Thoughts on Bonhoeffer, Angels, Ants, and Time Travel

January 12, 2015 — Leave A Comment

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“To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

How strange the world is. I’m currently reading Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, and it’s such a peculiar miracle to me that through these writings, which I know he penned while sitting in a cell in Nazi Germany in 1943 (over 70 years ago), I can so easily join him there and become a voyeur to his experience. Writing, I’ve always maintained, is one of the greatest forms of magic there is in the world. And there is magic everywhere.

It’s curious, too, to sample Dietrich’s mind in this way, and through his notes and letters, catch some glimpse of how he perceived the world. Our minds are such small windows on the universe in the end. We each experience only slivers of what is here…but we are quick to believe what we see is really all there is.

As a kid I would sometimes find a line of ants marching through the dirt. I knew they followed a chemical trail, so for fun I would draw my finger across their path to unsettle it, then marvel at the chaos that would follow as ant after ant would suddenly become utterly lost and confused, having come upon my finger’s mark in the sand and be unable to see their chemical trail continued a mere half-inch away.

I wonder if this is how we must seem to the angels, for just as the ants are locked inside the arrow of their chemical trail, so we are locked inside the arrow of time.

I can read Bonhoeffer and experience it as a kind of magic, a looking glass into a time in the past before I was alive. But what a limiting thing it is to be bound in time in this way. Surely the angels, and maybe even other beings God has made, do not experience time as an arrow, but as the 3-dimensional entity it is.

I understand what it means to move forward and backward in time. But what is it like to move up & down in time, or side to side?

Someday, when I reach heaven, I should like to find out.

Michael Warden

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