Can you imagine if God had tried explaining to Moses that the Earth is 6 billion years old? We live in an age where huge numbers get thrown around all the time. There are 6.5 billion people on the planet. The gdp of the United States is in the trillions. The universe we can see is thought to be 16+ billion years old. Heck, some people have billions of dollars. We’ve all heard those explanations of how if the history of the earth were crammed into a year, humans wouldn’t show up until a few seconds before midnight. So when we hear “billions” we have some frame of reference for understanding that amount of time although it remains incomprehensible. But if God had told Moses that the Earth was 6 billion years old, it would have meant nothing. A billion. Eternity. It would all be the same.
So what do eternity and time mean to us today? The best explanation I can think of is to imagine each point in time as a tiny particle. Now, imagine each of those particles lined up in a line like a string. Now, imagine taking that string and wrapping it up like a ball of yarn. Now, imagine that you could enter that giant ball which contains all that has ever been or ever will be here in the physical world, all at once. Imagine that you could experience it all at once – like a constant hum of movement and emotion and light. Imagine that you could see the ball of time from the outside and watch what it does – again as a constant pulsing, moving, feeling thing. Imagine that you could reach out and take hold of one particle that represents one point in time. Or a section of the time string to watch events unfold. I imagine that depending on how much detail you looked at, it would be like looking at a picture or a movie or even a poem that captures a sense of place and emotion. This is all very theoretical and speculative, but when I imagine what it must be like to exist outside of time, this is the idea that helps me to even begin to conceive of such a thing.
If we could see from the perspective of eternity, we would be able to see how things all hold together and work themselves out. We could know in a way that right now we can only hope for and believe in that God really “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God” – Roman 8:28. If we could see the whole ball of twine, so to speak, it would all make sense.
But the reason that everything can work itself out that way is because we exist inside time rather than outside of time. In time, things can change, grow, morph, even die. Outside of time, what is – is. Outside of time, if tragedy strikes, it just is. Inside of time, if tragedy strikes, we can fight back, survive, learn and grow from it and allow it to become something beautiful or even just recede so far from memory that it no longer has any sting. Time is the gift we have been given so that things can work themselves out into a beautiful whole. Without time, whatever pain, sorrow and suffer we experience would just exist. It would exist alongside of whatever joy, triumph and pleasure we experience, to be sure. But it would always be there. And frankly, that’s not good enough for me. I don’t believe it’s good enough for God either.
*Originally published 8/2011