lines of predestination, which may make many uncomfortable.  Many feel that any notion or hint of something happening outside of their choice of salvation robs them of their free will.  But that’s not true.

If we receive eternal life when we believe, what does that mean?  What are the implications?  It means that our moment of salvation ties us to something eternal.  And if our souls are participating in something eternal, then they are existing beyond earth’s timeline.  If something is eternal, then it is not in any way dependent on what happens within a moment on earth.  Whether we believe salvation is based on God’s proactive choice (predestination/unconditional election), his reactive choice (conditional election), or not at all (arminianism), we must acknowledge that salvation occurs for us on a linear timeline and outside of all time for God.  John doesn’t see people’s names being written.  They are written.  That’s the way it has always been.  For us, we experience God on a linear timeline.  For us, we can point to a particular moment and say, “That’s when I first met God.”  For God, if He experiences us within the context of eternity, there is no single moment.  We are eternally with Him.  Perhaps this might help explain Solomon’s words when he wrote, “He has also set eternity in the heart of man” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Perhaps this may also help us with difficult passages like John 17, where Jesus says, “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me.”  Many are uncomfortable with the fact that Jesus seems to dismiss all non-believers.  If you think about his prayer in the context of eternity, it’s simply a moment where Jesus is peering beyond our time-space continuum into another realm.  His world is not cause and effect filled with “what if” and “maybe.”  His world is “is and always will be.”

Therefore, if our salvation is participating in something eternal, that means the essence of our salvation – the death of Jesus the Lamb of God – is also eternal.  Perhaps this is why John testifies that he saw, “a Lamb as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6).  Why isn’t Jesus presented in resurrected form like the Disciples would have seen?  Perhaps it is because the most essential, eternal moment wasn’t Jesus’ life before or after the crucifixion.  It was the crucifixion.  The moment of Jesus’ death bridged the event horizon, connecting heaven to earth.  The eternal vision engrained in singularity was realized within an earthly second and further realized when He rose from the dead.  God’s design always existed, but it had to submit to our time-space process for us to experience it and to receive its effectual redemption.

What has me excited about this is that in some real way I am participating with eternity when I participate with God.  We think of eternal life as something that begins after we die.  Jesus defined it this way, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).  Perhaps this was the point of C.S. Lewis’ tale of Narnia.  He wanted to show us not just some fairy tale behind a wardrobe we actually will never experience.  He wanted to show us the other world – the eternal one – in which we participate, when we participate with God – a world without time and where our souls have eternally existed.

If in some way, I am created for eternity, then my participation with it is realizing my true form.  When I am participating with eternity, I am more of my true form.  The singularity/eternal form of my soul is being better realized on earth, just as the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection was two earthly moments that reflected His existence in singularity.  And when I participate with God, I am participating with Him in a realm outside of the limits of time, space, and gravity.  I am crossing the event horizon, the wardrobe, where heaven kisses earth.

I feel that my visit to the Rabbit and the Dragonfly was more than just a pleasant moment of coffee indulgence.  So much changed from the moment I entered until the moment I left.  I felt as though I walked through a wardrobe.  Yes, it was cloudy when I entered and sunny when I exited.  But my soul participated with something eternal.  My heart was changed.  It was though decades passed in one realm and only a few minutes passed in another.

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