When I think of daylight savings time ending on Sunday, November 1, I hear St. Augustine whispering in the background about the unfathomable nature of time. The famous Christian philosopher indicated that there was no past—what we call past is just a present memory. He went on to say that there is no such thing as future—it is merely a present expectation. In his view, all we have is the NOW and it becomes the past as soon as we say the word now. St. Augustine said he knew what time was until someone asked him to explain it, but then he didn’t know. Time is ineffable and unfathomable.
William Faulkner, the Nobel Prize winning Mississippi novelist, expressed the concept of time this way: “There is no such thing as was. If was existed, there would be no sadness or sorrow.” No matter how you cut it, then, time is a difficult concept to get our minds around. God did not create clocks and calendars, but an apparently limitless universe in which self consciousness is as rare as hen’s teeth. If earth is the only inhabited planet, our lucidity is rare indeed in the vast expanse of interstellar space. Man created clocks and calendars to measure the motions of our tiny part of the universe.
God exists in eternity, which is an unquantified state. I remember a preacher in my youth explaining how long eternity was by saying if a sparrow pecked up a grain of sand and flew it to the moon and took another one up there every year, when he had the earth removed to the moon, that would be about one second in eternity.
That analogy blew my adolescent mind because I knew sparrows could not fly in space suits. But the real problem was the attempt to quantify a concept that is not sequential but durational. Eternity simply IS; it is not BECOMING. The only way earthlings understand time is in this sense of becoming. Even when we say “constant state” we don’t know what we are talking about.
Do you remember the song “The Love of God”? One of the verses proclaims that if the ocean were ink and the sky were a scroll, we could still never write out the love of God. God’s love is similar to the concept of eternity. We just can’t quantify it. Perhaps that is why so many people have trouble accepting the grace of God. Since our capacity to love is so limited, we have difficulty imagining God’s freely given favor. He loves us not because of anything but in spite of everything.
Possibly the best way to understand eternity and God’s love is to ponder Jesus on the cross. He stretched out his arms as if to say, “I love you this much.” And because of that expansive, incomprehensible love, eternity opened up for all of us time- and calendar-bound people who would put our trust in God’s only son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth!
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.