Christianity and the Belief that Time and Change are Illusions

It is obvious from both modern biology and contemporary physics, as well as our own experiences, that everything changes. There are no fixed substances or unchanging essences underlying reality. Some things change very slowly but they nevertheless change. But that vision of a continuously changing world is at odds with some our deeply embedded cultural assumptions about how things work.

To the extent our view of time and change has been influenced by Christianity, time and change are an illusion. Christian doctrine entails that the future already exists and is complete.

Christians believe in an omnipotent, omniscient creator who invented time but stands outside of it, eternal and unchanging. Thus, God stands to his creation much like an author is related to her novel published as a physical book.

The author of the published novel has finished writing and can no longer change what is written. The book you read today will be identical to that book if you were to re-read it in ten years. The author is outside the time of the novel; she knows the story not as it unfolds but as a completed narrative. For Christianity the future is like the pages in that novel, complete and unchanging. The whole story of God’s creation exists from beginning to end, and God is able to see the story not as it unfolds but as if the pages were simultaneously laid out before him in a single timeless vision. Of course, the future is not known to us just as the end of the story is not known to the virgin reader. But God sees the already existent and completed future whole. This is why prophets are able to see into the future. They are somehow able to “read” a page from the book of the universe

As inhabitants of God’s creation, we are simply living out our lives like a reader in their first encounter with the book. The reader doesn’t know what will happen but, if she keeps reading from front to back, the events in the story will unfold in the way already determined by the author. The characters in the novel act and react, deliberate about their decisions, and consciously try to shape their futures. But those characters have no influence on the story; the story has already been written.

Similarly, God is outside of time just as the novelist is outside her story. God is timeless, eternal, and unchanging with no past or future and is the author of a completed universe in which change can no longer occur. You might think that God being omnipotent could change reality if he wanted but of course that would make God the author of error, his prior knowledge of the future having contained a mistake, which is incompatible with God’s omniscience. And that in any case would place God within time as an agent of change and no longer unchanging or eternal.

For Christianity, since God’s perspective is ultimate reality and God exists outside of time, time is a kind of illusion and so is change, experienced only by finite beings trapped within time. Western thought at its source is as change-phobic as some versions of Hinduism that view time and change as an illusion.

This view of reality as unchanging and time as an illusion explains why predestination has been a popular thread within the history of Christianity. If God created the book of time with the whole story already told, we humans have no influence on what happens. Whatever is going to happen has already occurred. I suppose one can see why this view is attractive. If the book of human history is already written, nothing we do can change it and none of the outcomes of our actions are our responsibility.

Thus, the whole song and dance about judgement day is then nothing but a charade. Acts of evil are wholly God’s responsibility part of the divine plan already complete and final, each individual as guiltless as a newborn child.

Published by Dwight Furrow

Wine, food, and travel writing, philosophy, aesthetics

One thought on “Christianity and the Belief that Time and Change are Illusions

  1. I appreciate your grasp of a part of this complex and detailed issue, and while I disagree with the conclusion drawn in the last paragraph due to another missing half of the conversation, it was easy to follow your reasoning. Well presented.

    Like

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