What is time? The time which we experience is like a line. It has started somewhere and it will end somewhere. It always moves forward, and it seems there is no going back. Time is also one-dimensional, in contrast to space, which is three-dimensional. As a result, we cannot be in several places at the same time. We must understand that this is simply the arrangement that God created for us, and that the Creator Himself is not limited by these restrictions. When God creates the new universe, the ‘new heaven and new earth’, time there may be different, just as everything else will be.
Time, therefore, has been created by God. This means that it is not a law of nature that God is restricted by, but rather God is omnipotent and can control time just as He wishes. He is the Lord of Time. It does not occur to many that God has indeed created everything, both time and everything else. If God wants to move backwards or forwards in time, He can do that. If He wanted, He could stop time or create an entirely different kind of time to that which we now have. There is no guarantee that, once we are in heaven, time there will be in any way similar to what we experience now. The same applies, of course, to everything else as well, including the concepts with which we make sense of the world.
God has therefore created this world, together with all its physical laws, but this does not mean that these natural laws would in any way restrict the Creator Himself, although in general they do restrict us, at least for the time being. God can be in many places at the same time, but no created beings (angels and evil spiritual forces included) are able to do this. Not even Satan can be in more than one place at any one time, although he has many assistants, evil spiritual forces, which can operate on his behalf and thus extend his influence.
God, however, is not restricted by these rules. If God wants to act outside of time, He can do it. God desires that these time-related laws of nature, although not applying to Him, should be respected by all created beings, that. He desires that we should live in the present and move forward into the future, because this is how He has created our current reality.
Could a person, nevertheless, somehow affect the past? It is said that what is done cannot be undone, and this is indeed the case. Could a person, nevertheless, ask in prayer now in the present that God would influence the past? As a general rule, probably not, because God Himself has placed us in this universe, subject to certain rules, and expects us to obey these rules. The situation is similar to that of a football match, in which the goals of the first half cannot be annulled in the second half. God respects those rules which have been laid down for us. Even when Jesus had just performed a miracle and fed 5000 men, He was still particular about making sure that all the leftovers were collected up. Likewise, God has created us to live a particular kind of life under particular laws, and He requires us to respect these laws, whether they are physical laws, moral laws, or government laws.
I must admit, however, that I have experienced some moments of despair when my distress about a particular person has been so great that I have felt the need to cry out to God on their behalf even though they are already dead. For instance, I have prayed ‘God, you who have all power, could it be that you one more time called this person to come to you before they suddenly died, that they would have had one more opportunity to take hold of the saving work of your Son, just like the thief on the cross next to Jesus’. This was a moment of great emergency, however, and should not be an excuse for laziness. We must truly take care of people while they are still alive.
Of course, it is for Almighty God to decide whether He responds to that kind of prayer or not, but it would not be impossible for Him to do so. The thought behind this has perhaps also been that if that person is no longer alive then them getting into heaven would not in any way affect other people, so there would be no ‘butterfly effect’ that would break the rules. I have also thought that it is God who decides, after all, whether to respond or not, and I was just asking, provoked by my distress for the person in question. Have I acted unreasonably?
The Bible contains some interesting things that in some ways support what I have done. Paul himself encourages us in many of his letters to pray that his work would reach completion. Have you done that? Did you assume that this request does not apply to you? Do you assume that your prayers cannot have an effect on this? Some might think that these requests of Paul are in the Bible as an example of how Paul needed constantly the support of other people and that this is an example for us to follow. This is indeed also true. Nevertheless, I think that this is not all. Paul, after all, wrote nearly a third of the New Testament, and Luke, who was part of his team, wrote a significant amount as well. The Bible is God’s revelation to the whole of humanity, and for this work to reach completion in the way that God desired required the united intercession of all Christians from all times. In this way, the life of the Body of Christ, which is the church, could have functioned globally and throughout the centuries.
In my opinion, therefore, it is not absurd to pray to God for things to do with the past when it is a matter of great emergency and you know that you are praying according to God’s will. In situations where a relative or friend has died suddenly, I have prayed therefore that He would have revealed Himself to them before they died. If we do so, of course, we must do so humbly, submitting ourselves to the will of Almighty God and His love, not imagining that we can manipulate God but instead approaching Him as a child coming near to their loving Father God. God then decides how He will respond, and whether He will fulfil our request or not.
It is also important to understand that we cannot manipulate God through prayer. There is a danger, you see, that we can start to imagine that our connection with God gives us some kind of wider power to manipulate the past or the future. It doesn’t work like this, however. If you read the New Testament with sufficient care, you will notice that nearly all the people that Jesus meets – including the Pharisees, his disciples, and even his own family – attempt in some way to manipulate Him. None of them succeed. If such manipulation didn’t work then, when Jesus was here as a person on Earth, how would it fare any better now, when He is reigning in heaven as Lord of everything?
So you can forget about those prayers that go something like ‘save all people and even the devil’. Prayers that relate to the past are therefore something only for exceptional situations. When I have prayed that God would have called to Himself a dying person just before their death, I have been thinking that such an act would not have any knock-on effects on anyone else. There would not have been any ‘butterfly effect’ that would have affected the future of others, but instead the person in question would simply have had the chance to receive Jesus just before their death, just like the thieves on the cross, and themselves decide whether to take this chance, like the thief on the right, or reject it like the one on the left.
Indeed, Paul himself indicates the possibility of influencing the past in exceptional circumstances when he mentions baptising people on behalf of the dead, in Chapter 15 of his first letter to the Corinthians. We should note first of all, however, that this is a case of a single reference in the Bible, and the early Church Fathers never mention that there would have been this kind of practice in the early church. Paul mentions the matter, indeed, as an example of how the resurrection is something concrete that applies to all people. His argument goes that the resurrection is certainly something real because someone has done such an extreme thing as to baptise themselves on behalf of a dead person. I myself think that this could be talking about an individual case where someone had died before they could be baptised, even though they had come to faith. At that time, adults were normally baptised as soon as they came to faith, but it could be that in this case that had not been done and the person had then died before their baptism. As a consequence, others had wanted to baptise someone else on the dead person’s behalf.
Paul does not seem to either approve or disapprove of the practice, and there is no indication that it continued in the following decades. Nevertheless, we can say that here something had been done on behalf of the person even though that person should really have done it themselves while they were still alive. We are once again talking about a special case. If this would be a technique we could use to manipulate God, then we could buy an aeroplane and use this to ‘baptise’ people en masse with a fire hose, for example, without any concern for whether they believe in God or not and whether they want to become disciples of Jesus. What remains clear, therefore, is that God has created the rules and seeking to manipulate Him against His will not succeed, nor do I encourage anyone to test the limits of His patience.
What should we think about time travel, then? More on that next time.
Have a blessed day, and remember to use your time well.