A Brief Note on the Uselessness of Time-Travel

The Time Travel Trope Presupposes the Christian Worldview

In fiction, the concept of time travel can’t be separated from the assumption of the Fall. This is plain to see when we consider that time travel is always tied to either (a.)the rectification of some past ill that has led to the protagonist’s present day plight or (b.)the prevention of some future ill, of which the protagonist, apart from having such knowledge revealed to him, is ignorant. We want to fix what has gone wrong. We want to prevent wrong from happening. We want to give our past selves knowledge we now possess. We want to obtain knowledge of the future, from our future selves, that we don’t currently possess. We want to transcend our creatureliness in order to save it. The time travel trope simultaneously affirms and denies the creatureliness of man.

What’s interesting about the time travel trope is that it implies that man’s problem has to be solved, at one and the same time, by a single individual who is within temporality and yet, somehow, outside of it. Time travel is viewed as a way in which man can transcend the restless procession of interrelated causal chains comprising the history of the universe, allowing him the freedom to manipulate events to better suit his needs. Typically, the traveler’s ability to manipulate time works in his favor, however, only up to a point. What at first appears to be a relatively simple task – i.e. go to the past and prevent some event E from occurring in order to keep some later event LE from occurring during one’s own [future?] lifetime – quickly reveals itself to be a complex series of tasks that are seemingly without resolution.

Paradoxes abound, as we all know. Films like Back to the Future, Donnie Darko, Looper, and Predestination exploit the entertainment value of these paradoxes, leaving the viewer half-intrigued and half-horrified at the impossibility of man ever gaining control over the events that comprise his existence, and the existence of the universe. The viewer is given the task of choosing the lesser of two evils – he can leave the past and/or future alone and suffer the consequences, or he can fracture time into an infinite number of timelines complete with their own infinitely varied consequences.

Time is Not the Enemy

Ironically, time travel’s perceived greatest benefit is precisely what would render all of our experiences meaningless. Why regret or anticipate anything at all? Why perceive any experience as unrepeatable and, therefore, of utmost positive or negative value? In part, we value the idea of fixing the past, or safeguarding the future, because we recognize that once an event has occurred it can never be revisited. The past, i.e. every passing/passed moment, is immutably fixed, irreversible, our actions etched into the heavens and the earth, the witnesses God will call forth against his enemies on the day of judgment.

And to the dismay of the contemporary Gnostics who think time is an evil to be transcended via time travel, we will always only be temporal creatures. Time is not a corrupting power, a force that ruins an otherwise good creation. No. That is sin. Sin is the corrupting power that ruins an otherwise good creation. Sin renders the past regrettable, and the future an anxious prospect. Sin drives us to at one and the same time love and hate the immutability of what has already occurred. Sin is the issue, not time.

Genesis 1 very clearly teaches us that time existed prior to corruption. We learn from Gen 1:1-5 that the uncorrupted creation existed in time. This implies, of course, that time is not the cause of corruption. As we move on through the chapter, this is implied again in vv.6-13, and especially in vv.14-19, where the Lord creates the means whereby we measure time. God wanted man to be able to measure, and organize his life according to, the passing of time. Corruption was nowhere in sight, for sin had not entered the creation. The creation, as we learn from Gen 1:31, was declared by God to be very good.

What we need isn’t an escape from time, but salvation from the consequences of our past, present, and future sins. The time travel trope rests upon the assumption that all that is needed in order to ameliorate our present condition is a trip to the past or to the future, one which would afford us the opportunity to modify the causal chain whose effects we are now seeking to escape. The reality of the situation, however, is this: If we suffer it is because we are experiencing the consequences of either our sin or the sins of others. God is not a passive observer of an otherwise self-running universe; God is the one who sustains all things by the Word of his Power. He likewise is the one who can, and does, discipline his children, as well as kill his enemies.

The Gospel

What the Gospel gives us is what our technological pipe dreams could never give us – salvation from the consequences of our sins. In the Gospel, the Lord of Glory joins to himself a human nature, time-bound and capable of suffering the consequences of sin, and he does so without ever ceasing to be the Lord of time. The whole course of our lives is immutable in God’s mind, but by faith it is covered with the immutably righteous life of his Son. Therefore, the immutable past is no longer a threat to us, but is a blessed reminder that although we were vile sinners, enemies of God, and haters of his image-bearers, he sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. The future is no longer uncertain, seeing as we now know that we are his people, and he is our God. The future is no longer a ravenous beast we need to tame, but a docile creature of God trained to do his will.

We are not given a do-over; we are made new creatures in Christ.

Time is not reversed; time becomes the means whereby we experience the blessings afforded to us as Christians, children of God who have, by faith alone, been declared righteous and the eternal property of God.

Soli Deo Gloria

-h.

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Divine Naming Vs. Human Naming

Image result for adam namingLanguage & Ontology

In a recent post on ontology, I explained that the subject is not without its place in the study of Scripture and theology. Today, I want to demonstrate one of the ways in which this is true — the naming of things in Genesis 1-3. In these foundational chapters of Scripture, we encounter God and Adam naming various objects. God names all that he creates, and Adam names animals of the ground (cf. Gen 2:18-20), his wife/”the woman” (cf. Gen 2:22-23), and renames his wife “Eve” after the Fall (cf. Gen 3:20).

Many commentators have properly picked up on the fact that Adam’s naming of objects reflects his being the image of God, the God who speaks and names, categorizes and orders, arranges and controls by his Word. However, not many have taken into consideration the ontological implications of the differences between God’s act of naming and man’s act of naming. For while God and Adam both name objects, they do so in very different ways reflecting their knowledge of the object in question. And this, in turn, reflects on the very nature of objects themselves, i.e. the manner in which they are what they are.

