In this series, based on Ken Boa’s chapter on time in God, I Don’t Understand, we’re exploring the concept of time, what the Bible says about it, and how it relates to God, science, and human history and experience.
As we’ve seen, no matter how much we examine time, we can’t really pin it down or keep it clearly in view.It’s always there, but no one can grasp it. This is why we shouldn’t be too hasty to accept conventional views of time.
One such view is that whatever is not now (that is, the past and the future) doesn’t exist. Because we see reality in a progressive sequence of nows, we assume that everything is real only when it is now. There are some reasons to modify this standard notion. One reason is that this isn’t the way God sees time (we’ll talk about this in a future post). Another reason is the wealth of documented cases of precognition.
What Does Precognition Tell Us About Time?
Precognition is the ability to see beforehand things that haven’t happened yet.
It appears that most precognitive dreams have little or nothing to do with the supernatural. Also, such dreams are more common than most people realize. These dreams are almost always vivid, and some of them keep recurring until they are fulfilled. Many of them involve glimpses of trivial events, and most of the rest go to the other extreme, depicting terrible accidents or tragedies. They’re often brushed aside in spite of their vividness until they actually come true (usually a short time after the dream).
It appears most precognitive dreams have little or nothing to do with the supernatural.
In some cases, these dreams depict a future that cannot be changed. Even when a person suddenly realizes an event in his dream is about to happen, he or she can do nothing to prevent it.
But in other cases, the future as seen in the dream can be changed because of the memory of the dream. For example, a man dreamed that he knocked down a boy with his car. Not long afterward he realized as he was driving that he was in the identical situation in his dream. He knew a boy would suddenly appear in the road, so he tried to ready himself to avoid him. Then the boy appeared (the same face as in the dream), but the driver was just able to miss him because he had been prepared by the memory of the dream.
Some precognitive dreams depict a future that cannot be changed. In other cases, the future as seen in the dream can be changed because of the memory of the dream.
In a similar dream, a woman was able to avoid the drowning of her baby in a creek because she remembered a detailed precognitive dream that showed her what would happen under the identical circumstances. In cases like these, the future can be seen and changed. Because it can be seen, it’s not really nonexistent, but because it can be changed it’s not solidly there. In Man and Time, J.B. Priestly calls this “a half-made future,” but this in no way would minimize God’s sovereignty over creation.1
John Warwick Montgomery suggests that such examples of precognition and ESP (extrasensory perception) represent a natural faculty that is “no more ‘demonic,’ (or ‘angelic’!) than a faculty of lightning calculation or the ability to play the piano by ear.”2 It appears that the future somehow exists even though we haven’t yet experienced it.
It appears that the future somehow exists even though we haven’t yet experienced it.
Explaining Precognition: Multiple Dimensions?
But how are people sometimes able to look through the veil that separates the future from the present?
To explain this, different writers have proposed a second or even a third time dimension. To avoid confusion, Priestly calls these dimensions Time One, Time Two, and Time Three.3 Time One involves our normal experience of a linear past, present, and future. But our minds can’t be completely contained by Time One (consider ESP, precognition, and déjà vu). So Time Two (the time of our dreams) is needed. But even Time Two doesn’t explain how people can sometimes change the possibilities revealed in Time Two (the man avoiding the boy, the woman preventing the drowning of her baby). This brings in Time Three, which contains all the alternative possibilities.
It is possible then, that time, like space, may be multidimensional. We just don’t know. The only thing we can say with much certainty is that our conventional idea of time is inadequate. There’s so much we don’t know.
The only thing we can say with much certainty is that our conventional idea of time is inadequate. There’s so much we don’t know.
If the future and the past exist, they must exist in another kind of time (Time Two or Three). We couldn’t travel into the past because we don’t belong there. We didn’t belong to Time One before we were born, and we don’t belong even to our own past as we are now.
Nevertheless, it’s possible to go into the past or future in the nonchronological times Two or Three (Time One is chronological time).
The apostle John saw the future “in the Spirit” (Revelation 1:10). He was actively there, but not in the ordinary sense of time.
A good example of this is the revelation of future things that the apostle John received (the book of Revelation). John saw the future “in the Spirit” (Revelation 1:10). He was actively there, but not in the ordinary Time One sense. John’s revelation covers more than a thousand years of the future (see Revelation 20:4–7, 10–15).