Saturday, July 31, 2010

For a Little While

Through faith [you] are shielded by God’s power… In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1.5-6)

Time Dilation

My comprehension of the theory of relativity wouldn’t fill a thimble. There is, however, one component I find especially intriguing. Commonly known as “time dilation,” the theory posits that time passes more slowly for moving objects than stationary ones. Because variants in earthbound speed are relatively minimal, the difference is imperceptible. Yet it checks out mathematically and can be applied to bodies traveling through the universe, where travel speeds vary widely. Time dilation’s most powerful implication for us, I think, comes by improving awareness of the differences between our time and God’s time. As we all know, they are not the same.

We remain in flux. God remains at rest. He covers all time and space. We move through them. Time for Him is eternal, meaning the past, present, and future is simultaneous and impossible to gauge in a linear fashion. Our time is finite, creating perceptions it’s a measurable thing we can fractionalize in years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds. Ticking our way through life encourages us to evaluate our progress by how far we move in how much time. We hail those who advance swiftly as prodigies and lament those who mature slowly as “challenged.” Yet for the quickest to the slowest of us, time crawls in comparison to God’s time. Psalm 90.4 astutely reflects the time dilation theory: “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” From where God sits, time flies. From where we are, it creeps. And time disparities between Him and us are most exasperating when we’re trudging through trials, waiting impatiently for His intervention.

Real Time

First-century Christians were obsessed with time. They discussed it constantly, and were we to overhear their conversations, we’d think them slightly mad. As witnesses to Christ’s ascension (or converts taught by its witnesses), they based their lives on His soon return. It’s odd to imagine they didn’t know they were founding a faith that would endure for centuries. But they didn’t. They believed Christianity would last no longer a generation or two. Expedience informed everything they did. Then, as believers died away, they no doubt wrestled with disillusionment. Why was it taking so long for Christ’s promised return?

As the Church’s first leader, Peter is endowed with a profound grasp of time. In his second epistle, he directly quotes Psalm 90.4, reminding his readers to hew their expectations to God’s timing, not their perceptions. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness,” he writes. (2 Peter 3.9) He stresses perceived delays indicate God gives us proper time to be reconciled to Him: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Peter tells us time dilation has a purpose. The longer it seems God waits, the longer we have to learn how to follow His ways. Delays become reasons to rejoice—once we realize the time discrepancy is on our end. Because we’re moving, it feels as though God falls behind on His promises when, in fact, He answers and works in real time.


Accepting time discrepancies between God and us won’t necessarily offset our frustrations, though. As sentient creatures, perceptions are reality. How do we deal with that? Peter tells us to shift our attention from the clock to what happens during the wait. “Through faith [you] are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time,” he writes. (1 Peter 1.5) While passing through life’s troubles, we sharpen our sense of God’s protection. He grants us traveling mercies to ensure we’ll survive our trials and tests. It’s not about the light at the end of the tunnel, but Who’s with us in the tunnel. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me,” Psalm 23.4 exclaims. We know this verse by heart. But do we truly take it to heart? We should.

Being confident we’re shielded by God’s power lifts anxiety about how quickly He’ll fix our situation. Since He’s already going through it with us, we have nothing to fear. As a great pastor I knew taught, God’s presence in us makes us invincible. Paul explains this in 2 Corinthians 4.7-9: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Faith in our invincibility adjusts our sense of time. We may feel weary, confused, attacked, and down for the count, but however long our trials last, we will never be overpowered, distressed, forsaken, or defeated. “In this you greatly rejoice,” Peter writes, “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise.” (v6-7) For a little while, Peter says. How long is that? By our clocks, “a little while” could last a lifetime. But when we trust God’s protection, we learn to live in His real time. How long “a little while” takes is secondary at best. Having Him with us—in us—all the while is what counts.

Moving through life’s trials causes us to perceive time as slower than it is. God’s time is accurate and real. Rather than grow impatient with Him, we rejoice that He protects and keeps us all the while.


grant said...

