Time and Eternity—What Do We Really Know About Them?
“TIME seems to be one of the most mysterious forms of human experience,” states one encyclopedia. Yes, to define time in simple terms is nearly impossible. We may say that time “elapses,” “goes,” “flies,” and even that we ourselves are moving in “the stream of time.” But we really do not know what we are talking about.
Time has been defined as the “distance between two events.” Yet, our experience seems to tell us that time is independent of events; it appears to go on whether something happens or not. One philosopher claims that time actually does not exist but is simply something imagined. Can that on which so much of our experience is built be merely a figment of our imagination?
The Bible’s View of Time
The Bible does not give any definition of time, suggesting that it is perhaps beyond man’s ability to understand fully. It is like the endless expanse of space, which we also find difficult to comprehend. Time, apparently, is one of those things that only God can fully understand, for he alone is “from time indefinite to time indefinite.”—Psalm 90:2.
Even though the Bible does not define time, it does speak of time as a reality. To start with, the Bible tells us that God created the “luminaries”—the sun, moon, and stars—as time markers, to “serve as signs and for seasons and for days and years.” Many events recorded in the Bible are firmly placed in the stream of time. (Genesis 1:14; 5:3-32; 7:11, 12; 11:10-32; Exodus 12:40, 41) The Bible also speaks of time as something that we should use wisely in order to be in line for God’s blessing of an eternity of time—the prospect of living forever.—Ephesians 5:15, 16.
Everlasting Life—Is It Logical?
Frustrating as it is to try to understand what time really is, to many people the idea of everlasting life, or living forever, is most puzzling. One reason for this may be that our experience of time has always been connected with the cycle of birth, growth, aging, and death. Thus, we have come to identify the flow of time with the aging process itself. For many, to think in any other way would seem to be a violation of the very concept of time. ‘Why should humans be an exception to that to which all other living creatures seem to be subjected?’ they may ask.
What is often overlooked in this way of reasoning is the fact that humans are already an exception to the rest of creation in a number of areas. For example, animals lack the intellectual abilities that humans have. Despite claims otherwise, they do not become creative beyond what their instinct drives them to do. They have neither the artistic gifts nor the capacity to show love and appreciation that humans possess. If humans have been given so much more in these qualities and abilities that make life meaningful, why is it not possible that they have also been given more when it comes to life itself?
On the other hand, is it not strange that trees, which cannot think, live for thousands of years in some cases, whereas intelligent humans can live only 70 to 80 years on the average? Is it not a paradox that tortoises, which have no creative or artistic abilities, can live more than 200 years, while humans, richly endowed with these abilities, live much less than half as long?
Although time and eternity cannot be fully comprehended by man, the promise of everlasting life is still a hope well founded in the Bible. In it, the term “everlasting life” occurs nearly 40 times. But if God’s purpose is that humans should live forever, why has it not already been realized? This question will be considered in the next article.