Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Weird Time

(I really do have a continuation of the Barfield sequence of posts half-written, but once again a Sunday of education led to some thoughts about time and science and faith ... )

Scripture has a strange sense of time. For example, there's the way the author of Hebrews takes a Psalm referring to the Exodus and says, "This is talking to you, today." But it goes beyond that. Skeptics take a dim view of the way John's gospel appears to place the crucifixion on a different night than the others (probably so, but slightly debatable in my opinion), and of how Matthew's King Herod and Luke's Census couldn't overlap. (Nevermind the unanimity of the four on the essential points, but that's another post for another day.) And the "simple explanation" of 6 24-hour days of creation runs aground very quickly on the mountains of evidence supplied by biology, chemistry, and physics.

We play with time as a church. The way we keep repeating Christmas and Easter, bringing the birth and death of Christ into the rhythm of the seasons, re-enacting the past in the present with pagaents and parades. The very day of Easter skips about in time so that a musician's family always has to check the calendar to see when the spring "crunch time" will be this year. Not to mention the time-spanning remembrance built into the Eucharist, looking back to that upper room and forward to the New Jerusalem.

Many theological puzzles are really questions about time. Your sins are washed away, or is it they have been washed away, but why is there still such struggle in so many places? Theodicy is not really a question of why not but why not yet? Why do we not yet see all things subjected to him? What has happened already, what is happening now, and what will happen later? When is it time to quote 1 Corinthians 15 (looking forward to the future putting-right of the resurrection) and when to quote 2 Corinthians 4 instead (always bearing about his death that his life may be made manifest ... bringing the past into the present)?

All of these indicate an unconscionable mixing of time in Scripture and the church. It seems that trying to straighten out exactly when Galatians was written relative to Acts can be maddeningly elusive if you insist on being 100% sure. Time is weird in the Bible.

But we never see how science takes just as weird a view of time. If I'm to be a scientist, I'm to control time, to run the experiment so many times I know the future from a large enough sample size of the past. I count on my experiment to be clean and elegant enough that I can do it over and over again and it won't wear out or bend or change. These assumptions predicate that I can step through time when I really am trapped in its flow, and only in limited cases can I pretend to lift myself out of it for a moment. And even then, that phrase, "for a moment," belies that time still goes on.

If you try to run a controlled experiment with who you're going to marry ... well, you're going to end up like Newt Gingrich. That's not good, folks. Us normal folks can't do that, and it doesn't seem to improve things. For the biggest decisions, science can inform but it must take a back seat to the fact that my life is unique and so is every moment of every decision I make.

Science works better the simpler (and therefore the more repeatable) the system -- until you simplify so far you run into the Uncertainty Principle and the entanglement of time and space in a single coordinate system. When the speed of light and time-space come into conflict, it is time-space that bends and gives way!

We cannot escape the weirdness of time any more than we can escape the weirdness of our own souls and viewpoints embedded inside and itself entangled with these mortal frames.

What gives me hope is that Christianity, with its timeless God living from 4BC to 30AD, is as strange as time itself, even with the same flavor of strangeness and beauty as creation.

I don't expect this to convince anyone, but I know it sustains me. The incarnate, eternal, uncontrollable God reflected 66 ways in the books of the Bible is weird -- the right kind of weird. If that's not a hymn, then maybe it should be.

No comments: