A Time for Eternity (∞)
by Mark Brumley
Managing Editor of The Catholic Faith Magazine.
Eternity (∞) is not a Topic you hear much about
these days. It is not regarded what shall we say? as Timely. And yet if Christianity
is True, we shall all face Eternity either an
Eternity with Christ or without Him,
an Eternity of Perfect Joy and
Fulfillment, or One of
Absolute Ruin and Emptiness. And we shall all find our Destiny
according to the Path we have Chosen in this Life, this Very Brief Span of Years we call
the Time-of-our-Lives. How, then, can we avoid
Eternity in the Relatively Little Time we have?
Because there are any Number of Popular Misconceptions about
Eternity, Catechists and other Religious Educators would do well to Think-through the Subject, Drawing-on Theology and
Traditional Catholic Philosophy.
From Here to Eternity
Eternity and Time are Closely Related
Terms; the Meaning of Each, Casts-light on the Other. We consider First,
Eternity, then Time.
Eternity can be Understood in Two (2) Ways:
First, as Endless or Infinite
(∞) Time either Endless or Infinite
(∞) Past (Eternity Past),
Endless or Infinite (∞) Future
(Eternity Future) or both.
Second, Eternity can be thought of as
Timelessness without Time
no Beginning, no Succession, no Change, no End (Atemporality).
God alone, in the Christian view, is
Eternal in the Second Sense, for
He alone Transcends Time altogether. While
other Beings Lose-part of their Existence into the Past and Gain-part of their Existence in the Future,
God, the Supreme Being, Wholly Exists Tota
Simul without Past or Future without Losing or Gaining anything. God
is, as the Bible says, "The Father of Lights, with Whom there is no Alteration or Shadow Caused by Change"
- At the Moment of Conception, Almighty God Creates our Immortal Soul and Fuses it to our Minute Body. There it remains as a
Fountain/Receptacle of God's Love for us, until we Die and see Him Face-to-face.
The Human Soul is also Eternal, but
Not-as God is. Unlike God, the
Soul has a Beginning, and is Subject-to Change. Once Created, however, the Immortal
Soul will Continue to Exist Forever. Its Fate will be either
Eternal Life with God
(Heaven) or the Eternal Death of
Damnation without Him (Hell).
The same is True of Pure Spirits known as Angels.
They too are Eternal, either
Eternally Saved or Damned.
But Angels also had a Beginning and are Subject-to Change, though in a Different Manner
than Human Beings, who Constantly Undergo-Change due to their Physical Existence. Angels
exist in what is known as Aeviternity, a State which Lies-between the Constant Change-of
Time as we experience it, and Timelessness.
Obviously, both meanings of Eternity Endless
Time or Timelessness involve the Notion of
Time. What is Time? Saint Augustine is famous for quipping,
"If you don't ask me, I know what it is. But if you ask me, I don't". If the Subject of
Time gave his Great Intellect
Pause, we should not Feel Bad about Scratching-our-Heads a
bit over it. Time involves Change; it is the Measurement-of-Change. The Second-Hand on the
Clock moves (i.e., Changes Position) Sixty (60) Times a
Minute. The Earth Revolves on its Axis Once (1) every
Twenty Four (24) Hours; it Circles the Sun, Once
(1) every Three Hundred and Sixty Five (365) and One Quarter
(¼) Days, Etc.
Traditional Christian Theology Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant affirms that Time
itself is an Aspect of Creation. It is Meaningless, then, to Speak of the Time
before Creation or ask, "What was God doing before He Created the Universe"?
"Before" is a Time-Related Word, hence it is
Meaningless without Time. How then can we hold that
Time, like the Creation itself, had a Beginning? The Answer is: insofar as Time,
like Creation as a Whole, is Finite. The Past is composed of a Finite
Number of Events, hence the Time in which these Events occurred is
Finite. There have been only so many things that have happened, however Staggering a
Number that might be.
