Stopping All the Clocks

Time. We live by it and in it, but what is it? The Oxford English Dictionary gives us a few dozen entries trying to capture its meaning. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives a more lengthy treatment. Ever since I took physics in high school, time has been a puzzle at the periphery of my mind. Time is hard to isolate. Consider one of the most basic physics formulas:

V = d/t

Velocity = distance/time. It would seem that we could simply do some algebra to arrive at

t = d/V

in order to define time. But not so fast. Time is still bound up on the right side of the equation. The units for velocity are all linked to time—feet per second, miles per hour.

In my occasional fits of trying to rearrange physics equations to isolate time I have come to one¹ conclusion: time is linked to motion. Time may not be motion, but we cannot measure it apart from motion. From the orbiting of the earth around the sun to the oscillating of atoms, motion is how we measure time. The interval between something being here and it being there is how we describe units of time.

This raises the question, in an environment cooled to absolute zero where motion was minimal, could time still be observed? (Never mind the state of the observer.) In other words, if everything stopped, would there still be time or would it stop as well?

Einstein postulated that time is related to velocity in that its passage changes based on the observer’s velocity. His famed theory of relativity has been empirically verified with experiments in space travel, so we know that it can change, but can it cease?²

This was brought back to mind reading Anselm of Canterbury yesterday as he was discussing the supreme being and its relation to time in the Monologion. As difficult of a concept as time is, trying to define a being who is over, outside, or beyond it is even more difficult (as are discussions of eternity.)

As I paused to let the cramp in my brain subside, Psalm 46:10 came to mind.

Be still, and know that I am God.

What if eternity is not infinite time, but the passing away of time? Jesus promises us a new heaven and a new earth, so we presume some processes that we currently experience as unavoidable will change—death, decay, and illness will be no more. So why not time? Or at least time time as the oppressive, unrelenting force we know it as now?

If we are still—if we cease from activity—would not time as we know it also stop? (I am mixing theoretical physics and theology here, but I think there may be something to be learned here.) Time, in our experience, is a constraint. We have a limited amount of it and it passes whether we use it or not. But after our resurrection and glorification, perhaps time will not be of that same character. Because death will be no more, the urgency of time will be gone. Because our hearts and minds will be able to focus on God as we live in the light of his presence, in a very fundamental way, we will be still.

God, the creator of heaven and earth, also created time, and perhaps he only created it for a time, and once that time has passed, it will be no more, or it will not be the time we know in this time. Time will tell.


¹ Actually, I also come to the conclusion I should have been more diligent in my high school algebra class.

² Apparently some astrophysicists think that it will eventually. I won’t link because it is behind a paywall, but the citation is “Could Time End?” by George Musser, Scientific American, Oct 2014 Supplement, Vol. 311. From what I can tell, Musser thinks it’s an outworking of general relativity and thermodynamics.

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