Text: 2 Peter 3:8-14 W 2nd Sunday in Advent
Theories of Relativity
In the name of him whose Word stands forever, dear friends in Christ: until very recently in human history there were two things that were considered by all to be absolute. No, I’m not referring to death and taxes – those are the things that are said to be certain, not absolute; and the fact is that they’re not so certain. I mean, there are people who manage to go through life without ever paying a cent in taxes, and the Bible gives us at least two examples of men who escaped death and were translated directly into heaven. In addition to those two, an entire generation of Christians will escape death because they’ll be alive when Jesus comes again. They’ll be received into glory without ever having tasted physical death. So while it may be said that death and taxes apply to most people, they are not certain nor are they absolute.
No, when I speak of absolutes, I mean things that are fixed, constant, and unchangeable. They are (or rather were) unmovable points of reference by which we could understand the reality in which we live. One of these absolutes was time. It was taken for granted that time marches ahead at a steady pace. A second is a second is a second no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Everyone everywhere was believed to experience the passage of time at exactly the same rate. Oh, it may not always have seemed like that to an actual observer. For example, to a school child the last two weeks of summer vacation whip by in a blur. The two weeks before Christmas, on the other hand, can drag on for what seems to be an eternity. Adults too experience time at what seems to be different rates. Consider the difference between the fifteen minutes you’ve got before the alarm clock goes off when you haven’t had enough sleep and you have to get up and go to work, and say the fifteen minutes it takes for the dentist to prepare your tooth for a filling, or even the fifteen minutes it takes for me to preach a sermon. Those minutes sure do seem to pass by at different rates; but they are all in fact exactly the same amount of time.
At least, that’s what we used to
think. Now we know better. Thanks to Einstein we know that the passage
of time is relative. It really does depend on where an observer is
and what he’s doing. And doubtlessly
some of you are thinking, “Ah-hah, I knew it!
Whenever he stands up and starts to preach we enter a time warp and the
clock just stands still.” But no, that’s
not right. However, what is true is that
for someone who is undergoing acceleration to a great speed such as might be
used for space travel or for someone who is in a very strong gravitational
field time will tick away at a slower rate than it does for someone who is
stationary or in a comparatively weak gravitational field. Believe it or not, because of this a second
lasts a tiny bit longer at the bottom of
The other thing that everyone used to think was absolute is truth. It was held by all that some statements are universally true and others are always false. Someone could say, “God created the heavens and the earth in six days; he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior from sin; and those who believe in him have life in his name”, and someone else might say, “No, God is a three-headed monster who lives on Mars, and to worship him we ought to sacrifice cabbages”, and we could evaluate those statements on their own merit and say either true or false.
But that’s not the way it is in our present, enlightened “post-modern” age. Now it’s widely held that truth is relative to the individual. That is, each person holds the power to determine what is true or false for themselves – indeed, each person is able to define their own reality to be whatever they want it to be. So you cannot possibly say to anyone, “No, what you believe is wrong” because (besides showing how boorish and unenlightened you are) they’ll immediately come back with, “Well, it may not be true to you; but it is true to me.”
This is especially the case with respect to morality and ethics – the basic questions of right and wrong. Formerly it was naturally assumed that there existed an absolute standard for determining what is good and what is evil, and for deciding what is just or unjust. That’s no longer the case. These days the world operates under a theory of special relativity with respect to morality. There are no rules. What’s good is what I think is good for me. And so no one has the right to say otherwise. Take abortion. You call it infanticide, and maybe it is to you; but someone else calls it “the freedom to choose” or perhaps “family planning”, and that’s what it is to them. You might choose to define marriage by those old, stuffy, narrow-minded, traditional restrictions. Okay, go ahead. You can do that because that’s what it is to you. But don’t you dare try to impose your restrictions on a liberated freethinker to whom the term marriage is a lot more broad and flexible. These days you’ve simply got to understand that truth is relative.
At least, that’s the way most people think – and if they’re in the majority, how could they possibly be wrong? Who’s to tell them otherwise? Whose version of truth can be said to be any better than any other’s?
Um … the Lord’s, maybe? The Lord God who called the heavens and earth into existence by his mighty Word, who separated the light from darkness and the dry land from the sea, who brought forth the plants and animals, and who made mankind in his own image – all by the power of his spoken Word – you suppose that maybe, just maybe, he who spoke reality into existence and preserves it still today might have something else to say that could be regarded as universally and absolutely true? Well, I think so; but that, as they say, is just one guy’s opinion. What’s vastly more important is that the Lord thinks so, and he’s the one guy with the power to have reality jump to attention and conform itself to whatever he says.
