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)
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.
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.