Friday, March 05, 2010

God's time-travelers

Time-travel is favorite convention of the SF genre. This is in part because it appeals to our sense of adventure. Our unrequited desire to visit periods before (or after) we lived.

But it also appeals to our sense of regret. Our inability of go back and make things right. One of the ironies of life is that we only gain insight through hindsight. But, of course, hindsight lacks the advantages of foresight. We can’t apply our newfound wisdom to the past.

So we content ourselves with the vicarious experience of imaginary characters who travel back in time and get it right things right.

Yet there’s something ultimately unsatisfying about that experience. It just isn’t real. After we finish the bucket of popcorn, see the closing credits, and watch the lights come on, we have to reenter a world of linear time and irreversible succession. A world conditioned by the accidental necessity of the past–where what’s behind us is over and done with.

Yet there’s a sense in which a Christian on his knees is a bona fide time-traveler. Not that he is actually moving through time. But a Christian prays to a timeless God. Since time is no barrier to God, time is not necessarily a barrier to prayer.

We understand this when we pray for the future. Yet there are situations in which we can also pray for the past. Our prayers can affect the past (without changing the past) inasmuch as God has written that into his plan for the world. He decreed our prayer, and he decreed the result of our prayer (assuming he chooses to answer our prayer). Since God foreknew our prayer, he can answer a future request about a past event.

So there’s a sense in which we can travel back into the past through the time-machine of prayer and thereby affect the outcome after it occurs.

That only works in those cases where we don’t know the outcome. And, of course, it all depends on God answering our prayers. But it’s possible. And it nicely avoids the paradoxes of time-travel.


  1. Nice.

    Couple of minor observations:

    (1) Typo. "Our prayers can have an affect on the past" should be "Our prayers can have an *effect* on the past."

    (2) God does answer our prayers. Just not always the way we want.

  2. Very good, Steve.

    I love time stories--Lord knows Star Trek has had a lot of them. The problem with them as I see it from a Christian perspective is that someone makes a judgement that some event in the past was "wrong" or a "mistake" and the protagonist has to return there somehow and make it right. Well, that seriously militates against God's sovereignty--omniscience and omnipotence.

    From the Christian perspective, if an event happened a certain way, it was meant to be. This problem is well demonstrated in Quantum Leap, whose very premise is quite open-theistic. God is basically at the mercy of man's choices and so He needs to send Sam back in time to "fix" things.

    It's a weird way of looking at things when you think about it.

    But I have always understood that prayers are not time-bound, or rather, God is not time-bound. In addition, this is why when I sin I can imagine that sin having been one more additional pain inflicted on our Saviour on the cross. If I sin less, then I in some sense reduce the amount of pain He had to endure on my behalf. Sounds weird, I know.

  3. Well said Steve. I actually needed to hear this encouragement in the area of prayer. Thanks again for your writing, it is always edifying.

    In Christ,

  4. As far as God is concerned, there is no difference whether we pray for the past or the future for both are equally established from before the foundation of the world. The only difference is that we can have some knowledge of the past such that we cannot pray for a past outcome that we already know. Nevertheless, for both the past and the future, we must pray submitting to God's will and be grateful for his goodness in every outcome.