My Dear Friends,
The Arrow of Time
Let me describe an amazing fact: You can move an egg from the left-hand side of a table to the right (are you with me so far?) and if you want you can pick it up and move the egg back from the right to the left, completely at will (wow, that’s amazing!) But (and here’s the rub) drop it on the floor and break it and you can’t move the egg back through time to remake it again . . . OK, I know that as magic tricks go that’s not exactly impressive, but it says something very profound about the universe we live in.
In 1928, the astronomer Arthur Eddington published a book called The Nature of the Physical World; it popularised a concept he called ‘the arrow of time’. In the four dimensions of space-time (by this I mean the three spatial dimensions that can be characterised as up-down, forward-backward and side-to-side, and the additional temporal dimension of future-past) there is freedom to move in any direction along the spatial dimensions. Time, however, will only allow us to move in one direction. It is a one way street and the only direction we can travel is relentlessly forwards into the future.
What does this mean to us? It means for sure that the past has already happened and thus cannot be changed (the egg cannot become ‘unbroken’). The future however is not yet fixed, and it remains unfixed until the moment it arrives. To paraphrase St Augustine, we live out our lives in the ‘now’ that sits on the briefest knife-edge that exists between past and future.
When it comes to the teaching of Jesus, we find that this gives us several rather profound matters to consider. Whilst Jesus was not exactly unconcerned with the past he was certainly much more interested in the present and the future. He readily adopted sinners with very dodgy pasts as his own disciples. And his optimism and faith were clearly well founded. This ragbag little army of deeply unimpressive followers brought a whole new direction to world history.
And what does this mean for us as we stand at the beginning of a New Year?
(1) With regard to the past, neither guilty regret nor dishonest denial has any place in the Christian life. Repentance puts the past to bed by taking responsibility for our failings and allows us to make a fresh start.
(2) With regard to the future, that is where real opportunity lies. What the future holds is actively in the hands both of God and us. If you want to be different in the future you can be.
(3) With regard to the present, it is the only place we ever live, though it never stays the same, not even for a second. It is constantly on the move from one moment to another. It’s also the place where we wield great power, because it is what we do now that sets the course for the future.
Whatever 2007 brought for you for good and ill, I trust that between you and God, you have a really interesting and fruitful journey through 2008.
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