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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Irenaeus Vs. The Annihilationists [Biblical Trinitarian]

A labor of love

Late Friday night/early Saturday morning, I published an article titled Irenaeus vs. The Annihilationists in which I demonstrate from primarily the most up to date Irenaen scholarship that the bishop of Lyons was not an annihilationist. And, what is more, I demonstrate that it was his Gnostic opponents who actually embraced a form of annihilationism much like that of contemporary annihilationists.

The paper was difficult to write, because Irenaeus’ theology is very complex and yet, paradoxically, very simple. Here’s what I mean. While Irenaeus talks about life and deathimmortality and mortalityexistence and non-existence, these concepts are inextricably layered, making it hard to articulate those layers without mangling his theology.

Just take the idea of life, for instance. Irenaeus sets life and death in opposition to one another, as Scripture does, but what he means is that Christian life (in which the believer eternally receives grace from God and the knowledge of God, so as to grow more and more in his likeness) stands in contradiction to the non-Christian life (in which the unbeliever remains eternally in darkness, without the special grace given only to those who trust in Christ, without any sight of God as Father and giver of grace).

In both case, there is life. And in both cases that life is real. However, only one life is deserving of the title life (i.e. true life) because it encompasses not merely psychosomatic “animation” by the Spirit (as Irenaeus would put it), but spiritual “vivification” (as Irenaeus would put it). [John Behr helpfully speaks of these different ways of living as different “modalities of life” (cf. John Behr’s Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus of Lyons and Clement.]

Despite the difficulty involved in writing the paper, I felt it had to be done, seeing as annihilationists are very fond of claiming the orthodox theologians of the past as supporters of their heresy, and they do so in order to convince those who are confused and unfamiliar with the writers they claim for themselves. [This is why I wrote Athanasius, Ontology, and the Work of Christ as well.]

Irenaeus the Anti-Annihilationist

The more research one does on the church fathers of great importance, the more one sees that their theology is much more complex than heretics would like to make it seem. Irenaeus is often claimed not merely by annihilationists but also unitarians of every stripe, and even universalists. But he does not agree with any of them on those doctrinal matters.

Regarding annihilationism, for instance, the historical truth of the matter is it was the Gnostics who believed in a form of annihilationism very much like that of the contemporary proponents of annihilationism.

Just as contemporary annihilationists believe that Matthew 10:28 teaches the body and the soul of the unbeliever will be annihilated in the fires of final punishment, so too did the Gnostics. The annihilationists believe that those who do not believe the Gospel will not have ontological immortality in any sense, and this is also what the Gnostics explicitly taught – those who lack the spirit/nous/divine spark, i.e. who are merely body and soul, will not have ontological immortality of any kind.

Ironically, it was Irenaeus who taught that because God’s creation is good he will not annihilate it. Rather than seeing any aspect of God’s creation being annihilated, Irenaeus taught that all of creation would be transformed to a higher reality. Life with Christ would be transformed to a higher plane, and so would life outside of Christ. In opposition to the Gnostic heretics, Irenaeus affirmed that God would sustain his creatures forever – even those who will refuse him in this life and, thereby, cut themselves off from his grace for all of eternity.

If you’re interested in knowing more, please check out the paper at Biblicaltrinitarian.com. And consider supporting my further research and apologetics endeavors by purchasing a copy of one my books from Amazon.com. Specifically, my books Soul Sleep: An Unbiblical Doctrine (which has been endorsed by apologist Phil Fernandes, as well as scholar Dr. Jeremiah Mutie, among others) and Athanasius, Ontology, and the Work of Christ.

If the Lord wills, my article on Irenaeus will be extended to be a book as well, seeing as my research has brought me into contact with earlier annihilationists who explicitly taught that Irenaeus was a so-called traditionalist

Soli Deo Gloria
-h.

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