Interesting that you should post regarding time and our perspectives on it ... I've been reading a lot of writing lately by theologian Gregory A. Boyd. He presents a new (for me at least) take on what "future" looks like. This concept changes significantly the paradigm for how we face each day and contextualize these trials we face in this age. Highly recommended for thoughtful Christ followers like yourself, Tim.

Sherry Peyton said...

really lovely reflection Tim. I think that what we do while waiting becomes the real test of our faith. We are all too prone to sit and do nothing I think. At least I am. I constantly have to prod myself that meaningful business is still awaiting our attention--even when we are desperately wanting the "completion" of our needed relief to come. This makes me think however, and I'll ponder it some more in meditation today. Thank you as always.

Tim said...

Grant, I believe I have a new friend in Gregory Boyd. (Love the "Calvinist-Openist" bit!) I'll make sure I get through as much of him as I can find online and then finish up with what I can find for purchase! A fascinating (and obviously fun, bright) guy. Thank you!

Sherry, what we do while waiting becomes the real test of our faith--wow. That's an issue I believe we all struggle with. And I believe it's how so many of us lose our way while dealing with trials. We get sidetracked by all sorts of things (very seldom healthy) as distractions. Or we pull out our sackcloth-and-ashes and just sit it out, doing ourselves and no one around us any good. I too must ponder this more...

Grant and Sherry you're so kind and generous to all of us here! Thank you so much!


TomCat said...

I like this, Tim.

FYI, we have taken taken two identical precision atomic clocks, left one home, and put the other aboard a supersonic jet for a few hours high speed flight. Upon return, slightly less time passed on the moving clock. Space and time are a single substance, space-time. As passage through space increases in rate, passage in through time decreases in rate.

I've always been fascinated by end time writers who put out book after book explaining how the conditions on earth perfectly match prophecy proving that the rapture is imminent. Each new book fails to admit that all the authors' previous books were wrong.

God transcends time. I gave heard it said the He views history as a parade, seeing the beginning, end, and all points between. I disagree. This view confirms omniscience, but disregards free will. I think God sees time as a river system we travel moving upstream. He sees where in the system we have been (past), where in the system we are (present), and all of the branches that lay before us, with all of the futures that could result.

Philomena Ewing said...

Talking of time, I am way behind responding to your recent posts - there are at least two that I want to follow up - I am having major surgery on my garden and so it is likely to be later rather than sooner but I didn't want you to think I have forgotten- far from it.I don't want to rsuh something off because these posts of yours require much reading before I comment. Will be back soon.Hope that new carpet of yours is clean!!

Tim said...

Tom, I'm so glad you chimed in here. Your example of how time dilation works adds much-needed clarity to mine. (I went to youtube in search of a video that might help, but they were all very dense. Even Carl Sagan's piece took repeated viewings to find the point.)

To your point about end-time writers: it is a perilous thing, I think, to read newspapers like tea leaves. It seems every generation finds sufficient "proof" it will be the last. Mine certainly did. Every home had a well-worn copy of Hal Lindsey's Late, Great Planet Earth and everything he wrote sounded right at the time. Yet here we are, forty years later. I believe in the Second Coming's promise, but I also believe it was given to open our eyes to urgent needs around us--to pull our heads out of the clouds, not to put them there. We do as the Early Church did: work as if every day is the last we'll have rather than resign our responsibilities as negligible since "Jesus is coming soon."

Time as a river we swim upstream, with any number of tributaries to turn into--that's marvelous! It counsels us to know where we're headed, lest like so many, we head down streams leading nowhere!

Thanks for the thought-provoking comment, Tom. You never fail to stimulate our minds to consider new angles and nuances in the posts!


Tim said...

Phil, dearest, no rush here. It seems we're both dealing with domestic disarray at present. Even as I write this, I'm aware I should be busy finishing up the work after the new carpet (which is lovely, BTW).

When you find time to circle back around, it will be a joy to hear from you!

Blessings--and happy gardening!