Prepare yourself for some run-on sentences and maybe some mini-brain explosions. That said…
Earlier this week as I was driving to my parents’ house I was thinking about God, and how he is clearly a being that exists outside the realm of human understanding, or at least beyond it, with maybe a small portion, the tip of the iceberg, dwelling in terms that we can wrap our heads around. We often use this characteristic of God, that he is not fully knowable by our limited minds, as consolation when things in this life do not make sense. How could God allow such and such to happen? Because God and his intentions are bigger than we can fathom. We use this fact in response to arguments of logic: How could God be everywhere at the same time? How could he have always existed? How could a virgin conceive and how could a man rise from the dead? How could any of the ridiculous claims in the Bible be true? In response to secular thinkers and simply the skeptical, God is bigger than human understanding. Even the smartest and wisest of us could not begin to explain the mysteries of God, and for some reason that takes some of the pressure on those of us who aren’t the smartest or wisest.
So here is what I was thinking about, specifically. I was thinking about Kilgore Trout (of Kurt Vonnegut’s imagination) and his theory that time is not a linear experience, that our limited human minds may interpret our experience in a linear way, but really all moments in time occur simultaneously, or maybe eternally, or something along those lines, and a person who is aware of this can pick and choose which order they wish to experience life events, can jump around at their leisure. (I’m basing this weak summary on Slaughterhouse Five which I last read a few years ago, so I’m sure that I’m butchering the theory. But there is some incentive to go pick up the book and read it yourselves.)
Of course, this is the stuff of science fiction. In reality, time is linear. It has a beginning, and it has an end. Human lives have a very distinct beginning and an often equally distinct end, and a series of events that take place between those two milestones. Time is linear. Right? Or is it just that our tip-of-the-iceberg sized understanding of time is linear? After all, God is eternal. He exists infinitely in all directions of time and space; he always was, always is, and always will be. How does one express such an existence with a time line? There is no beginning and no end, and while experiential evidence suggests that there is a sequence to events, it’s quite possible that it is simply a perception that comes about when we try to explain something much more complex (if I knew what that something was I would probably say it outright here, instead of dusting around with all of these question marks).
I don’t know that it is necessarily important to fully understand the physical shape that time takes. Except for this, which is what I was thinking about on the drive: if all time is actually occurring simultaneously, wouldn’t it make sense to adjust prayer accordingly? Currently we pray God’s forgiveness for the past, we pray thanks for the present, and we pray supplication for the future. I’m generalizing of course (there are some who pray forgiveness for sins not yet committed, or some who can’t stop thanking God for something that happened years ago) but this seems to be the standard association between prayer and time. But if time is not actually occurring on a line, wouldn’t it make sense to pray for things that happened in the “past”? If we prayed in 2008 for events of 2007, would it make any difference? If we prayed today for things that happened in history, the genocides and wars and natural disasters, would we see any effect? Not that the headlines of our newspapers would mystically change before our eyes (a la Back to the Future) but perhaps that the current “result” (in quotes because without a chain of events there can’t actually be any causality) of those events would be altered. That we would be changed in light of these things.
If all time is occurring simultaneously and I begin to pray for my “past” self and do so faithfully, then I could exist today knowing that my “future” self was praying for me on this very day. Surely my “future” self would know better how to pray for me, having already experienced parts of my linearly-perceived life that my present-day self has not yet.
Mostly this was just a bunch of wild thoughts that were more interesting at that time than the farms and fields that I was driving past. Probably it’s safe to say that praying for the past would not be the wisest way to spend valuable time, particularly valuable time with God. Even if time is not happening quite the way we understand it, there is a reason that God wired our brains to interpret it this way. Maybe it’s for our safety. Or maybe we are supposed to think about it, and outside of the niche of science fiction. Could we do it without laughing at ourselves? I told my mom about the subject of this post and she laughed and said, “So it’s Christian Sci-Fi.” Maybe that’s all it is. Maybe I’ll pitch it to George Lucas. And my future self can pray that he buys it!