This week’s Did You Know, is excerpted from a soon to be published book entitled, “God and Spirituality,” by Glenn Chesnut. The river of eternity: The ancient Greeks were aware that the river of eternity, in its infinite flow, immerses us in the process of “the coming to be and passing away.” There are different words for time in the Greek language. Chronos, means the kind of time, which we see in history books or novels, where certain events are selected and abstracted from the flow, and arranged in a chronological series, in an attempt to show the causal connections between them. In writing any kind of historical account we are forced to leave out most of the things that happened during the years covered by the story. We must make decisions about which events either illuminate or falsify the story. Eusebius of Caesarea, whose style of historiography dominated most of the historical works written during a thousand years of western historical writing, said that Chronos was embroidery sewn into the endless ribbon of the aion. Another Greek word for time was Kairos, the opportune moment. Kairos was portrayed in symbolic sculpture as a running man, whose head was shaved except for a long forelock at the front. When Kairos ran at us, we had a single moment in which we could “seize the opportunity,” by grasping and hanging onto his long, dangling forelock. If we waited a moment too long, however, Kairos continued to run his race through time, and would be past us, so fast that our fingers would slip ineffectually down the back of his smooth-shaven head. The Greek patristic authors (the Christian theologians in the eastern half of the Mediterranean world during the first seven or eight centuries) had a synergistic (working together), doctrine of divine grace. We were indeed saved sola gratia, by grace alone, because fallen human beings could not save themselves by their own efforts. But a synergistic element was also present, because the saving grace offered to us by God, at specific points of time, had to be “grasped” before that brief window of opportunity had passed. So even though we were basically saved by grace alone, human action and human decision and responsible human behavior were also necessary before we could be saved.
Unfortunately, where human life is involved, “passing away” can involve enormous suffering and terror. The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote a series of novels about a small group of human beings who had discovered how to live forever, and these should be mandatory reading for all those atheists who believe that such a discovery would produce heaven on earth. Change and loss would still occur. And in Heinlein’s vision, the longest lived member of the group eventually becomes so bored on the one hand and so saddened on the other (over all the things that he has had to grieve as they disappeared forever down the river of time), that he loses his will to live.
And at an even deeper level, the physical universe that came into existence at the time of the Big Bang, around 13.7 billion years ago, is subject to the Law of Entropy, and will eventually run down. There will still be a universe left, but a universe made up only of the random motion of particles where there are no energy differentials left enabling anything significant to happen at all. In fact a lot of current calculations seem to show that we may be much nearer to the end of the universe than its beginning. The ancient Greek author Hesoid said that the universe came into existence out of chaos. Modern science teaches us that Chaos, inescapably, is where the universe will end.
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