We usually hear the phrase, “It’s about time!” when we show up late for some event. But the phrase takes on a whole new significance when we think about our limited time here on earth.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked these days is, “What happens when we die?” I’m hardly an expert on the subject, though ironically I am writing this post from a Holiday Inn Express. I guess that makes me an expert, according to the commercials. Our family has had to deal with death quite a lot lately. Six months ago we lost our nineteen year old son, Elijah. Within the past two weeks we lost Melanie’s dad, and less than a week ago we lost her cousin, Cheryl Wright. Tomorrow I will attend the funeral for Cheryl, the daughter of well known author and grief counselor, H. Norman Wright.
My thoughts frequently focus on questions about death and dying, and I have grown keenly aware of the passage of time. Like the old Steve Miller Band song, it seems that time keeps on slipping into the future. Each of us must obey the same rules of the clock and the calendar. None of us can move time forwards or backwards. None of us knows exactly how much time we have left.
Can we assume that time keeps the same pace for us after we die? Does God Himself abide by the same rules of the clock and the calendar? Psalm 90:4 says that God has a different perspective of time. “For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.” In fact, the Bible often describes God as outside of our normal understanding of time. Eternity itself is a concept that we struggle to wrap our finite minds around.
Modern physicists have also struggled to understand the concept of time. Albert Einstein is well known for the theory of relativity based on the formula, E=mc2. Without diving into the science, it’s worth noting that the theory helps us better understand time. As an object approaches the speed of light, it experiences a slowing of time. If an object were able to actually travel at the speed of light, it would find that time itself is suspended. Time would literally stand still.
Here is where I ask a crazy question. If time comes to a stop as you reach the speed of light, does it also mean that for a completely stationary object time runs infinitely fast?
Of course, none of us will ever know what it’s like to move at the speed of light. The physics work against us. But neither will any of us, while alive, know what it’s like to completely stop moving. Death itself is understood as the body giving up all movement. Is death therefore the point at which time runs infinitely fast? Is death the passage from our earthly experience of time to a heavenly experience of eternity? When we die, it seems likely that we no longer live by the old rules of the clock and the calendar. We would probably share God’s perspective of time.
I think we get a taste of that while we sleep. Time is only meaningful to us while awake.
But who among us really knows what exactly will happen when we die. During our waking hours, we experience time as a proving ground. We will certainly all die, but where we spend eternity is dependent on our earthly choices.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)
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