I became a Doctor Who fan rather late in the game, (binge-) watching on Netflix a couple of years ago. I struggled through the first episode; I think it took me three tries to finish it. I couldn’t see what the big deal was: it was a goofy show with props and sets reminiscent of original Star Trek episodes. I persevered, however, and the hook was set. I missed the Ninth Doctor for a few episodes of Series Two, only to have David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor become my favorite. (Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor gave Tennant’s Tenth a surprising run for his money. The jury’s still out on Peter Capaldi.)
It’s not surprising from this first paragraph that Doctor Who has become one of my all-time favorite TV shows. I love “Blink,” with the Weeping Angels who remain immobile and stone as long as you look directly at them. It also has one of the timeless (pun intended!) quotes in it:
People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect. But actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey…stuff… (quoted in Christian Leithart’s superb essay in Thornbury and Bustard’s Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who, 25).
I love the pathos of “Vincent and the Doctor.” I love the truly excellent storytelling of “A Good Man Goes to War.” (Seriously, what an episode!)
The fascinating thing about my affinity for Doctor Who is that I have, for a long time, been unable to stomach pretty much any story that involves time travel. “I don’t do time travel,” I have often said. The paradoxes about changing the past and future, the impracticality of actually accomplishing such travel, and the naive way that most movies, shows, or stories deal with these things–usually by ignoring them outright–was just a bridge too far for me.
Of course, time travel is science fiction. Is it possible in real life, though? Will we one day build our own TARDISes (TARDISi? TARDii?)? Will we encounter an alien species who has?
My answer is no. I don’t think the Bible allows for such a thing as time travel, other than the one-moment-at-a-time pace God has decreed for us (we’ll talk relativity later. maybe.). I say no for two reasons: first, certain Bible passages seem to categorically deny the possibility; and two, overall Biblical theology would deny the possibility as well.
In this post, I’ll discuss God as the true Time Lord. In a second post, I’ll discuss our relationship to time. In a third post, I’ll address how the “theology of time” and shows like Doctor Who can still help us worship.
The One True Time Lord
One of the ways that God taunts the idols and their worshipers, showing that they are empty and powerless, is to point out that He alone can declare what has been in the past and what will be in the future:
“Submit your case,” says the LORD. “Present your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. “Let them [the idols] come and tell us what will happen. Tell us the past events, so that we may reflect on them and know the outcome, or tell us the future. Tell us the coming events, then we will know that you are gods. Indeed, do something good or bad, then we will be in awe when we see it. Look, you are nothing and your work is worthless. Anyone who chooses you is detestable” (Isaiah 41:21-24 CSB, emphasis added).
God determines not only where we live, but when we live, and we have no say in the matter:
From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live (Acts 17:26 CSB, emphasis added).
God is the one who establishes time and how we are to mark it:
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs for seasons and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14 CSB).
Joshua 10 relates the story of the Battle of Gilgal. Yahweh promises Joshua that Israel will be victorious. Joshua, believing that promise, prays for the sun to stand still to give them more time to finish the rout:
On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD in the presence of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
And the sun stood still
and the moon stopped
until the nation took vengeance on its enemies.
Isn’t this written in the book of Jashar?
So the sun stopped
in the middle of the sky
and delayed its setting
almost a full day.
There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD listened to a man, because the LORD fought for Israel (Joshua 10:12-14 CSB).
Notice that Joshua prayed (“Joshua spoke to the LORD”). Joshua wasn’t able to make more time in the day, but Yahweh Almighty could.
God’s testimony is that of filling time, and yet living beyond it as well:
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;
your rule is for all generations (Psalm 145:13a CSB).
“And as for the dead being raised—haven’t you read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush [Exodus 3], how God said to him: I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are badly mistaken” (Mark 12:26-27 CSB).
Lord, you have been our refuge
in every generation.
Before the mountains were born,
before you gave birth to the earth and the world,
from eternity to eternity, you are God. …
For in your sight a thousand years
are like yesterday that passes by,
like a few hours of the night (Psalm 90:1-2, 4 CSB).
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.”
The Jews replied, “You aren’t fifty years old yet, and you’ve seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:56-58 CSB).
In these passages (and many more), God is not bound by time as we are. He fills it, His reign extends for all of time, but He is not limited by its progression as we are.
The point of all this is to provoke a holy “Whoa….” from us. Time is not a factor of concern for God. Psalm 121 tells us that He never gets tired. God never has to rush. He never has to worry about being late or getting everything done in a day. His schedule is never overbooked. He is completely, joyfully, gladly sovereign all the time. And beyond time. (You know what I mean.)
This also means that we never have to worry about God needing to “squeeze us in” between appointments. We’re never “penciled in” on God’s schedule. He is never rushing past us to get to something “more important.” To Him, there’s no such thing.
In fact, God’s “slowness” as it seems to us in time is actually His immense kindness:
Dear friends, don’t overlook this one fact: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9 CSB).
Don’t blink. Bask in the glory of the One who is I AM, beyond and filling time!