The difference between God and Adam’s speaking, moreover, is not merely narratival. Rather, God’s speaking and Adam’s speaking are set in a rather clear contrast, one that is based on the distinction between the Creator and his creature. Man is the image and glory of God, but he is a creature nonetheless, one who is finite in his epistemological and, therefore, linguistic capacities.

God Names, then Makes; Adam Encounters, then Names

We see from the outset of Scripture that God’s knowledge of what he will create precedes his creating those things. This is implied by God’s use of the word “light” in Genesis 1:3, which is followed by God’s satisfaction in this newly created light —

And God saw that the light was good.
(Gen 1:4)

What God speaks into being is known already to him, and he does not name things on the basis of his having acquired knowledge of it. And this stands in stark contrast to man’s naming of things in Genesis 2:18-20.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

Whereas God names things, then brings them into existence; Adam encounters creation, then names creation after what he has learned of it. The story of Adam naming the animals in Gen 2:18-20 is just one example. We find another example of this process of encountering, learning, and naming in the very next verses (vv. 21-23).

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
   and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
   because she was taken out of Man.”

The Lord brings the animals to Adam; Adam names them. The Lord brings the woman to Adam; Adam names her. Adam names the animals and the woman according to what he has learned about them, as is evident from his statement that the woman will be called “Woman because she was taken out of Man.” A process of encountering, learning, and naming that is repeated again in Gen 3:15 & 20.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
   and you shall bruise his heel.”
(Gen 3:15)

[…]

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
(Gen 3:20)

Adam hears the Word of God, prophesying that Eve would bear a Son who would bring salvation from God’s judgment, and he names his wife in accordance with that truth. Adam believed, then he spoke. He encountered a part of creation (his wife), learned something about her (i.e. she would give birth to the One who would crush the serpent’s head), and named her accordingly (i.e. named her to be the mother of all living).

What Things Are Depends On God’s Word, Not Ours

A simple and very practical truth we can derive from this contrast between God’s naming and Adam’s naming is this — The nature of a thing is dependent not on what we observe, but on what God has declared to be the case. A very clear instance of this fact is also found in the opening chapters of Genesis. We read in Genesis 2:16-17 —

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Here we are shown that God gave Adam special revelation concerning the nature of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eating of the tree, in short, is identified as bad, as deserving of punishment. Note that God does not say this on the basis of the fruit itself, nor on the basis of the effect that would result from eating of the fruit. Instead, the eating the fruit is identified as bad because God has decreed it to be so. God’s knowledge of the tree depends on his being God, not on the tree having certain properties that you or I can observe, taste, touch, or infer general conclusions from. The very commandment itself demonstrates that knowledge of the action could not be based upon experience, or upon man’s apprehension of the action and its properties, for the very act of doing this was itself sin.

Yet what does the Scripture say Eve did? Genesis 3:6 —

…when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

The serpent contradicted God’s declaration concerning the nature of the action of eating the forbidden fruit, and the woman went along with his denial of God’s Word. And this is important to note, because the “badness” of the fruit was not inherent to the fruit itself, i.e. to any observable property, but to God’s decree. Thus, while it is true that to Eve the fruit was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise, that doesn’t change the fact that it was not good, and eating it constituted a sin against God.

God’s Word defined the fruit and the action of eating the fruit. The fruit was not good for consumption because God had said so. The action of eating the fruit was a sin because had declared it to be so. And no matter what Eve observed, no matter what she believed made the fruit good, and no matter what she believed made eating the fruit good — God’s Word was fixed.

Eve could not learn something about the fruit that would change its very nature.
Nor could she learn anything about eating the fruit that would justify her breaking God’s command.

Things are what God says they are, not necessarily what we observe about them.

The Absence of Common Sense & The Resurrection of the Dead

What is the point of all this, then? Well, in a word, the point is to emphasize that our belief that the essential properties of a thing/action/process are those properties with which we are most familiar, or which seem to always be present with the thing/action/process in question is usually wrong. And if God has revealed what this thing/action/process is, then we certainly have absolutely no right to speak of our common sense understanding of this thing/action/process. We can only turn to the Scriptures for the truth about it.

As a result of this, we cannot appeal to our understanding, say, of the body as being a physical entity constituted in such and such a manner as being definitive of the body itself. We know from Scripture that the body is constituted of parts (cf. 1st Cor 12). We also know, however, that the body that is missing a member, or many members, nevertheless, remains a body, albeit a malfunctioning and marred one (also cf. 1st Cor 12). How, then, are we to speak of the body? What is the body? If the body is both the unity of physical parts, as well as the disunified collection of body parts, then what is the body? How does the body remain existent, moreover, if it is broken down into its constituent elements after sitting in the grave for decades, or even millennia?

God tells us that he will raise the dead, the bodies of the dead, in fact. But our perception of the body renders the doctrine of the resurrection incomprehensible to us. For if the body ceases to be a unity of limbs and appendages, etc, and it decomposes into chemical elements, our understanding of it is that it has ceased to be. Yet God says that it, and not something else, will be raised. God says that the bodies of the dead will come out of their tombs. So how is this the case?

In a word, as I’ve noted, a thing is not what we observe it to be; a thing is what God says it is. And what a thing is may always produce and/or be attended by certain properties that we observe and mistake for essential, when in reality they are accidental. The limbless man is not devoid of a body, even though his body may look nothing like mine. God knows what the essential properties of a body are, even if my mind cannot comprehend the body’s essential properties consisting in something other than what I can view with my eyes and touch with my fingers, or hear with my ears.

Scripture often contradicts our common sense notions. Let us not build doctrines or defenses of doctrines on such flimsy bases.

Soli Deo Gloria
-h.