Time: Part 6—Time & Eternity

We’re exploring the mystery of time in this series based on a chapter in Ken Boa’s first book, God, I Don’t Understand.


He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.
(Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Though many have tried to repress it, people have a longing for eternity deep in their hearts.

This longing often surfaces in fantasy literature.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, for example, is imbued with a subtle sadness because of the progressive conquest of profane time over sacred time (eternity) in Middle-earth. There are frequent references in this trilogy to the paradise that has all but disappeared. Only a few snatches remain (for instance, Bilbo’s comment about Rivendell: “Time does not seem to pass here: it just is”).1

Check out more of Ken’s thoughts and teachings on The Lord of the Rings. 

Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis (both contemporaries of Tolkien) also worked with the idea of time and eternity. Lewis’s Narnia has its own time, very different from that on earth. People could spend many years in Narnia only to discover on returning back to earth that no time had passed at all here.2

The desire for eternity is also reflected in efforts of many people to transcend space and time through mystical and drug experiences.

Endless Time or Timelessness?

What does the Bible say about eternity? Is it simply endless time, or is it timelessness?

Oscar Cullmann correctly argues that eternity for mankind isn’t a state of timelessness.3 He points out that the New Testament describes a future in time for people. Time won’t cease, but it will go on and on in such a way that only God will be able to see the entire infinite succession of periods (see Ecclesiastes 3:11b). Time is a part of God’s creation, and creatures must live in it.

Nevertheless, there will still be some kind of qualitative change between time and eternity.

Eternity for mankind isn’t a state of timelessness. … The New Testament describes a future in time for people. Time won’t cease … [but] there will be some sort of qualitative change between time and eternity.

For one thing, we may exist in a different kind of time. The one-dimensional line of time that we now normally experience may in eternity be like a plane or a solid. This brings us back to the idea of multiple dimensions of space and of time that we raised in Part 3.

Another qualitative change between time and eternity will relate to our experience of time in our resurrected bodies. We’ll have a different taste of time and new quality of life. Time will no longer be able to slowly suck the life out of us. Neither will we experience time as a constantly limiting burden. In this life, time is like a steadily moving river that carries our lives away; in the next life, it will be like a pool in which we’ll luxuriate and create.

In heaven, time will no longer be … like a steadily moving river that carries our lives away; it will be like a pool in which we’ll luxuriate and create. —Ken Boa

Creaturely vs. Divine Eternity

We need to keep in mind that the eternity we’ve been describing is creaturely eternity, not divine eternity. Cullmann fails to distinguish the two, and this results in his idea that God Himself is bound by the linear succession of moments we know as time.4 But God’s eternity is “absolute, divine, complete, while that of man is partial and derivative.”5 God isn’t time’s servant; He is its Master.

God isn’t time’s servant; He is its Master. —Ken Boa

Our experience of the new time of heaven is beyond our present ability to imagine. There will be no particular ages in heaven since the physical aging process will cease. It’s possible that experience of duration will be brought closer to God’s perspective. For instance, men like Paul and Peter who are present with the Lord may be experiencing this long interval between death and resurrection as only a few moments.


Put principles of this series into practice with exercises like “Chronos vs. Kairos,” “Balanced Schedule,” and “Time Stopping” from Ken Boa’s Guide to Practicing God’s Presence, which contains a number of exercises specifically related to how we view, spend, and plan our time. Get the guide in book form or as an app.

Series Navigation<< Time: Part 5—Time & HistoryTime: Part 7—Implications for Everyday Life >>

Footnotes

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), 243. See John W. Montgomery, et al., Myth Allegory and Gospel (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974), 127–129.
  2. C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950). Just the opposite effect can be found in Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter (New York: Ballantine Books, 1969), 28. In this fantasy, Alveric, a prince from our world, goes into a twilight world named Elfland for less than a day. When he returns, everyone is 10–12 years older.
  3. Oscar Cullmann, Christ and Time (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), 46.
  4. Cullmann, Christ and Time, 63.
  5. J.A. Schep, The Nature of the Resurrection Body (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), 216.