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Some thoughts about Time

As far as the universe is concerned, time had a beginning. The starting point being c. 12-14 billion years ago when the Big Bang occurred. Whilst we can measure cosmic background radiation as microwaves from the Big Bang, there isn't any radiation detected with earlier origins.

The passage of time has always been a preoccupation of human beings, whether to satisfy the needs of when to eat and sleep; the importance of seasons for agricultural purposes or a more sophisticated measuring of time into clearly defined periods of weeks, days and hours to better separate work and leisure time.

Have you ever really thought about time? Really, really thought about it? Thought about how it affects our daily lives? Physicists will tell you about space-time and Einstein pushed the boundaries further by speaking about the block universe where past and future events occupy a place where it might just be possible to visit; also the fact that when happenings are moving at the speed of light (299,792,458 metres per second) time slows down.

There are numerous theories about time and the place it occupies in the great scheme of things and the maths based theories advanced are usually those of theoretical physicists which bear little relation to the daily lives of ordinary people. Whether Time slows down near the speed of light or not in no way impacts on the day to day lives of billions of people inhabiting the earth. Theories about space/time are meaningless when one is considering the question of good or bad timekeeping in our jobs.

The Egyptians were the first to divide days into hours by the use of obelisks. Obelisks are slender, tall towers similar to sundials and demonstrated time using the sun's shadow. These 'clocks' could also show the longest and shortest days of the year by comparing the length of the obelisk's shadow at noon. Before the advent of clocks as we know them, time was measured in a number of ways, for example: shadow sticks; candle clocks; water clocks and sun-dials to name just a few but these were not sufficiently accurate to keep in step with the demands made by the developing technology of modern life.

Today, time can be measured accurately like never before. The optical single-ion clock (pictured above) works by measuring the vibrational frequency of ytterbium ions as they oscillate back and forth, hundreds of trillions times per second, between two different energy levels. These ions are trapped within an 'optical lattice' of laser beams that allows scientists to count the number of ytterbium 'ticks' per second to measure time so accurately the clock won’t lose or gain a second in several billion years. However, few of us will be around to provide the veracity or otherwise of that particular claim. For all practical purposes, time is a concept mainly used to control working and leisure periods when applied to the daily life of billions of the earth's inhabitants.

Einstein believed time to be a great illusion and even an elementary examination of its reality reveals why it is so. The past exists only as records kept in various kinds of storage or in individual memories and the future is based solely on the hopes and fears of individuals. Think about it as you sit reading this. In real life, as opposed to high flying theoretical considerations of physics, when the future becomes the present it instantly vacates that spot to become the past.

Whatever the Scifi merchants and even some deluded scientists might want us to believe, for all pragmatic purposes neither past nor future can be occupied except in their due time. The idea of travelling back in time poses problems. One such, that of cause and effect, is that which is called the "grandfather paradox" and is a classic example. According to the paradox, if you travel back in time and kill your grandfather before your mother or father were born, you could prevent your own birth.

In practical terms there is no 'present' due to the fact that when the future becomes that which we term the present, it instantly disappears into the past. Forget all the scientific guff. We either live in a continuous present or we don't live at all. The past is only a collection of memories whilst the future contains nothing more for us than our hopes and fears. The so-called here and now disappears as soon as it happens. 

Good things or bad can only be done NOW, this very instant, in what theologians call the Holy Present. Of course we can plan for the future but those plans can only be brought to fruition when the future arrives in the present and unless we then act on those plans they are meaningless. Hence the well known phrase, 'The path to hell is paved with good intentions.'

Certainly we cannot change the past but our efforts in the 'present' and in the 'future' can be improved by learning from 'past' mistakes.

Time marches on, we say, and certainly it rolls onward as an inexorable series of events creating that which we call history as it goes. Good or bad deeds can only be done in the here and now; the past is over and done with. If you did not help someone when the past was your present then it is now too late.

You might plan to carry out a good deed in the future, albeit a future that is possibly only minutes away, but until that planned future event becomes and enters the present and the good deed is then done, the plans are meaningless.

Bad deeds can also be planned for future execution but it is only when they are in the here and now that you can either commit or not commit them.

Obliterate memory and expectations and all that is left is the present where in fact we live the whole of our practical lives and that is where God expects us to live - in the Holy Present. No maundering on about a changeless, might-have-been past nor treading the comforting path of not-yet-performed, future good intentions.

If you have not already done so, let us make our future with God secure by turning everything in our lives over to Jesus Christ right now, in The Holy Present.