Deep Time

 January 1, 1970

The founder and publisher of the online science salon, John Brockman, wanted to know what scientific concepts would improve humanities cognitive toolkit. He wanted to know which scientific concepts should join the ranks of “market,” “placebo,” “random sample,” and “naturalistic fallacy” in making a difference in our everyday lives. Martin Rees, (President emeritus, the Royal Society; professor of cosmology & astrophysics; master, Trinity College, University of Cambridge) ventured the understanding of “Deep Time” and the “Far Future”


Evidence that the first century-church expected Jesus to return in a “very short time” and in “the near future” is finger printed all over the New Testament. Most incriminating of all evidence is the idea that Jesus’ closest disciples began to rethink their understanding of his return travel itinerary before the close of the apostolic period. Arguably nearing the end of his life, Simon Peter, wrote a second letter that seemed to address the issue; “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like on day.” Peter was trying to persuade the church or maybe just himself that they needed to extend their time horizons. That they needed a deeper and wider awareness that far more time lay ahead than had elapsed up until then.


This is not entirely different than “Deep Time” presented by Martin Rees who argued if we could come to understand that our present biosphere is the outcome of about 4 billion years of evolution, and we can trace cosmic history right back to about 13.7 billion years ago, if we could not only grasp the stupendous time spans of the evolutionary past but also the immense time horizons that stretch ahead we would be the better off.


Last week my friend Darrel wrote; “Writers of the New Testament wrote as though in a sprint against Christ’s return. 2000 years plus  and it’s a marathon. Should that not impact our orthopraxy?”


While there is no justifiable denying of the fact that a belief in a “very short time” or “near future” return of Jesus did not (expansion of first century church) or does not (expansion of the 20-21st century pentecostalism) engender activity. Much of it good. Though the same could be said of positive short term gains with steroid use in professional athletes. Within “Short Time” we are left scrambling, hurrying, rushing and worst of all time is treated like a non-renewable resource which we trade like oil and water in the apocalypse waste land of Mad Max or science fiction landscape of Justin Timberlake. Locating ourselves within the “Deep Time” of Christ or the universe doing the opposite of leaving us intimidated by the vastness of both we are liberated to live thoughtful, present lives and lives to the full.


Like an injection of Human Growth Hormones Christ could have used “very short time” language to incite a flurry of activity in his followers but instead he chose to prepare them without using that type of hurry and crisis language so common in election campaigns. For the health of his church and followers he welcomed them into “deep time” to the point where people accused him of being lazy. Eugene Peterson;


“A kind of intimacy develops naturally when men and women walk and talk together, with no immediate agenda or assigned task except eventually getting to their destination and taking their time to do it.”


Not only will our cognitive toolkit be improved but a kind of wholeness will be available to us when we come to understand that our sun is less than halfway through its life. It formed 4.5 billion years ago, but it’s got 6 billion more years before the fuel runs out. It will then flare up, engulfing the inner planets and vaporizing any life that might then remain on Earth. But even after the sun’s demise, the expanding universe will continue, perhaps forever. That, at least according to Martin Rees, is the best long-range forecast. Who knows.


Not only will our cognitive toolkit be improved but a kind of intentionality on this life, here and now, will be available to us when we come to understand that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like on day.”