Time and The Universe

Articles Reviewed:

Other resources reviewed:

  • Is God in Time? A video conversation by Dean Zimmerman and Thomas Crisp (December 2014)

What do time and the universe have to do with the church today? Physicists have struggled to understand the nature of time since Albert Einstein developed the Theory of General Relativity. Some understand time as linear. There is a set past, ongoing present, and uncertain future. Others ascribe to a “block universe,” where future and past are interchangeable blocks and both are already set. Many other ideas have been offered as well, such as a Crystallizing Block Universe, where the events in the past only “crystallize” at a later time, or “retrocausality,” where effects precede their cause. How we understand time profoundly affects how we understand the universe and how we understand God.

Sermons might explore these different ideas of time and discuss how God might work in each. They might look at the different ways God relates to creation and explore the implications of the Incarnation on our understanding of time. Most importantly, they can offer hope that, even when we cry out with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord,” and even though God’s timing might not be our timing, we can be confident God still acts within history.

“There is another pretty dramatic wrinkle in the neat line between past and present, too: Sometimes, the present can influence the past.”

-Kate Becker

What to Consider

  • What are your views on creation and the age of the universe? How does this affect your theology? How does this impact the living out of your faith?
  • How do you understand God’s relationship to time?
  • How does the doctrine of the Incarnation change how we understand the way God acts within time?

How to Go Deeper

  • Discuss the differences between God’s timing and human timing. Consider stories such as Abraham and Sarah with Isaac, Israel’s time in exile, or the crowd’s desire to make Jesus king after he fed five thousand people. Bring in different theories on the nature of time and share how, even though we don’t understand time, God still acts within history.
  • Read Genesis 1:1-2:4 and discuss how God was around before the heavens and the earth were created. Use these different understandings of time to consider the different ways we can understand God’s relationship inside or outside of time. This video from the Center for Christian Thought might help.
  • The bible is bookended by Genesis 1 (creation) and Revelation 22 (new creation). Contemplate ways we might understand time before the creation of the universe and after the new creation talked about in Revelation 21-22. Consider what the future might hold for the physical world, including our bodies, if time no longer results in death and decay.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

Related Research

Biologos – “Time and Eternity: A Christological Perspective”

FQXI – “In Search of a Quantum Spacetime”

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.

4 Comments

  1. Reed Metcalf February 7, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    Whew! Where do you even start with this one–what a complex and daunting subject! I guess one major takeaway from these three pieces–the two FXQi write-ups and the CCT video–is that this area in particular seems to have no perceptible interaction between the science and theology/philosophy camps. While the FXQi essays focused entirely on debates between different thought camps in quantum physics, the Christian philosophers worked entirely in thought experiments based on classical theology and philosophy. It seems obvious to me that serious dialogue between the two spheres is necessary to make any headway on questions pertaining to time. Another major takeaway, however, is that we should have great reticence when treating any of these particular theories regarding time from quantum physics as dogma. I am not saying that all of quantum theory should be suspect, but I am advocating that in this particular subfield of quantum physics, we should recognize that there is no final consensus even among quantum researchers. Pinning theological ideas on one or the other might be building on an unsure foundation.

    • matt@ncstudycenter.org August 25, 2017 at 3:32 pm

      These conversations are so difficult because so few people are well-trained in both theology/biblical studies AND science/quantum physics. Alister McGrath comes to mind, but there aren’t enough interdisciplinary researchers in this field.

  2. JarrodCraw May 27, 2017 at 11:09 am

    I agree with your thoughts – discussing these topics from the pulpit might not be too helpful. I also found myself thinking over how complex these ideas are – would you be able to distill this into a sermon? Would people understand? I suppose if I were in a different cultural setting, some people might respond to addressing some of these notions. Where I am serving, however, I would easily lose people if I started talking about different theories of how the past/present/future interact with one another.

    • matt@ncstudycenter.org August 25, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      Maybe this would be more appropriate for an Adult Sunday School series on faith + science, moreso than from the pulpit

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