Isn’t time a perplexing thing? As we celebrate another year that has gone into the archives of our past and look forward to our immediate future in 2015, it made me think about how fast time goes by. It seems like just yesterday that I was an eight-year-old kid sitting in my living room waiting to see if Y2K was really going to shut down our national infrastructure. I had my flashlight ready just in case.
However, why should I be surprised that time passes so quickly? After all, time has always been in my life. Despite the fact that we arbitrarily divide it into hours, minutes or seconds, it doesn’t seem like it should be surprising for me. After all, I am not perplexed by a measurement of 10 feet. It is not as if I see a basketball hoop and am all of a sudden surprised that 10 feet is that tall. Maybe my sense of judging height is not always perfect, but I am not surprised by those types of linear dimensions.
Time is essentially another dimension just like length, width or height. I experience it linearly just like I experience all of these others. Time always moves forward at a steady rate, so I should be used to that experience by now. Regardless of how we measure it, it doesn’t change.
CS Lewis mentioned this phenomenon right at the end of his Reflections on the Psalms where he wrote, “It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal”1.
To extend on his analogy, we should not be surprised by our natural environment. We aren’t surprised by oxygen. Because time travel is not possible, we always move forward through time in exactly the same way we always have. Time does not speed up or slow down, but our problem here is that it certainly feels that way.
Think about your most boring day in the office as compared to a day at an amusement park with your family. I would be willing to bet that it felt like one of those was a lot longer than the other, but they were the same amount of time. Why do they feel different?
CS Lewis proposes that perhaps this means that our fish is designed for something else. Perhaps while being submerged in water, our fish is not actually in what he is ultimately meant to be in. As a result, since he was not designed to be in water, it is not surprising at all that he is somewhat surprised by his environment at times. It is not truly his natural home.
Maybe then time is not our natural home either. Maybe we’re not always comfortable or strongly rooted in our current environment of time because we were designed for an existence outside of time. Perhaps we are eternal beings who are temporarily on earth, and we, as a result, are subject to conditions that we are not necessarily used to.
That certainly would explain our situation, and it certainly forces another question that everyone needs to be able to answer. What does that mean if our soul is indeed eternal? The Christian worldview has answer, but I am not sure that naturalism does.
- C.S Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1964), Kindle Edition, 138.