Wednesday, July 27, 2011

St. Augustine on the Nature of Time

When was the last time you heard a modern objection to belief in God answered by an ancient Christian? It doesn't happen often. In fact, it happens so rarely we sometimes mistakenly think we're the only Christians bombarded by puzzling objections to the Christian faith. The truth is, however, Christians have from the beginning provided answers to the deeper questions of faith. I don't think the question St. Augustine will answer for us today ever puzzled me because I believe in an eternal God, but it might trouble those with a lower view of God. Therefore, it is for their sake primarily that I will quote St. Augustine on the nature of time. Some ask, "What was God doing before he created the world? Why did it take God so long to create the world? How and when did the idea come into God's mind?" Follow along with me as we find the answer to our question in St. Augustine's discussion on God and the nature of time. Speaking of what it will be like in heaven, Augustine writes,

"Then shall I 'stand firm in the Lord,' unshakable, 'in my likeness to your truth.' Then will I no longer be troubled by the gibes of men whose spiritual dropsy makes them thirst for more than they can carry, those who ask what God was doing before he made heaven and earth, or when the whim took him to make something after not having made anything for so long. Grant them, Lord, the gift of reflecting on what they say, to learn that one cannot claim God did not make anything for so long, when there was no time to be long in. To say God did not act for so long is to say that he did nothing for a long [time], but time only began when he did make something. Let them stop talking nonsense and be drawn forward to the prior things, understanding that you are before all times, are of all times the eternal creator, that no times, no creatures, can be eternal with you, even if there are creatures [angels] of a special time....[You are] in an eternity that does not suffer alteration, for you are the eternal creator of all minds. Just as your knowledge of what you would create existed at the origin without any stages of your thinking, so your enactment of what was at the origin, creating heaven and earth, was not distracted between successive stages of your action. May the one who knows this testify to who you are, and the one who does not know it testify as well" (Confessions, XI.V.40).

Let us remember that Augustine wrote these words of instruction in love, not to poke fun at unbelievers. Let us not mock because we know God is eternal and they don't. Let us rather in love help those with a weaker understanding. "And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in hope that God will grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will" (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like Augustine knew about Tolerance.