Previous: [BTT007] The Time Before Time
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.”
- Genesis 1:1-5
“Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.”
These are complicated passages, and there are many opinions on how to best interpret them. Since I am not interested in engaging in debates outside of the scope of the present question of Time, I will stick to a fairly literal reading of the text.
I doubt there are many who will challenge me when I say that “In the beginning” refers to the very moment of the beginning of Time and Space. Time and Space were created simultaneously - “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
There was no creation of Time separate from the creation of Space. There was no Time, in our universe's understanding of it, before there was Space; there was no Space before there was Time. However, just as God successively developed Space into distinct categories (for example, separating the seas and the land), so God developed Time into more and more distinct categories.
The first thing we see from the creation account in Genesis is that God created our universe in a series of days, according to the new order of Time. We might assume that God could have created a fully-functioning universe in a single moment if He so wished, but the text shows that He chose to first create the raw material and improve from there.
God created the world in a series of six days, not for a lack of power, but to show us how God chose to interact with this new creation of Time. By dividing His work into six separate days, God shows us in Genesis that He prefers to work with Time rather than against it. Rather than simply “poofing” a fully-functioning universe into existence, God reveals it slowly, starting “without form and void” and making it more and more complex.
Now, the first specific things which God creates by name instead of by general fiat is light. These are the first recorded words spoken directly by God in all of Scripture: “Let there be Light.” The light is still mixed with darkness in a disordered and chaotic state until God separates them. In doing so, God creates another new thing: the first distinction of Time. Before, there was only homogenous, undefined Time; now there is night and day. God has created a measurement by which Time can be recorded and expressed.
Skipping down to Genesis 1:14-19, we see a further defining of Time. We use the Sun, Moon, and Stars to define much more distinct categories of Time than “evening and morning.” Our day is divided into 24 hours based on the Sun's motion across the sky. The concept of Months was first found in the waxing and waning of the Moon. The rotation of the Earth around the Sun, the long days of Summer and long nights of Winter, define the concept of the Year.
So God creates Time, and then creates more and more minute categories for marking the movement of Time. These categories would be unimportant to an Eternal Being existing outside of Time, but they are extremely useful to temporal beings existing inside of it.
For that matter, these categories of Time would be fairly useless to a being living on, say, Pluto. When your year (that is, a single rotation around the Sun) lasts more than 90,000 days, it is a much less useful marker for Time.
Just as God created the universe according to an order our benefit, so these increasingly complex means of marking Time were created for our benefit. These categories of time are not necessary for an eternal God or to a hypothetical microbe living on Pluto, but they are extremely useful to human beings on Earth.
It is precisely in this context that I wish to talk about Time.
When I discuss Time with other Christians, they have a tendency to approach it as something sacrosanct, something unchanging and immutable. Genesis 1 paints a very different picture. It shows us an “original” order of time - chaotic, undistinguishable, unmarked - and then an “improved” order of time - ordered, distinct, marked. Some say that God would not alter the nature of Time. Genesis 1 shows He already has. What's more, He has done so for our benefit.
This, I hope, will inform the debate over Time. It is no less subject to change than Space, though admittedly more difficult for humans to influence. But there is no “eternal and unchangeable” nature of Time presented in Scripture. That which has been changed once may be changed again. For another example of this, we can look at the sixth day of creation and the establishment of the Sabbath.
After creating Adam and Eve, God addresses them in Genesis 1:28-30: “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.' And God said, 'See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food'; and it was so.”
As God gives His blessing to the first man and woman, He unveils the astonishing fact that all of the Creation has been given into their hands. This mighty labor has been done for their benefit. But in Genesis 2:1-3, God does something even more surprising: “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” Having finished His work and having blessed Adam and Eve, God blesses a time.
How strange this is! God blesses a period of Time, establishing a seven-day week for the newly-created humanity. Mark 2:27 tells us that this too was for our benefit, as Jesus says “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” The entire establishment of Time, just as much as the creation of plants and animals, is for the benefit of mankind.
Let us remember this when we are tempted to think of Time as an unchanging, untouchable law. The Sabbath, the original holy day, was created not for its own sake, but solely for the good of “those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
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