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Peter and Einstein

This is an old "world wide cobweb" page, one of the first pages I wrote. Way back when I was young(ish). It was moved to this location September, 2008. To learn more about it read this article: End of an Era.

by Doug Craigen, PhD (physics)

Revision 1.0 - Feb. 9, 1996

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. -- II Peter 3:8

To someone familiar with Einstein's theories, the above quote has a certain ring of familiarity. Two observers can experience time in quite different fashion. The 'twin paradox' is a fairly well known example of this... send one twin off for a trip to the stars in a ship that travels at nearly the speed of light. When he returns, he finds his twin old and gray, even though he is still young and thinks that only a few days have passed. The faster the starship is, the greater the discrepancy in the time the two twins would experience. So if somebody took a one day round trip in a ship travelling at 99.99999999963% of the speed of light, then indeed a thousand years would have passed on the earth when they returned.

(I should note in passing here that this is all a reference to Special Relativity, and it would be quite difficult to find a physicist who believed it to be wrong. When you hear of disputes over whether Einstein was right, that is in reference to General Relativity. Special Relativity's predictions are easy to verify, such as with atomic clocks on jets, or the changing lifetime of sub-atomic particles when they travel at different speeds near the speed of light.)

So if the Lord is the Lord of both the starship twin and the earthbound twin, then He must be able to experience both time references. So He would have both, a thousand years would be like a day, and a day would be like a thousand years.

But is all this to say that Peter's point was a mundane mechanical description of what the Lord would be capable of. I don't think so. Relativity does much to stretch our understanding of what is possible in this universe, but the majority of Christians hold God to be transcendent, unrestricted by any bounds of this universe. He is simultaneously the Lord of every time and everywhere. To suggest that Peter is talking about relativity is to suggest that the Lord is restricted by the laws of the universe, and in that case He might be the God around here, but it'll take a few years for Him to even find out what's happening at the next star.

There is no obvious reason to think that Peter's point was anything but what he said it was in the surrounding verses - that people might get impatient waiting for the Lord, but the Lord has abundant patience... He is not bound by time the way we are.

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This reminds me of the very first Bible verse that ever struck me. I wasn't a believer at the time, I was reading the Bible out of curiosity, laying in bed relaxing. Then when I read the following, I sat bolt upright.

"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am. -- John 8:58"

Having read almost all through the Gospels I had seen a lot of claims of miracles, but here was something that really stood out! After this statement the Jews tried to stone him for claiming to be God. At the time I didn't know about the 'I AM' of the Old Testament, but Jesus claim above was still clearly a claim to transcendence. How could you talk in the present tense about a couple of thousand years in the past? The Jews had asked if he was claiming to be old enough to have seen Moses, but his answer went far beyond that, he pulled himself right out of our experience of space and time.