Infinities: Part 1, the Changelessness of God.

A recurring thought in Kierkegaard’s writing is the idea of the changelessness of God; an idea expressed succinctly by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews when he says: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever. He is the same to you and to me and to every other person in the world. Therefore, in that relationship between Him and me, there is only one variable: I am the only changeable part of the equation. The consequences of that relationship depend entirely on me. This can be good news or bad news

An example from Freshman Physics

Have you ever played billiards or pool? Because billiard balls have the same mass as each other, if you set one in motion, in exactly the right direction so that it collides, perfectly centered, on another stationary ball, the momentum transfer is perfect. The moving one stops dead and the one that was standing still suddenly continues in the path of the original one, same direction same speed.

But what happens if the stationary ball is heavier than the first one? Conservation of momentum and of energy must both happen at the same time. The result is that the heavier one moves but not as fast as in the first case, and the lighter one doesn’t stop dead, it recoils. In the limit, when the second one – the initially stationary one – is infinitely heavy, it will not move at all and the first one reflects back. It travels with the same speed it went in but in the opposite direction.

It is like when you bounce a rubber ball off a cement wall. Compared to the rubber ball, the wall is infinitely heavy. It itself will not move but – precisely because it is immoveable – it changes completely the trajectory of the incident ball– by 180 degrees.

The wall didn’t care at all about the collision. It remained immutable. And yet the ball is now going in the exact opposite direction from where it started.

Now, if you change the angle at which you throw the ball toward the wall, not head on but sideways, then the ball will still reflect but its angle will no longer be a 180-degree change. In the limit, if you threw the ball exactly grazing, parallel to the wall, it would go on unchanged as if the wall was not there.

The wall has become – what we call in Physics – a boundary condition. Before the wall was there, I could throw a ball in any direction toward that spot and it would just go on, carrying out the destiny I dictated for it. But once the wall is there, my power over that ball’s destiny has been drastically changed. What worked in that space before the wall was there, no longer works.

That is what boundary conditions do in Physics. Until you apply them to the problem at hand, practically any mathematical function could be used to describe the solution to the problem. But, once you apply the boundary conditions, only a very precise set of functions can be used to solve the problem. They are called the eigenfunctions.  The only solutions allowed are those that can be constructed from those eigenfunctions.

In Physics, the most powerful boundary conditions, those that most radically affect the form of the allowed functions, are those involving infinities… like the infinitely heavy wall. And in the same way that the immutability of that wall controls what happens to the ball that came into contact with it, depending on how it approached it, the changelessness of God controls what happens to us depending on how we come to Him.

The consequences of being in the presence of an Infinite God… are eternal

In his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul reminds him of the price he has paid for carrying out his mission, for preaching the Word of God:

2 Timothy 2:8-10 (NASB) Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned! For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.

Paul has paid a price. But that temporal price is worth it, because that Word of God opens the way of salvation to all who would listen, a prize that is eternal. Then, Paul sets the next thought in a kind of poem, or proverb; in a structure meant to be easy to remember for his son in the faith: 2 Timothy 2: 11-13 (NASB) The statement is trustworthy:

For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;

If we endure, we will also reign with Him;

If we deny Him, He will also deny us;

If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

The rendering into English is accurate but it suffers slightly in translation because in the Greek there is a repetition from the very beginning of the root of the word “to remain” or “endure” or “abide”, menw.

What I hear Paul saying is this:

If we have endured death with Him – like He endured death – then we will also live with Him – like He is alive right now.

If we have endured under persecution and hardship with Him – like He did – then we will also reign with Him – like He reigns above all things right now.

But if we deny Him (note how there is no “with Him” possible in this statement) then that same Him will deny us.

(There is a sense here of immediacy, like saying, what follows, follows automatically. Why?)

Because if we are faithless, He cannot be like us or with us… because He cannot stop being faithful; it is impossible for Him to deny Himself.

What happens to me, now and in eternity, is predicated on how I stand in this life in relationship to Him. If I remain with Him, then His perfect plan for my life unfolds in my life, automatically. But if I refuse to remain with Him, then, just as automatically, His plan cannot be part of my life.

Because He lives forever, because He reigns forever, because He is faithful forever, the way I live my temporal life with respect to each of those areas will be reflected in what happens after I die.

If I live for Him – even to the point that I lose my life for His sake – that temporal life gets folded into an eternal one. If I subject myself to His will and so become an enemy of the world – to the point that the world oppresses and persecutes me – then when that temporal life of humble service is done it will be folded into an eternal one where I am given the responsibility to reign. But if instead of living for Him, I deny Him, then I have chosen a temporal life that has no counterpart on the other side… for denial, faithlessness, cannot exist in His Kingdom.

From this viewpoint, it is almost like God is doing nothing.

Like that immovable wall, He doesn’t need to do anything because all that ever needed to be done, He has already done. The way of salvation has already been carved into the eternal rock of destiny. I reap what I sow. If I choose to align with His plan, then all His promises are Yes and Amen. But if I choose to reject it, then I condemn myself – there is no one else to blame.

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