Is time real? Opinion is divided among physicists on this question. I’m not a scientist but I love science.

I’ve noticed that many scientific ideas are presented to the public while they have yet to be proven. This has definitely been the case with this mind bending question, what is time? When I think about it, my brain almost hurts and I feel as if I’m straddling the borders of science, philosophy, and religion. 

From a physics point of view, time defies categorization. Physicists attempt to explain the universe by breaking down each component into the smallest possible increment, the fundamental measurement, the quantum. (Space and light cause controversy as well. Is light a wave or a particle? How many dimensions does space have?) Time seems to break down into nonexistence after 10 to the -43rd degree. This has led to the possible conclusion that time only exists in our perception. The only reality is now, and time is simply a series of nows that we perceive as past, present, or future.

If I understand this theory correctly that argument disintegrates into an infinite mirror effect. Like when you look at a reflection of yourself looking in the mirror and in that mirror you see yourself looking in the mirror on into infinity. If time doesn’t exist, does physical matter even exist or do objects exist only when we perceive or measure them? From that point of view, this theory of time is also just the perception of the scientists who believe it. When they cease to exist, so will this idea. This logic leads to the belief that nothing is real.  

I wondered, what does the Bible teach about time? Here are a few truths I found:

  1.  God made the heavenly bodies and natural laws that allow humans on earth to perceive the passing of time. He also made our brains with the ability to understand this concept. “Then God said: “Let there be luminaries in the expanse of the heavens to make a division between the day and the night, and they will serve as signs for seasons and for days and years.” Genesis 1:14. So the natural division of a day is created specifically for human inhabitants of earth. Seasons and years also have natural divisions visible on earth. This is not inconsistent with scientific theories that time is relative. A person standing on Jupiter would perceive a day and a year much differently. To the Author of the Bible though, the important perspective was that of humans on earth, the intended readers of that book.
  2. Since He Created ‘time’, He stands above it’s constraints. The prophet Daniel wrote, “He changes times and seasons.” Dan.2:21. At Psalm 90:2 it says God is “from everlasting to everlasting”. And verse 4 says a thousand years to him are “as yesterday when it is past”. For him even a thousand years could be just one unbroken time period in which he begins and completes some activity or purpose.
  3. Many verses in the Bible inform humans of the definite time appointments God has set for certain actions toward earth. For example Gal. 4:4 says God sent his son “when the full limit of the time arrived”. Prophecy is an integral part of the Bible, which means that our view of the future is important to God. He wants us to have hope, and so the Bible is full of promises of everlasting life. 

From these points I conclude that God meant us to have a sense of time.

Consciousness and our sense of self depend on experiences and memories, which require the passage of time to accumulate. These things can’t be easily measured or quantified, they often tend to be skewed and illogical, yet they help form who we are. It’s a miracle of life that each human who has ever lived is completely unique.

My question is: does it matter whether time disappears after being broken down into immeasurably tiny increments? In the grand scheme of things does this theory, even if it turns out to be true, change anything about the way we should live our life in order to be successful and happy? I would argue that it doesn’t. If I want to make sense of human history, and my place in it, I need to accept God’s construction of time. 

This doesn’t mean I believe time is a restriction of my free will. I believe the passing of time molds my choices based on my previous experiences and thus develops my exercise of free will into a more rounded out process. Which is another way of saying what the proverbs already say, knowledge and understanding build wisdom. However, true wisdom requires a reverence for the Creator, otherwise how can our choices fit the construction of the universe and fulfill our place in it?

To me, it’s a beautiful thing, the way space, time, energy, matter, and the perceptions of each of us meld to produce the physical world we inhabit. It contains limitless potential for exploration and fuel for the imagination. 

Photo credit: Holly Ziemba

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