For reasons unfathomable [OK, I was reading one of Tim Chaffey's Truth Chronicles novels], I found myself thinking about time travel the other day. Whether it has occurred to you or not, time travel is a bit tricky to deal with in a Christian novel. Why? Because whether we’re dealing with the past or future, we [as writers] must take into account God’s sovereignty.
When dealing with the future, we must make sure we are taking into account as-yet-unfulfilled Bible prophecy even if our story does not deal with those events. For example, you cannot write a novel in which the future Earth is destroyed and mankind moves to the stars because Bible prophecy tells us that Israel and the Middle East play important roles in the End of Days. To give another example, if you travel to a future where mankind has colonized other planets, you might want to ask yourself what Christ’s Return would look like across space and time! I mean, what does Jesus splitting the Easter sky look like on another planet, on the Moon or even on an orbital space station?
We can also ask ourselves how far God would allow us to travel into the future. It stands to reason that the period in which there is no more sorrow, nor tears, nor dying would be off-limits to sinful humanity simply because the time traveller’s intrusion would change that state of affairs instantly!
Of course, we have much more leeway with future time travel than we do forays into the past; that is, we can account for future prophecy events in our storytelling with a bit of creativity because these events have not actually happened yet, whereas history is set in stone.
As a creationist, it occurs to me that certain types of time travel into the past are pretty much off-limits where the Christian novelist is concerned. For starters, one could never go back millions of years because time itself only began about 6,000 years ago [give or take a century or two]. One cannot time travel beyond time. Time is the highway a time traveller journeys upon. He is bound by its limitations. So the furthest we could conceivably go back would be the beginning of time itself.
I’ve wondered if we could go back and see the days of Creation. This seems like a tantalizing possibility at first, but then we realize that God declares each day “good” at its terminus and “very good” at the end of the seventh day. The presence of sinful time travellers [even if they were noncorporeal and could not interact with the environment physically] would forbid such a declaration. We also have to note that sinful man is prevented from entering Eden by seraphim. It would not be unwarranted to suggest that this also prevents time travellers from entering Eden. Man fall then would act as a space-time barrier for the time traveller. If you wanted to use time travel to see the days of creation, you would be limited to some sort of technology that allows you to see into the past without being there.
What about the post-Edenic pre-Flood world? Nothing revealed in Scripture really prevents a person from going back to that time, so now we move on to whether we can affect the course of history. Three related issues naturally concern us: the butterfly effect, paradox and alternate histories. The butterfly effect is the idea that the wind off a butterfly’s wing in New York can lead to a tsunami in Tokyo. When applied to time, it is often connected to evolutionary ideas. For example, Ray Bradbury wrote a short story called “A Sound of Thunder” in which a time-travelling big game hunter named Eckels steps on a butterfly in an evolutionist’s fictional “age of the dinosaurs,” resulting in changes in an election, everyday behavior and even the way words are spelled. Even when unconnected to evolutionary ideas, the butterfly effect suggests that minor actions in the past can have significant effects on the future. For example, imagine our time machine lands on some poor soul in the tradition of Frank Baum’s Dorothy Gale and this leads to Hitler’s Germany winning WWII instead of the Allies. We have just created an alternate history, a mainstay of sci-fi popularized in the TV series, Sliders. Unfortunately, this sort of butterfly effect infringes upon God’s sovereignty. The Bible paints a picture of God orchestrating the major events of history for His purposes. If major world events change as a result of a time traveller’s interaction with the past, as entertaining or instructive as such a story may be, we nonetheless have left a Biblical basis for our writing. The concept of alternate histories or multiverses is an evolutionary concept that suggests that our timeline is but one of an infinite number of timelines of an infinite number of universes. Stephen Hawking has presented the multiverse hypothesis as a way of having our fine-tuned universe without having to bow the knee and admit to a Creator as a necessary Being. It’s his way of having a beginning to the universe without having to admit to a supernatural uncaused First Cause.
As I said, multiverses and alternate histories infringe upon God’s sovereignty for it suggests that things did not have to pan out according to God’s will. In fact, it should be noted that the time traveller will find himself prevented from changing the immutable past. At the worst extreme, he may find his dog or donkey warning him that the path he’s chosen ends with an angel killing him before he reaches his destination! We suggest he won’t even come close to disrupting history in even minor details. If God allows time travel, He will in His sovereignty account for the time traveller’s actions in the unveiling of history as we know it. Which discovery could be a story unto itself!
Now we should say that interacting with the fallen pre-Flood world wouldn’t have much effect on the modern world anyway, as every living creature died upon the face of the earth in whose nostrils was the breath of life when the Flood came, except Noah and his family. Humanity of the pre-Flood world are more or less ”dead men walking” from a practical sci-fi standpoint. It should be said that extracting a fallen person from the pre-Flood world should be impossible from the standpoint of God’s sovereignty. If they chose to ignore God’s warning and find safety in the Ark, there’s no reason to presume they merely prefered a time machine instead.
We should also be careful to avoid paradox. For example, imagine what would happen if God allowed a time traveller to kill Noah before his first child was born. This would create a paradox in which the time traveller [a descendant of Noah, as we all are] prevented the building of the Ark which allowed humanity to continue on to produce the time traveller. As stated, I do not think God in His sovereignty would allow such a thing to happen. But this brings up an important point. If God allows time travel and accounts for the time traveller’s actions in His sovereign plan, we can also assume that God will not allow the time traveller to go back and prevent his own birth or the invention of the time machine or a particular time travel episode, etc. In other words, what’s done is done.
Writing a time travel novel with God’s revealed sovereignty in mind would be challenging to say the least, especially if the time traveller makes more than one foray into a particular time frame, but the reward is well worth the effort of the extra consideration required.
If you have any thoughts on time travel in Christian sci-fi, I’d like to here them.
Author of the up-coming superhero sci-fi novel, Johnny Came Home.