On Time and Eternity: Going to Grandma’s House

I remember when I was a kid going to visit my grandparents in Carthage, Tennessee. My parents would load us up into the ’75 Pontiac and make the 55-mile drive to my grandparents’ house.  This was before the days of cellphones, tablets, and in-car entertainment systems.  I was usually left my own devices. Staring out the window at the passing cows and the rolling hills of middle Tennessee was abject torture for a 10-year-old. I was sooooo bored, and the drive seemed to take forever! In reality, even at the unbelievably slow, gas saving, 55 m.p.h. interstate speed, the drive only took about an hour.  I’m pretty sure that every kid had this perspective growing up. Math class, waiting in line at the grocery store, the drive to grandma’s house, and pretty much any other unpleasant event seemed to drag on for an eternity.

Even as a young adult, I experienced this passage of time during certain events. When I was in Army Basic Combat Training at Fort Dix, New Jersey in the winter of 1990-1991, we took our final physical fitness test (PFT) shortly before graduation. The PFT consisted of as doing many pushups and sit ups you could do in 2 minutes, then a timed 2-mile run. I was never a fast running, but I could go for long distances at a more moderate pace. But for the 2-mile run, I really had to push myself to make the required time. At about the 1-mile mark, I hit a wall. Anyone who has ever run knows that feeling. Your lungs are burning, you get a “stitch” in your side, your heart is pounding, and you feel like you’re about to die. I recall thinking that this was the most painful thing I had ever done, and I thought the pain would never end. I eventually crashed through the wall, got a surge of endorphins, and I finished the run at just a bit over 15 minutes—a respectable and (more importantly) passing time. My physical anguish really only lasted for maybe 10 minutes.

Recently, I got to thinking about how we view time, particularly with respect to painful events. As a kid, time seemed to drag on for an eternity. As a young adult, certain events felt like they were long and arduous. But as I’m rapidly approaching half a century old, I’m starting to realize how short life really is. In fact, as I grow older, time seems to be moving at an accelerated pace.

This perception is actually borne out by science. As we age, time really does seem to go faster. A 2016 study published in the Brazilian Journal Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria (Archives of Neuro-Psychiatry) actually revealed this. A group of researchers asked individuals of different age groups to close their eyes and mentally count the passing of 120 seconds. What the researchers found was the mean time of counting two minutes for people from ages 15-29 was 114.9 seconds, those 30-49 had a mean time of 96 seconds, and those 50 to 89 had a mean time of 86.6 seconds. The researchers’ conclusions showed that “mental calculations of 120 [seconds] were shortened by an average of 24.6% in individuals over age 50 years compared to individuals under age 30 years” (Ferreira, et al., Time perception and age, Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria. 2016;74(4):299-302).

If the Christian world-view is true, then this life we are currently living isn’t the end of our existence. When we die, our conscious existence (i.e.: our soul) will continue in the afterlife (and as Christian’s believe, in the presence of God if you have accepted His rescue plan and placed your trust in Jesus of Nazareth—but that’s a different topic). So if our lives do continue on, how much more quickly will time seem to pass when we exist in an everlasting state of affairs? Moreover, what will our perception be of painful events in this life? I suspect they will seem extremely short–likely even inconsequential. When I look back on the miserable drive to grandma’s house or the pain of my first timed 2-mile run, these events seem trivial to me today. Even other painful events in the past don’t really seem that bad to me now. I expect this perception will be even more profound in heaven.

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes, “For this light and momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17, ESV). James, the brother of Jesus, writes, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14, ESV).

I’m not necessarily making an argument for the Christian world-view; but what I am saying is on the Christian world-view, the pain and suffering of this life will seem trivial compared to our experience of time in the afterlife. And while we cannot fully comprehend that now, we can see a glimpse of what that will be like as we grow older in this life. This is at least something to think about when one complains about God “allowing” pain and suffering in this world.