A view towards Bishopsteignton in mist. As the mist clears, everything becomes clearer

Diffficult Questions 5

Time, Eternity, Predestination -
What happens when I die?

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(For this study you will need the timeline dowel and also a thin flat piece of wood (1 x ½ inch or 5mm x 20mm approx.), as long as the dowel, and with the same divisions marked on it. You will also need some short, large headed nails, tacks or drawing pins.)

It’s high time we turned our attention to Time and Eternity, Predestination, Calvinism and Arminianism – and what happens when I die?

(Much of this study is taken from the study on John15(d))

Put ‘timeline’ dowel in the centre of the room.

Actually we have already touched on time and eternity. In one sense, we can find eternity simple to understand. We have already imagined ourselves as God, with no beginning and no end. Able to move around in eternity with no restrictions But time is really more difficult.

Time only exists for those living in a physical world. But our time only applies to the Earth. If you lived on Mars your day would be ½ hour longer, and you would have 23 months each year. And actually the speed that the Earth rotates is gradually slowing down giving us slightly more time in every second. This causes a problem with super-accurate atomic clocks and occasionally we have to have a leap-second to make up. Since 1972, 27 leap seconds have been added.

Philosophers and scientists have produced many ideas about time, but for us, all that matters is that we have very little of it. We are born, we live, and we die. And make hardly any impression on our timeline. (Pick it up and inspect it – look at a point at about where we are now.)

We know that the Earth started, and after a length of time it will end.

Now for a while we must try really hard to imagine we are God with no time constraints.

Here is our Earth timeline

As God you can spend as long as you like looking at any time in history and you know the end from the beginning. (Point to specific points on the dowel) Here is an opening flower bud. (Now indicate points on opposite sides) Here is a major natural disaster. Here is our study group.

Remember you are God: how much time can you spend looking at the flower bud as it opens?

God is eternal. He has unlimited time.

(Don’t rush through these questions)

Here is our study group. How much time – as God – can you spend with the group? Can you go with each member as we separate and go home?

Look at another spot on the dowel.

And all this while are you concerned about (Insert a topical disaster if there is one) this earthquake in Pakistan?

Now back to the 5th mark.

And the possible repercussions on world history of the Exodus?

Or he can be spending an eternity considering the potential consequences of granting a prayer from our next prayer meeting. But of course he already knows that prayer before it is spoken.

(Swap the dowel for the length of wood. If you can, place it flat on a table or the floor in the centre of the room)

This also represents the world but it’s a more convenient shape for what I want to do.

Now I want to add people. Representatives, sometimes single people, sometimes many thousands. But each of the people (nails/pins) I put on the stick are people at the time when they are just about to die. (Use short nails with flat large heads, or drawing pins. Stand them on their heads, point upwards)

Here is creation, and here is Adam.

(Stand the nail/pin on the wood at the beginning, then slide it towards the second mark)

He lived for 930 years and he is now at the end of his life.

At about 2500bc is the flood – many people are about to die here. (Add a few nails)

Here is Abraham (Add a nail and slide it towards the 4th mark) now about to die (2000bc). Here are the Israelites who have wandered in the desert, but who won’t be allowed into the Promised Land. (1500bc). (From here on, add some nails as appropriate)

Here is the imminent death of Saul and the start of David’s reign (1000bc).

Here are many about to die in exile (500bc).

Here is Christ on the cross, and next to him is the thief. (0)

Here around 2000ad is the period of world wars, Tsunamis, Earthquakes. Let’s add a representative sample.

And here is the very end of time with people still alive but shortly to die.

(If you want, you can mention that the last two divisions represent the final millennium – we don’t know when it starts, but we know on our timeline when it ends – and that is here: (indicate the end).)

Do you agree that as Almighty Eternal God you can have a view of the world like this? That you can see each of these individuals just as they are reaching the end of their lives? Can you also see the very end of the world too?

Remember this is a time line and now we can see not only the end of the world but also that point in time for every single individual when they are about to die. From Adam to the last person to walk on this Earth. When I said about to die, we are now seeing them just three seconds from death.

Three, two, one . . . tip the wood so the nails fall off, and take it away.

The world is no more but the people remain. Of course from an eternal perspective, there is no time. No time from Adam to the end of the World.

What next? Where are they now?

There is no Limbo, no ‘Waiting Room’.

They have all entered eternity to be with God forever. They have been transformed into their new, imperishable bodies. For those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, their hope is now certainty.

Read Revelation 20:11-12, 15

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.

12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Who decides whether we will be saved or not?

(Did we choose? Or were we already chosen? Or both?)

This brings us neatly to the whole question of predestination.

Read Ephesians1:4-14

4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.

Thrilling reading – but it introduces many more difficult questions!

It speaks about being chosen – for a plan and purpose.

It has also provided the source of many divisions in the church so it is important that we approach this subject with an open mind again, happy that others will have a view that is totally opposed to ours.

Also we need to heed the warning of Martin Luther who said:

‘Predestination is a mystery, which forbids the unprofitable intrusion of prying minds’.

Let’s look at some basic facts.

  1. God is creator
    • Out of nothing
    • By his will
    • For his purpose
    • For His glory
    • (Supporting verses: Gen 1v1; Ps 19v1-2; Ps 33v6,9; Is 43v7; Is 45v12; John 1v3; Acts 14v15; Acts 17v24-25; 1 Cor 8v6; Col 1v16; Heb 1v2; Heb 11v3; Rev 4v11; Rev 10v6)

  2. God is Eternal
    • Time cannot change God
    • Time can have no effect on God’s knowledge
    • He never learns new things or forgets things
    • He knows all things, past present and future
    • (Supporting verses: Ps 90v2-4; Job 36v26; John 8v58; 2 Pet 3v8; Rev 1v8; 1Sam 2v3; 1John 3v20)

  3. God is not part of creation
    • But creation is continually dependant on God
    • The Bible is the record of God’s involvement with his creation

  4. God is active in preserving his creation

    (Supporting verses: Job 12v10; Acts 17v25,28; Col 1v17 Heb 1v3; Eph 4v6; Ps 139v13; Ex 4v11; Ps 104v14; Mat 6v26-30; Ps 104v21, 27-30)

So far most Christians would have agreed. But from here on we find Christians diverging.

What do we mean by ‘active in preserving his creation’? Checking everything is more or less ok, giving us ‘laws of nature’ (Arminius), or forcing his will on every single thing that happens? (Calvin).

(Allow discussion but make sure no-one tries to force their opinion, and don’t offer your own. We will find that both are true and must be held in contention.)

I will have to stop this study here because we must take Calvinism and Arminianism together. We’ll do that next time.

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