The Spacetime Continuum

spacetime

Space, like time, is a product of creation and, thus, all created beings are spatial creatures. This means that both the material and spiritual dimensions are spatial, although not necessarily in the same way. Although spiritual “space” is obviously not like material space, it nevertheless has spatial limitations. Thus, space, of some sort, is characteristic of created beings, whether material or spiritual.

The material universe of which we humans are a part is three-dimensional. Thus, we are limited by the three-dimensional boundaries of the spacetime continuum. Included in these limitations are (a) a material body can exist in only one space at a time, (b) to get from one space to another, a material body must pass through the intervening space, which means that (c) given the limitations of three-dimensional space, it is impossible, when we factor in the fourth dimension of time, for a material body to occupy two different spaces at the same time.

In contrast to this and evidently at the same time, fully spiritual creatures, such as angels and demons, do not normally occupy our space (cf. Jude 6). Consequently, it can be rather safely concluded that these spiritual creatures are not restricted by the limitations of three-dimensional space as we are. But as created beings, they have the limitations of their own spatial dimension. As I don’t occupy that dimension, I can’t tell you what it’s like, but that it exists is evident from Scripture.

Further, the Bible teaches that when pure spiritual creatures interact with material space, they are not totally outside its limits. For example, a spiritual creature, although he can apparently act multi-dimensional, can still only be in one space at a time. This is illustrated by the angelic appearance recorded in Daniel 10. The prophet Daniel had been “mourning” (which clearly included praying) for “three full weeks” (verse 2). When the angel appeared, he said:

Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia (Daniel 10:12-13).

He went on to say,

Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come (v. 14).

So, when interacting with our material dimension, this angel could not be in two places at the same time. He had been sent to answer Daniel and make known to him what would happen to his people in the future, but the “prince of Persia” (very likely another spiritual entity) withstood him for “twenty-one days.” The struggle was so intense that Michael (another spiritual creature) had to come and help him. Then, after administering to Daniel, he still needed to return and “fight” with the prince of Persia, knowing that the “prince of Greece” would eventually be involved (v. 20).

It is clear, then, that a spiritual creature cannot occupy more than one space at a time. This means spiritual beings (angels and demons) are not omnipresent. Even Satan himself cannot be everywhere at once and must use other spiritual entities to represent his interests around the world.

What all this means is that created beings, whether they be spiritual or material, are spatial beings. But in complete contrast to His creation, God, the uncreated Creator, is not a spatial being and, thus, unlimited by space (omnipresent). However, God is not so immensely large as to fill all of space, even to infinity. Such thinking would be totally false and is manifested in Pantheism. God is not too large to measure. He is immeasurable because, as a non-spatial being, He is not the kind of Being that can be measured. As such, all the limitations of space—extension, location, and distance—simply do not apply to God.

 

God’s omnipresence does not prevent Him from manifesting Himself in a localized place. In fact, while it is true that His ontological Being is present to all of space equally, He has, at various times and for various reasons, entered space at specific points and become present in it. These “theophanies,” as they are called, most often involved redemption. There was, for instance, the account of God’s presence in the garden of Eden “in the cool of the evening” (Genesis 3:8ff). There was His appearance before the Israelites as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night (cf. Exodus 33:9; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10ff). Of course, the most dramatic case of God entering time and space was the Incarnation itself (cf. John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16.). But, and this point needs to be clearly understood, in entering time and space, God, in His self-existent, eternal and infinite Being, did not cease to be omnipresent. He was, while existing as Jesus of Nazareth, still present to every point of space and was, in fact, holding everything together by the “word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3; see also Colossians 1:17).

With this in mind, it seems evident that the omnipresence of Immanuel or “God with us” is the real subject of John 3:13, which says, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of God who is in heaven.” I’ve heard people say they didn’t know what this passage was saying, but they knew it couldn’t mean what folks like me think it means. This isn’t exactly cogent exegesis if you ask me. Nevertheless, some among us are confident that the ontological presence of the Word, who was Himself God, could not be on earth, in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and be in heaven at the same time. It could be that this difficult passage is not saying what I think it’s saying, but the teacher of God’s Word who claims that it “can’t be” is clearly not taking into consideration the omnipresence of Jehovah’s ontological Being—a Being not limited by space and time. Yes, I know the concept is mind-boggling, but such is, I believe, characteristic of the magnificent nature of Almighty God. When contemplating the nature of God, it is not detrimental to have our minds boggled a bit.

The Beginning Of Time

On the basis of creation texts such as Genesis 1:1 and Proverbs 8:22-23, it can be argued that time, at least physical time, had a “beginning.” In fact, Genesis 1:1, which is neither a subordinate clause nor a summary title, says,

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

According to James Barr, this was an absolute beginning which, when taken with the expression, “So the evening and the morning were the first day” (verse 5), indicates this was, in fact, the very first day, which may well be intended to teach that “the beginning” was not just the beginning of the physical universe, but the beginning of time itself and that, therefore, God may be thought of as timeless (James Barr, Biblical Words for Time, 1962, pages 145-147). In this statement, Barr seems to reflect what Jude said so succinctly:

To the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore. Amen (Jude, ASV of 1901).

When this is coupled with Proverbs 8:22-23, which clearly looks back to “the beginning,” it can be fairly said that the Old Testament implies that time started at the beginning. Add to this Jude’s statement mentioned above, along with John 1:1-3, which says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made,

and it seems clear that the Bible teaches the beginning of the creation was not just the beginning of space and matter, but the beginning of time as well.

