“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Integrating Scientific and Biblical Eschatologies, Part 6: Irreversibility in Physics and Redemptive History

As a final reflection, I note a connection between thermodynamics and the Christian worldview concerning the nature of time. Although science paints a bleak picture of the cosmic future, observations of the physical world reveal a general quality of the universe that is also suggested in Scripture, namely, that events in time are largely irreversible. The second law states that entropy must increase, and that processes which increase entropy cannot be reversed. Similarly, the uncertainty principle results in time asymmetry on quantum scales. In general, occurrences of the “arrow of time” in various fields of physics indicate a preference for the forward temporal direction. Similarly, Scripture portrays redemptive history as a series of events that cannot be undone; time is unidirectional. God is portrayed as moving things forward in time towards their final purpose7 ; each stage builds on what came before, and there is no return to what has been. Perhaps most significantly, after Christ’s resurrection there was no return to the cyclical system of sacrifice (Tallon); Christ’s sacrifice was final and complete.8 In this sense the scientific fact that the universe is moving forward in time and constantly and irreversibly changing is very much in agreement with the Christian understanding of redemptive history and what God is doing in the world. Indeed, this is the very nature of story, which is at the heart of Christianity. A series of events moves towards a final end, but the whole only makes sense in one direction. Even a dying world like ours is moving in a definite direction, and is thus not a static reality, but a dynamic and moving one, just like the Christian story. It may appear that that direction is inevitably one towards decay and ruin, but we have a firm hope that what seems now to be an irreversible tendency will be irreversibly transformed into something higher and better, which tends not away from God but towards him.

7 For example, Isaiah 42:9, “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
8 In the words of C. S. Lewis, “Among times there is a time that turns a corner and everything this side of it is new. Times do not go backward” (Lewis,
Perelandra 62).

Works Cited

Fiddes, Paul S. The Promised End: Eschatology in Theology and Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000. 181-218.

Gunton, Colin. The Triune Creator. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Lewis, C. S. Perelandra. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1996.

Peters, Ted. God as Trinity: Relationality and Temporality in the Divine Life. Louisville:Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. 175-76. As cited in Russell, “Eschatology and Scientific Cosmology.” 96.

Polkinghorne, John. “Eschatology.” In The End of the World and the Ends of God: Science and Theology on Eschatology. Eds. John Polkinghorne and Michael Welker. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, Int’l. 29-41.

Polkinghorne, John. The Faith of a Physicist. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1994.

Russell, Robert J. “Eschatology and Scientific Cosmology: From Conflict to Interaction.” In What God Knows: Time, Eternity, and Divine Knowledge. New York: Baylor UP, 2006. 95-120.

Tallon, Jeff. “Time, Eternity, and Christian Belief.” 23 May 2002. University of Wellington. 14 Dec. 2008.

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