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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI


Vol.6: Time and Eternity




Table of Contents

Chapter 1.  Historical Background
Chapter 2.  The Relativity of Time in Experience
Chapter 3.  Time and Relativity in Creation
Chapter 4.  Time Contrasted with Eternity in Scripture
Chapter 5.  Time in Redemption


Publishing History:
1958  Doorway paper No. 37, published privately by Arthur C. Custance
1977  Part I in Time and eternity, vol.6 in The Doorway papers Series, published by Zondervan Publishing Company
1997  Arthur Custance Online Library (html)
2001  2nd Online Edition (design revisions)

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Even if the attempt at discrimination should fail in exactitude,
it may yet,
by opening out fresh views
contribute light to minds of greater precision --
who may thus be enabled to hit upon the exact truth.
--Lord Arundell of Wardour, 1872



     IT HAS BEEN well said that it takes two to tell the truth. I think what this means is that there is a sense in which we conceive a truth most clearly when we have given it verbal expression for someone else's benefit. Often we think we understand � until we try to share our understanding with another person.
     My impression is that the reader will profit most from this Paper if he lends it to a friend with whom rapport is already established and then discusses it so as to verbalize its implications for himself.
     If these things are true, there is wonderful comfort � one might almost say a spiritual thrill � in the contemplation of them. Not the least surprising is the fact that some of the implications in the Theory of Relativity were so clearly perceived by Augustine and so wonderfully allowed for in Scripture. The light which the theory both casts upon and receives from the New Testament, especially John's Gospel, opens up all kinds of new avenues of Christian thought on some of the deepest problems of eternity. Much remains yet to be explored. If you begin to lose track, don't give up! Press on to the end � it will become clearer in due time.

     If any excursive brain . . . wonder that Thou the God Almighty and All-Creating and All-Supporting, Maker of Heaven and Earth, didst for innumerable ages forbear from so great a work before Thou wouldst work it: let him awake and consider that he wonders at false conceits. For whence could innumerable ages pass by, which Thou madest not, Thou the Author and Creator of all Ages? Or what times should there be, which were not made by Thee? Or how should they pass by, if they never were? Seeing then Thou art the Creator of all times, if any time was before Thou madest Heaven and earth, why say that Thou didst forego working? . . .  But if before Heaven and earth there was no time, why is it demanded "what Thou then didst"? For there was no "then" when there was no time.
                                                                                                                                      Augustine, Confessions

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     IN THE HISTORY of science it has frequently been observed that every new theory involving highly abstract ideas has to be discussed and argued about at the upper levels for some time before it can be understood by the educated public in general. In the ordinary processes of conversation, the words and phrases and analogies essential for its verbalization have to be generated and combined in various ways before it can be communicated meaningfully to a larger audience.
     At first the search for terms with which to convey the new ideas is slow and, for all but a few specialists, quite inadequate. But in the course of time a kind of natural selection operates to eliminate terms that confuse and to elaborate those that clarify the issues involved. Modes of expression are standardized. More and more individuals come to attach the same specialized meanings to phrases that are commandeered as the particular property of those who possess the new truth. A scientific "jargon" grows up that facilitates expression and gives new freedom to the exchange of ideas. The more abstract and removed from common sense the theory is, the longer it takes for it to percolate down to the lower levels. Occasionally the process is accelerated by the appearance of some scientific genius who has a peculiar gift for expressing the abstruse in remarkably appropriate common terms, thus bridging the gap from the specialist to the layman much more rapidly. A. S. Eddington and Sir James Jeans were men of this type.
     The Theory of Relativity is a case in point. The difficulty of making the implications clear was increased by the fact that the terms themselves were all common ones, like space and time This had the effect of misleading the public into supposing that employing the terms was equivalent to knowing what they meant. And, of course, since Relativity was applied to time, everybody knew what

1. For example: Sir Arthur Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World, Cambridge University Press, 1930; Sir James Jeans, The Mysterious Universe, Cambridge University Press, 1931.

     pg.3 of 5     

was meant because we all experience apparent fluctuations when we are waiting for someone or when we are trying not to be late! All this was plain common sense. . . .
     The problem was even further complicated by the fact that the novelty of the idea stirred the imagination of popular science writers who explained Relativity to their readers by the use of analogies which at first appeared to give immediate insight into the new mysteries but afterward proved to be misleading. It then became difficult for those whose thinking had thus been influenced to escape from the insights supposedly gained in order to achieve the more profound insight which was required for a true understanding.
     This Paper inevitably suffers from both these difficulties, and undoubtedly much discussion and argument is required to generate the more exact terms and phrases necessary to crystallize the somewhat new application of the Theory of Relativity to the scriptural meaning of Time and Eternity.
     A basic tenet of Einstein's theory is that time, as a fourth dimension, has no meaning or existence apart from the physical universe and could not be said to have existed prior to the Creation. In one of his more popular statements, Albert Einstein put it this way:

     If you don't take my words too seriously, I would say this: If we assume that all matter would disappear from the world, then, before relativity, one believed that space and time would continue existing in an empty world. But, according to the theory of relativity, if matter and its motion disappeared there would no longer be any space or time.

     This in itself is difficult enough for anyone who has not reflected upon it. But there is an equally important corollary: namely, that in a spiritual world (in which matter has no place) the same situation would exist � there could be no passage of time. This would be a real world which either existed in the absence of a physical world altogether or existed alongside a physical world but without any dependence upon it. In either situation there need not be any experience of time as we understand it. If this spiritual world is thought of as existing in the absence of a physical world, it would be, as it were, "before" the Creation � that is to say, before Genesis 1:1. If it is thought of as existing alongside a physical world but not dependent on it, then we have the situation as it is now. Yet, although the present situation is what it is and time is being experienced by those of us who exist within the framework of a physical universe, those

2. Einstein: quoted by Philipp Frank, Einstein, His Life and Times, Knopf, New York, 1947, chap. 8, section 5, p.178.

     pg.4 of  5  

who now live outside this physical universe do not experience the passage of time in any form.
     This concept is in a sense a part of the philosophy of modern physics, yet it really is completely understood only by something akin to spiritual insight. Its implications are highly complex. The light which is thrown upon many passages of Scripture fully justifies the effort necessary to grasp what is really being said � an effort made particularly necessary because we first have to abandon our characteristic common-sense views of what time is.
     That Scripture explicitly and repeatedly takes into account the fact that time is wedded to the material world but not to the spiritual world is by no means a new discovery. Augustine, among others, saw it clearly, as a proper understanding of his quotation will show. But a careful exploration of those passages of Scripture that reflect this fact reveals much more than has been hitherto suspected: and the revelation is, to put it quite simply, a truly wonderful one. It will probably help considerably, before examining these passages, to review briefly the historical background of the events that led to Einstein's formulation of the two essential principles of the Theory of Relativity.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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