If all this is true, and I think there is much to support it, then the Creator, at least before He created, was neither subject to time (i.e., He was timeless) nor space. In addition, as the immortal, eternal God (cf. Deuteronomy 33:27; Romans 16:26; 1 Timothy 1:17), He did not, indeed He could not, consist of the material nature (matter) of His creation. He was, in fact, totally other (i.e., transcendent). All this stands in stark contrast with creation, which, by virtue of its creation, owes its existence to something outside itself (viz., God). It is in this regard that we are said to live, move and have our being in the Creator (cf. Acts 17:28).

“Big Bang” Cosmology

It is only God, by virtue of who He is, who is free from the constraints of the spacetime continuum, for it is clear that the God who is not so free can never be anything more than a small “g” god. Thus, Christians must not attempt to transfer any of the creaturely limitations to God, for as the Creator, He is simply not subject to them. It is interesting, then, that modern science, which hasn’t been especially friendly to the Creator, has started bowing in His direction. Although I believe “big bang” cosmology to be inconsistent with the Biblical account of creation, and therefore wrong, nevertheless, it is most interesting to hear scientists conclude that time and space came into existence at “the beginning” of the universe. The British physicist, Paul Davies, typifies what I’m talking about:

If we extrapolate this prediction to its extreme, we reach a point when all distances in the universe have shrunk to zero. An initial cosmological singularity therefore forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity. For this reason most cosmologists think of the initial singularity as the beginning of the universe. On this view the big bang represents the creation event, the creation not only of all the matter and energy of the universe, but also of spacetime itself (“Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology and Black Hole Evaporation,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J.T. Fraser, N. Lawrence, and D. Park, 1978, pages 78-79.

Others, addressing this same thing, assert:

At this singularity, space and time came into existence, literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated as such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo (John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, 1986, page 442).

This aspect of current cosmological theory is especially troubling for some scientists, particularly those with atheistic beliefs. For example, the Russian astrophysicist, Andrei Linde, acknowledges, rather candidly, the problem that such a model poses for him:

The most difficult aspect of this problem is not the existence of the singularity itself, but the question of what was before the singularity… This problem lies somewhere at the boundary between physics and metaphysics (“The Inflationary Universe,” Reports on Progress in Physics 47, 1984, page 976).

Sounds to me like Fred Hoyle’s old “steady-state” theory (viz., an eternal universe) with its well-known dictum Exnihilo, nihil fit (“Out of nothing, nothing comes”) has finally bitten the dust. As philosopher William Lane Craig says, “The steady-state model has been abandoned by virtually everyone” (Reasonable Faith, page 103).

So, the theory most scientists subscribe to today is the big-bang model, especially the inflationary version. Again, I am not arguing that this theory is correct. In fact, I totally reject the 15 billion years this theory postulates for the universe. I mention it here only because it argues that the expanding universe necessarily had a beginning and that it did not begin to expand into already existing space, but was, in fact, space itself, with the alleged cosmic expansion creating space as it went along.

Now, if scientists—who are limited, in the things they do, to the material creation—can understand the universe had a beginning, and that such a creation would have to be created ex nihilo or “out of nothing,” then I should think modern-day Christians should not fail to understand the profound implications of such a creation—namely, that the Creator is over and above time, space and all finite reality and can no more be confined to space than He can be measured by time.

In Conclusion

If something exists now, one of three things must be true of it: (a) it is either eternal, (b) it is created by something that is eternal, or (c) it is self-created. The first option is ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, since an eternal universe would have wound down or dissipated a long time ago. The third clashes not only with the First Law of Thermodynamics, but with logic’s Law of Contradiction, because in order to have created itself, the universe would have had to exist before it existed, an idea that is scientifically and philosophically ridiculous. This leaves only the second option, and the God here extolled satisfies all the necessary criteria of such a Creator. Natural revelation, when properly interpreted, points at a Being whose existence explains why science can explain anything, but why it cannot explain everything. As the famous and erudite Mr. Stephen Hawking said about the big bang theory before he gave up on God, “It would be difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as an act of God who intended to create beings like us” (A Brief History of Time, page 140). Commenting on this, William Lane Craig wrote:

Since everything that began to exist has a cause of its existence, and since the universe began to exist, we conclude, therefore, that the universe has a cause of existence. We ought to ponder long and hard over this truly remarkable conclusion, for it means that transcending the entire universe there exists a cause which brought the universe into being ex nihilo…. This conclusion ought to stagger us, ought to fill us with a sense of awe and wonder at the knowledge that our whole universe was caused to exist by something beyond it and greater than it (The Kalam Cosmological Argument, page 149).

Finally, it was the high-profile astronomer, Robert Jastrow, then Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in an article in the New York Times, asked the question:

Have Astronomers Found God?” His answer was that they had, or had at least come close to doing so. After arguing that the universe had a beginning in time, and after accepting that its creation by an act of God was a reasonable possibility [Jastrow was a professed agnostic], he went on to point out that astronomical evidence points to a theistic view of the world: “The details differ, but the essential elements…are the same; the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy (June 25, 1978).

His final words in this article were most appropriate:

This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians… We scientists did not expect to find evidence for an abrupt beginning because we have had until recently such extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause and effect backward in time… At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries (Ibid).

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