Searching for The Third Way: Baptism, Part 6

Why does earth-time go in only one direction?

solarsystem.jpgSounds like a stupid question, doesn’t it? Believe it or not, physicists wrestle with this one. It’s a very hot issue among theorists today.

Nearly all the equations that describe physics run in the both directions. The equation for a ball falling is the same for a ball propelled upwards. The math cannot tell you which way time runs!

If, for example, you took a film of the solar system, with all the planets, moons, and asteroids circling (ellipsing, really) around the sun and each other, you couldn’t tell whether the film were running backwards or forwards!

Of course, we all experience irreversible events. When you bite an apple, well, a film of that run backwards would plainly be wrong! But why?

The one law of physics that runs only one direction with time is the law of entropy — the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that closed systems become less organized over time.

For example, you put a cup of hot tea in an unplugged refrigerator. The tea cools and the surrounding air warms, until it’s all the same.

Now, if you plug the refrigerator in, it all gets colder and eventually freezes. It becomes more organized and entropy goes down. But entropy cannot decrease. So what happened?

The electricity that makes the refrigerator work was made by burning coal in a power plant, and the total entropy (disorganization) in the universe went up because the burning of the coal created lots of entropy, more than offsetting the freezing of the tea. All organization — all work — is bought at the price of greater entropy somewhere else.

Just so, in making memories, your brain creates organization. Some molecules are created that store the memory. Organization goes up. Entropy goes down. But the energy to do this came from your breakfast, which has become vastly less organized! The universe — on the whole — has become less organized and entropy has — on the whole — gone up.

Therefore, memory can only go in one direction because entropy can only go in one direction — because you have to expend energy to make memories.

The universe has a beginning and can only wind down. Entropy must always go up. Memories always point toward the beginning.

Second theological point: (wait for it)

backwardsclock.jpgGod doesn’t live in this universe. And in heaven, the Second Law of Thermodynamics doesn’t prevail. God makes the laws. He’s not subject to the laws.

This is easily demonstrated by the fact that heaven lasts forever. If entropy were a problem, then heaven simply could not last that long. In the created universe, at some point entropy increases to its limit, and when that happens, the universe will be dead. Life (and the making of memories) will all end. No work will be possible. It’s a mathematical certainty. But not in heaven.

Therefore, God can remember the future. He’s made of different stuff that obeys different rules — and we have to be careful not to impose our limits on God when we think about God things.

Of course, remembering the future is just an odd way of saying seeing the future or knowing the future or foreknowing, right? But this is kind of cool, I think.

Cause and effect

quantum.jpgNow, remember the backwards film of the solar system? The film of the revolution of the planets can go forwards and backwards equally well because there’s no change in entropy as they move. They don’t need motors to go. It’s all inertia. Where no energy has to be expended for something to happen, without a watch, you can’t distinguish cause and effect.

In this universe, we tell the difference between cause and effect by time. Cause comes before effect. Physicists see things a bit differently: the cause has less entropy than the effect. Doing work to make something happen requires the use of energy, which increases entropy. Cause is only before effect because, almost always, effects require the use of energy.

But in a world where the Second Law of Thermodynamics has no effect, effect can precede cause.

(Many physicists think this is true in this world in certain quantum (subatomic) reactions. Quantum mechanics often involve no work (expenditure of energy) and hence aren’t restrained by entropy. And they are reversible until they increase entropy.)

Third theological conclusion — God can make effects occur before the cause

Therefore, in heaven, if God wants it to be true, an effect may be before the cause. Why not? Weird? Yes. But not that weird. It’s just that God’s made of different stuff.

But this shouldn’t be surprising. He forgave sins long before the death of Jesus by the power of that death.

(Heb 9:15) For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Nothing says the sins were “rolled forward.” Rather, scores of passages speak of sins being forgiven before Pentecost. Jesus forgave sins while he walked the earth. John the Baptist’s baptism was for the “remission of sins.” Leviticus promises forgiveness right away.

The effect precedes the cause. But that’s okay. God isn’t governed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m an elder at the University Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (I'm on a leave of absence for health reasons.) I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to Searching for The Third Way: Baptism, Part 6

  1. Mark says:


    "God can make effects occur before the cause "

    I'm thinking on this one it could explain a lot…..a couple of questions is our present history prophetic? And does our restoration roots fit in our present day eschatology?

  2. Jay Guin says:


    Churches of Christ have normally shied away from eschatology. We rejected premillennialism but largely left things vague: Jesus is coming back; when is God's secret.

    Campbell was a premillennialist (his papers was called the "Millennial Harbinger") but he considered the question too divisive and so rarely wrote or spoke on the subject.

    Combine that with Foy Wallace's attacks on premillennialism in the 1940s and we just never had much interest in the subject.

    While I personally have little interest in trying to predict the future via the Revelation, I do think there's a lot to be gained by studying the End and what happens later. Hence, my "Surprised by Hope" and "Surprised by Hell" series from this last summer.

  3. Todd says:

    Genesis 1 gives us a possible example of effect preceding cause – light comes first, the light sources later.

  4. mark says:

    "light comes first, the light sources later."
    very interestng

  5. Alan says:

    God told Abram he would bless him in Genesis 12, when Abram was 75 years old. But he didn't tell him why he chose Abram for the blessing. That didn't happen until several decades later, in Gen 22:

    Gen 22:16 and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,
    Gen 22:17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,
    Gen 22:18 and through your offspring [2] all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

    So God chose to bless Abram because he offered his son. The effect preceded the cause.

  6. David says:

    Science has proven that time is a physical dimension, just as height, width, and length. For instance, gravity affects time as does velocity. We don't limit God to being only "so wide" or "so high" so I think it is incorrect to limit Him in time, as you have said. That being so, I don't think it's as correct to say God remembers the past and knows the future as it is to say that He exists in our future and our past as much as He exists in our present. For us it would appear He is only remembering or forknowing, but that is because, as you stated, we are bound to time.

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