In the final part of this series, we’ll consider Einstein’s Relativity, and finally put to rest one of the oldest controversies in the Bible (but you’ll have to wait until the end).
What is relativity? Simply stated, time and events are not absolute, they can only be interpreted from a specific point of view. For example, suppose you watched a lightning storm from your window, and you see two lightning strikes hit different points on the ground at the same time.
Would it surprise you to learn someone else may not see those as simultaneous events?
Wait a minute, you say. They either did or didn’t hit the ground at the same time. As Lee Corso says “not so fast, my friend.” You can’t answer the question absolutely, only by a specific person’s frame of reference — movement and gravity relative to other objects will affect the notion of simultaneous events.
When I was in Physics class we’d perform some calculations involving time, and of course arrive at two different answers. Inevitably some person would raise their hand and ask “which one is correct?” at which point my professor would grin widely and say, “it’s all relative — see, Relativity isn’t that hard.”
It’s a tough concept to wrap your arms around — the fact time and the idea of simultaneous events is not absolute. The only thing you can say for sure is in some reference, they were or were not.
We’ll not cover the minute details of relativity, the important (and difficult) idea is time itself is not absolute, it only can be interpreted by a specific reference frame.
Example One: How old is the Universe?
Where does this come up? You might have heard the debate about the age of the universe, with some claiming billions of years, others 7 days, as Genesis says. Which is right? You can’t answer the question without knowing what reference frame you’re talking about.
One thing is clear, from God’s point of view, creation was in just six (24-hour) days. While it’s true the Hebrew in Genesis could imply ages, that’s not the only place creation is spoken of.
Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work. But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:9–11)
Exodus speaks of a normal seven-day week we’re used to, but associates that with creation, so it’s obvious creation was six 24-hour days as we’re used to, not ages or billions of years.
We’ve covered relativity in our article Frames of Reference. For those interested in more detail please refer to it.
So What? Example Two: Calvinism vs Arminianism
Okay, you all stuck with us for the big finale, right?
What does relativity imply for the Bible? Let’s solve a great debate in the church — God’s predestination versus man’s free will. Which is “right”? By now you know the answer — they both are! It all depends on your frame of reference.
Consider the two extremes of those ideas.
First, suppose man has ultimate free will, in fact, God barely knows what’s going on, and certainly can’t do much about it. When I get out of bed in the morning, what eternal question am I faced with?
Fruit Loops or Corn Flakes?
Now consider the other extreme. God pulls your strings, like working a giant puppet. You have no choice at all in anything, as God controls every aspect of your life. When I get out of bed in the morning, what eternal question am I faced with?
Fruit Loops or Corn Flakes?
Obviously, from man’s point of view, we have free will. It matters not if we do or do not actually have it, we must act as if we do, because that’s our frame of reference.
I’d also submit a supreme, all-powerful, all-knowing God is in charge, or in His reference frame, everything is ultimately going the way He wants it — after all, it’s His sandbox.
I hear the heckler in the front row — “Sure, but is that in the Bible, or did you just make it up?”
Consider John’s Gospel, as he says:
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me
Ah HA! The Calvinist proclaims. You have no choice! It’s God all the way. But keep reading in John:
… and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.
Ah HA! The Arminianist proclaims. It’s up to you. You’re responsible.
Of course, the kicker to this little problem is both ideas come from a single verse in John (6:37). Which is “right”? They both are — it all depends on your frame of reference.
Once again, your knowledge of Physics provides insight into the Bible; in this case solving once and for all a debate which splits churches and pits Christian against Christian.