Interestingly, the Scientific Theory of Relativity also links
Time to the Cosmos. This Scientific Notion of Time must be distinguished,
however, from the Philosophical Understanding of Time. Science means by
Time what is really "Measurable Time". If
Time cannot, in a Given Circumstance be Measured, many Scientists argue it does not Exist. But our Inability to
Measure Time Accurately in a Particular Circumstance, does not Automatically-mean
there is no Time. It may only mean that our Instruments are Ineffective or, as is the case
with Measurements at the Subatomic Level, that our Instruments affect what they are trying-to Measure, not that
Time does not Exist there.
Timeless Theological Issues
A number of Important Theological Issues involve the Relationship between Eternity and
Time. The most Prominent is probably the Question of
God's Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. The Problem is thus: If God knows
Today what I shall do Tomorrow, what happens to my Freedom? Must not I do Tomorrow what God
knows Today I shall do? If not, then God's "Knowledge"
of what I shall do, will have been Wrong an Impossibility for an
Omniscient Being. If, on the other hand, I must Act Tomorrow as
God Knows I will, how can I be Free?
Of course we can not go into an Elaborate Response here. Suffice it to say that God,
being Outside-Time, does not Foresee or Foreknow, in the Strictest Sense. For Foreseeing
and Foreknowing, imply Seeing or Knowing in-Advance. And "in Advance" implies Ahead-of
Time. Since God is
beyond-Time, He simply
"Sees" or "Knows" from
His Vantage-Point in Eternity, so to speak, what you
Are Doing, at All Points in your Existence, not what you Will
Do. All Moments of your Life are Equally Present to God. Just as your
Freedom is not Impeded by my
Seeing or Knowing what you are Doing Now, neither is it
Impeded by God's
Seeing or Knowing it. The difference
is, of course, that for God, all Moments of your Life are Equally-Available,
whereas for me, Traveling along in Time with you, I experience only
One (1) Moment at a Time.
- End of Article by Mark Brumley -
A ten minute Audio Clip from EWTN by Father Leo Clifford, O.F.M.
|Q - If our Lives are already
Planned Out by God, why do we try to Change
our Lives through Prayer?
|A - In your Question, it sounds as if you are Assuming that we
do not have the Freedom to Alter our Lives. We do! In this sense, our Lives are not "Planned out by
God", although He surely Knows in Advance what Choices we will make.
God is not "In Time";
He is Eternal (John 8:58; Revelation 1:8; CCC #1730, 1732).
He is "Outside of"
Time. To God,
Time is One Big "Now". So, Strictly Speaking, there is no
"Knowing in Advance" by God, Precisely-because
He Knows Everything as the Present. Every Moment is Equally
"Now" to the Eternal God - Past, Present and
Future (1John 3:20).
God Knows what will Happen to us Tomorrow, but we do not. Our not Knowing, though,
does not mean that what Happens Tomorrow is not Influenced by our Prayer.
God Knows what our Prayer is (or will be),
and can Allow it to Influence the Outcome of Things, just as He Allows your other
Actions to Shape Events (Luke 18:1-7).
Prayer does help Determine Events. Prayer
is like a Fork in the Road. If you Choose a Certain Path or Decision, you will have a Certain Outcome. If you do not Choose a Path
(i.e., do not Pray), you may not have the Same Outcome. So, it is a Very Good Thing to
Pray. Your Prayer will, in many cases,
Change the Outcome of your Future (Mark 11:22-24; John 14:13-14, 15:7; Matthew 7:7-11; CCC #2610). We also Believe
God Helps those who Turn-to Him more in
Prayer Teaches us to Direct our Lives towards
God and to Depend-on Him. Prayer
helps us Trust-in "Providence", which is God's Plan
for the World and our Interaction-with that Plan (CCC #2633).
This Life is our only Opportunity to become what we Want to be for all
Eternity. If we Want to Live with God
in Heaven, we do what He
Wants, because He alone knows how to Prepare-us for
Heaven. He Teaches and Prepares us through the
Catholic Church. If we Want to go to
Hell, we do what we