My Musings on Mere Christianity (Part 5): C.S. Lewis on God and Time
Last week, I blogged on C.S. Lewis’ discussion on begetting (See it here). In this final installment of the series, I’ll be blogging on God and time.
Lewis says that the topic “maybe helpful to some readers, but which may seem to others merely an unnecessary complication.” Well, I personally find the topic already complicated. That’s why Lewis even advises readers to skip the chapter if they wish to. But Lewis, as far as I’m concerned, helps in shedding light.
In a previous discussion, Lewis touches on the subject of prayer and deals with a specific difficulty. Here’s the problem: How can God attend to several hundred million human beings who are all addressing Him at the same moment. Most can imagine God “attending to any number of applicants if only they came one by one and He had an endless time to do it in.” But the problem lies in the words at the same moment—as if God has “to fit too many things into one moment of time.”
Lewis begins to shed light:
We tend to assume that the whole universe and God Himself are always moving on from past to future just as we do. But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the Theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in Time at all: later the Philosophers took it over: and now some of the scientists are doing the same.1 (Emphasis added)
There are things that are not in time at all. Lewis adds:
Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty—and every other moment from the beginning of the worlds—is always the Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.2
If you find this difficult to grasp, don’t despair. I find it hard, too; Lewis affirms the difficulty as well. But he gives an illustration, which he claims imperfect, yet I find sufficient:
Suppose I am writing a novel. I write “Mary laid down her work; next moment came a know at the door!” For Mary who has to live in the imaginary time of my story there is no interval between putting down the work and hearing the knock. But I, who am Mary’s maker, do not live in that imaginary time at all. Between writing the first half of that sentence and the second, I might sit down for three hours and think steadily about Mary. I could think about Mary as if she were the only character in the book and for as long as I pleased, and the hours I spend in doing so would not appear in Mary’s time (the time inside the story) at all.3
So what does the illustration trying to communicate? The answer is this:
God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel. He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man in the world.4
Wow! God has “infinite attention to spare for each one of us.” If that’s the case, then I would want to pray more, since He has infinite attention to listen to my prayers.
On the weakness of his illustration, Lewis writes:
In it the author gets out of one Time-series (that of the novel) only by going into another Time-series (the real one). But God, I believe, does not live in a Time-series at all. His life is not dribbled out moment by moment like ours: with Him it is, so to speak, still 1920 and already 1960. For His life is Himself.5
If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn. We come to the parts of the line one by one: we have leave A behind before we get to B, and cannot reach C until we leave B behind. God, from above or outside or all round, contains the whole line, and sees it all.6
While Lewis tackles other difficulties on the topic, I would have to stop here. I think this is enough for now. After all, Lewis writes:
If [the idea or the topic] does not help you, leave it alone…You can be a perfectly good Christian without accepting it, or indeed without thinking of the matter at all.7
1C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Walker and Company, 1987), 257-258.
2C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 258.
3C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 258-259.
4C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 259.
5C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 259-260.
6C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 260.
7C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 263-264.