And what he says in today’s Epistle is quite interesting. There we learn that time really is relative. To the Lord a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as a day. From his perspective they are the same thing – and he didn’t need a brilliant thinker like Einstein to tell him so. He knows all about time because he created it. And billion years ago and a billion years from now, he knows all about them too because he’s there both in the past and in the future and here in the present right now even as I speak. Scientists and physicists ponder over the possibility of one day learning to travel through time; for goodness sake, the Lord is doing it continuously without ever going anywhere because all of time exists within him. You’d better believe that he knows time is relative. It’s relates to us; but not to him.
What isn’t relative, though, is his truth. It’s non-negotiable, non-changing, and not subject to creative interpretation. God’s truth is absolute and stands forever. And what’s absolutely true is that there is coming a day when this world that exists by the power of God’s Word will by that same Word come to an end. Suddenly, unexpectedly, taking us unaware like a thief in the night, the Lord will declare, “Time’s up.” And the heavens will pass away with a roar, the celestial bodies will burn up and be gone in an instant, and the earth and everything in it – and all that has been done on it – will be exposed.
And there will be a judgment: not according to the standards of right and wrong that people have created for themselves with their fanciful and self-justifying imaginations; but according to the unbending, immutable, absolute standards of God’s holy Law. Then those who thought they could make their own truth simply by declaring it to be so will be faced with the hard reality that they were claiming to do what only the Lord can – that is, speak and make it be. Then it will be shown that by their words and actions they were in fact claiming to be God. And at that point, the Lord is going to eliminate the competition once and for all. Along with other notable personalities who reached high above their station and tried to claim divine prerogatives, Satan for one, they will be consigned forever to the place created for those who thought that truth is relative.
And that, says the Lord, is absolutely true. The question is: how does this truth relate to you? It’s something worth examining. Sure, no one here is likely to defend abortion as merely a personal choice; nor is anyone likely to speak in behalf of marriage as being something other than a permanent commitment between one man and one woman. These are egregious examples drawn from our current culture that show how far people are willing to go to redefine their own relative truth over and against the absolute truth of God. But I think we ought to look a little closer to home and consider how we might be doing the same thing. With respect to theology, for example, how absolute do you hold to be God’s truth that you say you believe – and how willing might you be to compromise on it – or a part of it – if you thought it might be to your advantage? Your faith in Christ, is it worth fighting for? Is it worth losing friends over? Is it worth dying for? On what part of the truth might you be willing to bend a bit for the sake of peace, friendship, or security?
Or what about questions of morality? Is your view on God’s Law the same as his, or have you taken it upon yourself to excuse or pardon certain behaviors in yourself or perhaps in others? “I don’t see what the big deal is.” “Oh, you know how people are.” “Everybody’s doing it.” “Hey, it’s only once in a while.” And, “It’s okay as long as no one finds out.” In what ways have you made relative what God declares absolute?
This is an absolutely serious issue. We’re talking the First Commandment here: “You shall have no gods before me.” When we take it upon ourselves to make relative God’s truth, that’s exactly what we’re doing in the worst sort of way. We’re playing at being God. You’re setting up yourself as his competition. And guess what: not only does he not like it; it’s a game you can’t win. Absolutely not.
Fortunately for us the same Lord who spoke the truth that condemns us is he who speaks the promise by which we are redeemed and saved. And he did more than speak the promise; he himself fulfilled it for us. In the person of God’s Son, he who is eternal and who transcends the physical universe entered time and space and made himself subject to our reality. And in so doing, he who is unchanging changed the nature of reality itself. He made what related to us – birth and growing up, eating and sleeping, sorrowing and suffering, and most of all the absolute Law of God, his judgment against our sin, and the eternal death we deserve – he made it all relate to him. Suffering and dying on the cross in our place he prepared a way for us to escape the coming destruction by making what relates to him, namely his righteous life, apply to us.
And now he calls us to enter that way of escape by repentance – by renouncing our sin, and chiefly today, the sin of playing at being God by making relative what he has declared absolute. I urge you to examine your own life and behavior to determine how you may be guilty of this. And seeing it, I call upon you to repent with me – because I know I’m guilty – and to receive once again the absolute assurance of God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus his Son.
Then, forgiven and restored, I invite you to think about how that though God’s Word is absolute, time is still relative. And it is relative especially to us: the people who have been redeemed through faith in God’s truth. Think about it. Against the backdrop of eternity, the few years we have in this world are a short time indeed. Why, in a few hundred millions years, you’ll hardly think of a present human lifetime as a drop in the bucket. And yet for each person living, it’s on this short span of years that eternity depends. That makes these years – this time we have now – relatively much more important than any time to come.
The Lord is using this time to call sinners to repentance because it’s not his desire that any be lost. May we too use the time wisely, first to ensure that we walk consistently in the path of repentance and faith in Christ, and secondly that we use the relatively short and precious time we have to share God’s absolute truth with others that they too may escape destruction and live forever. In Jesus name. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!