Time Travel & God’s Prophesies

Many science-fiction stories have explored the idea of traveling through time and changing the past. For example, 1980’s “The Final Countdown” imagined a modern-day U.S. aircraft carrier being transported back to 1941 and facing the choice of either thwarting the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or allowing history to play out unchanged. In the early 1990’s, the TV time traveler Dr. Sam Beckett would “Quantum Leap” into other people’s lives, “striving to put right what once went wrong.” Just last fall, the internet hotly-debated the morality of going back in time to kill Adolf Hitler when he was still too young to have chosen or have committed any crimes.

ITardiss it possible to go back in history and change the past? There’s good reason to think that it is logically impossible. Here is why: Imagine traveling back in time and, by some tragic accident, killing your grandparent as a child. This would mean that one of your parents would have never been born… so you would have never been born… which raises the question: who killed your grandparent? Or imagine a time traveler’s intended history-changing mission succeeding, such as stopping JFK’s assassination. If so, then there is no cause for the time traveler to have ever been sent back from the future at all. This sort of logical contradiction is called a paradox.

Most serious time travel stories avoid this paradox problem using the premise that the past can be visited but never truly altered. Time travelers simply fulfill the role they have always played in those past events. Any and all attempts to avert some disaster in history will either prove useless or actually contribute to bringing about the calamity.

Time travel is merely fantasy, but the prophesies of God, which have correctly foretold future events, are very real. Consider, for instance, these passages from the 22nd Psalm written by King David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit some 1,000 years before the coming of Christ:

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? … All who see me mock me… Like water my life drains away; all my bones are disjointed. My heart has become like wax, it melts away within me. As dry as a potsherd is my throat; my tongue cleaves to my palate… They have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots. … I will live for the Lord…”

This psalm is clearly fulfilled in Christ’s sufferings on the cross; the onlookers’ gloating mockery, the gambling over his garments, his dehydration and laboring heart, wounds cutting to his bones. What other form of torture is there that pierces the hands and feet? Jesus spoke this psalm’s opening words even while sharing the psalm’s closing hope in a life restored. These events were accurately described a millennium before they occurred.

God prophesying future events raises questions about human freewill. If Jesus’ crucifixion could be long foretold then what responsibility could Judas, Caiaphas, or Pontius Pilate possibly bear for their roles in the Passion? The answer is that Eternal God, from his vantage point outside of time, can behold all of history, including the free choices that each of us make. C.S. Lewis reconciles God’s knowledge and our freedom in these passages from his book “Mere Christianity”:

“…God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today’. All the days are ‘Now’ for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow’s actions in just the same way— because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him.”

God’s knowledge of our free choices does not make our choices any less free. As St. Augustine once noted, “Just as you do not compel past events to happen by your memory of them, so God does not compel events of the future to take place by his knowledge of them.” God’s divine knowledge does not strip us of human freewill, but it does permit him to communicate perfect prophesies to his people concerning events further along our timeline. Such prophesies concern not only the Messiah’s life, but our times and future as well.

Jesus Christ has already victoriously prevailed. His Second Coming in glory is foretold and assured, and his people’s final victory over sin and death is prophesized and certain. This is the connection between time travel stories and the prophesies of God: like the futility of time travelers attempting to avert some historic disaster, any and all attempts to prevent the ultimate triumph of Christ will either prove useless or actually contribute to bringing about the coming of his Kingdom. The enemies of Jesus schemed to destroy him and his movement, but their very plotting led to the fulfillment of his mission and the birth of the Church. This knowledge is a cause for Christian endurance and joy, even amidst our times of struggle. We know that we are free to serve a faithful role in helping bring about the great, holy, happy ending of history.

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4 Responses to “Time Travel & God’s Prophesies”

  1. MG Says:

    I used to attend a church with a 24hr adoration chapel and had a weekly hour assignment where I would meditate and pray. Over time, I began taking out my phone and reading through the prayer requests that were sent to me as I was on a prayer chain distribution list. At first, I would start from the most recent and work my way backwards, so I would sometimes see a follow up email sharing an update from an earlier prayer request that I had not yet read. I asked God about this and felt a very strong “feeling” that it was absolutely OK for me to pray for things in the past, so I switched the order. Over time this became an amazing way for me to see how infinitely powerful God is, with no limitations based on human concepts of space and time. I began to get feelings of what I should pray for that were more in tune with the outcome that I could sometimes read about moments later, for example, praying for a successful surgery or praying for the person to have peace with the negative results of a biopsy. Sometimes I could feel the results when I read their initial petition and would just express gratitude, even for borderline “miraculous” medical recoveries. I am not a saint, and my feelings were not 100% in tune with God’s will, but it seemed as though when I was in a state of grace, they were well over 90% accurate. This only occurred in His presence… and I think He was just showing me a little glimpse of how things “just are” to Him. No space or time, no limits, just glorious love, truth, and mercy.

  2. Doug Says:

    Time travel? This is my opinion and I hope I can express it well. From my observation, time is misleading. In truth, there is only the great moment called right now. That’s all there is anywhere in the universe. It doesn’t matter how fast, how slow or how far away things are we are or anything else. The one thing that connects all creation is that there really only is right now … right this very moment. “Live in the now!” as some say, is not just a funny expression. Ah, but right now is fluid, isn’t it? It’s dynamic and not frozen or static. Man invented the concept of time in order to gauge the changes observed during the great right now. In the end, we’re all time travelers, but its a constant and consistent rate of travel. I’m sure there is so much more to this, but honestly, I’m not smart enough to go any further with it.

    • Fr. Victor Feltes Says:

      St. Augustine shared in wondering at the phenomenon of time. He said, “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.”

    • morriec Says:

      We know God is outside time because time is a measure of change and God is unchangeable. We have learned much of the nature of time through tests of Einstein’s theory of special relativity. It’s also a fact that when one is immersed in a good book, prayer, or thoughts that time seems to stop. That is our immortal soul doing what it does best. Venturing into the divine.

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