Monday, July 18, 2011

Entropyless Heaven - A Thought Experiment

A few posts ago, I posted on the effects of Entropy and what it might mean for the spiritual life. As a result, though, I cannot help but think about heaven, and what it might look like.

Let me begin by saying this: I don’t necessarily believe anything that I am about to say is the way things will be. It is simply something that could happen. My hope is not to try and figure something out; my hope is to give you a glimpse of just how much greater heaven will be than what we can possibly imagine.

Recall that entropy was a measure of how much disorder a system has. The Second Law of Thermodynamics requires that the entropy within a system always increases over time unless energy is put into the system; in other words, the universe will always run down.

As a result, we get what is called a time’s arrow: our brains psychologically can interpret time as a result of this natural decay. That is, we know that since disorder increases with time, we can experience a cup standing at the edge of a table as the “past”, and the cup shattered on the floor as the “future”. So given two pictures, we can determine which came first and which came second.

But here is the thing: Entropy is a distinctly physical law. It is based upon our natural universe. There is absolutely no reason to assume that the same will be true in heaven. Entropy need not exist outside of this universe. (Indeed, I am not the first to point this out: Stephen Hawking once postulated that if the universe were contracting instead of expanding, entropy would run in reverse! So if he is right, then we would live our lives backward, like T.H. White’s Merlyn or Benjamin Button. We would perceive the “cause” to happen after the “effect”, not before. He demonstrates—convincingly, in my opinion—that the psychological time arrow always points in the same direction as the thermodynamic time arrow as set forth by entropy.)

So we have good reason to believe that Heaven—being outside of time and space—will not be affected by Entropy. This in turn implies that things will never ‘wear down’, that disorder need not increase, and that psychologically we have no required need to experience the passage of time linearly.

Add to this another point, which I have made in the past: we are currently living in a timeline, but God is not. Physics has demonstrated beyond doubt that the concept of “time” is simply a dimension that we experience, just like we experience “up and down”, “left and right”, and “forward and back”. In other words – our concept of “time” is a bit illusory. Everything we have ever done or will do is already ‘present’ for God…we are just limited to experiencing one moment of life at a time.

So we have two very interesting points. The decay of things, which gives us a need for a psychological time arrow, need not exist in heaven. Also, there is good reason to believe that when we are outside of this universe and sit in God’s kingdom, we will not be part of the timeline any more: we will have stepped out of the painting, as it were, and see it all at once.

So…what might this look like? Such things are difficult to imagine, but I would like for you to consider a thought experiment with me: what would a heaven, free of the constraints of Time, be like?

I think the first, and most astonishing thing, is that none of us would be the way we see ourselves today. Today you do not see all of “you”, if you look in a mirror: you see a sort of cross-section of time. You see yourself at age 35 (or whatever).

But if you were outside of time, and you looked in a mirror, you would see yourself at all times simultaneously. Imagine your figure sort of blurred from one end to the other, an elongated series of cross sections which are you at every moment of your life. This is actually more of the real “you” than you feel now—it is you at birth, you with a skinned knee at age 8, you cheating on a test in college, you at the moment of your marriage, you holding your newborn, you lying to your wife, you growing old and fighting cancer. Every one of these moments is “you”, your life—and the accumulation is who you really are.

Courtesy Rob Bryanton, for more.

Physics implies that this is our reality even now, in this life. But because of our psychological time arrow and our place within a four-dimensional space-time, we can experience only one “slice” of this life at a given time. We exist in all of these states at once, but can only experience the one.

Okay, so now assume that you (the worm-like total “you” above) is dead. You are resurrected into heaven, and given a body and mind which are still you…but not caught in the sin nature of the fallen world. Now, being outside of time, you can truly experience the whole ‘you’ at any given moment.

Stop and think about that for a second. Have you ever wished you could “freeze” time, and smell your toddler’s hair as they cuddled with you on the couch? Maybe you can. Because if the real “you” is no longer in this universe and tied to a specific moment in time, maybe you can experience every moment of your life, and literally spend an eternity in it.

Think about that. Your honeymoon…for eternity. The bear hug your son gives you when you get home from a trip…for eternity. Your baptism…for eternity. The time your little girl danced with you at a father-daughter dance…for eternity.

The world’s best home movie: the chance to live again any moment.

But of course there is a catch—you live again all moments, at all times.

So you also experience all those times that you snuck away to look at pornography. You experience the heartbreak of when you lost a loved one. You feel the anxiety and fear of conviction.

Oh, and when you see others—you see all of them, too. You see those scars that you caused them with your careless words and thoughts. You see them, as a child, starving on the streets while you are having seconds of your turkey stuffing.

And above all, you see yourself, and all those around you, forgiven. Covered in the blood of the everlasting Christ. And no more masks, no more hiding: we all simply “are who we are”, and now we can experience each other.

This is what heaven could be like. All of us, unmasked, real: our whole lives unveiled and naked for all to see. Our thoughts and pains and triumphs. And above it all, covering the whole thing—the blood of the Lamb who chose to love us. Our connection with each other. A heaven without Time, you see, has many possibilities.

Don’t “undersell” heaven as a place of boring harp-playing on clouds for eternity. As I think about our physical limitations that our universe places on us, and do these kinds of thought experiments to imagine just how insanely amazing heaven could possibly be, I cannot help but remember Paul’s words: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Rom 8:18, ESV)

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