A sage once said to me, God does not suspend nor set aside his laws to affect miracles. He put the creation in motion with the laws he would need, and the laws serve his glory. Just as we can see birds fly, we know laws exist to govern flight. We can access those laws and leverage flight.
I kept that thought in my heart for many years. As I approached the subject of time travel, this arose again, but in different form. Just as we see people in the Bible folding time or traveling through it, we can know time travel is possible, and the laws already exist to govern it. Could we ever access those laws? If we did, our actions would have to dovetail with the rest of the laws. We can’t break God’s immutable physical laws.
The Time Traveler’s World has a thematic verse:
Ecc 3:15 “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.”
Think a bit about the profundity of this verse concerning God’s establishment of time:
That which hath been is now – Does this mean history repeats itself, or that a theme of “already happened” is always in play? The Bible says “there is nothing new under the sun”. We hear “times change, people don’t.” Do the past and present fold together as one? If this is true, it’s always true. In other words, we are living in history yet-to-be. What is happening now will be history, so what is happening now is also in the future. Think “already happened.”
and that which is to be hath already been – Does this mean the events of the future have “already happened” – at least to God, who is every-where and every-when, all of Earth’s history has come to pass, even what’s in the future? Does this mean a person can go into the future and change things, or change things in the present to affect the future? Of course, to a degree.
Moreover, it means the foretold events of Scripture are immutable. No human can thwart their arrival.
and God requireth that which is past – Does this mean all of history is etched in stone? God says we will account for every idle word, thought, deed, etc. Everything is recorded. Does this mean a person cannot travel into the past and expect the past to accommodate him? I would suggest a person would be accommodated, if only we had access to the laws governing time travel. Or rather, if a person has traveled into the past, but hasn’t traveled yet, the person doesn’t have the option to back out of the trip, because it’s “already happened.”.
In the book, once Marcus is in the tour, he’s informed of the tour’s itinerary, and wants it to stop. The problem is, he’s already affected history with his presence, so he can’t opt-out.
If we regard the future events as foretold, as already having happened to the prophets who foretold them, then they are part of “someone’s past” and God will require them. They are significant.
From this verse, we can derive some additional profound truths about time, which I formalized into laws. These govern the boundaries of what the characters can (or can’t) do.
Recall in the Disney animated film Aladdin, the Genie had rules. He couldn’t make someone fall in love. He couldn’t raise someone from the dead. He couldn’t kill, and no wishing for more wishes. These rules guided the storyline and required Aladdin’s ingenuity to win the day.
Another case is the original Toy Story from Pixar, where Woody gathers the toys to take revenge on Sid. He says “we’ll have to break a few rules”. But “can” toys break the rules on their own? In every scene where a human shows up, they “strike a pose” as though they have no choice. When Woody breaks these rules – the most obvious one, he turns his head around and says “so play nice” – Sid has an emotional/mental break because the veil on one world has been breached.
There is a veil between the spiritual realm and the physical realm. Beings crossing this boundary have a responsibility to reduce mayhem, and say so. When angels encounter humans, they say “Fear not”, because the encounter could cause a mental breach.
The same is true for the Time Traveler’s World – it is separated from the normal physical world, but unlike Woody, the travelers don’t have the ability to arbitrarily break the rules.
In fiction, these rule-based scenarios are common in movies and literature (Monkey’s Paw, Superman, etc.) but are used in strange ways in time travel stories. We expect time to behave a certain way, but if we have control over time, it bends to our will, not the other way around.
“God is not mocked…” (Gal 6:7)
This is an important factor, that the rules are in place for a reason above the time travelers, and they are still subject to a Sovereign owner of the Creation. Breaking the rules, for purposes of fictional license, just to solve a problem in the fictional storyline, mocks the rules. It’s also a lazy way around the problem in a creative sense. so the author bears the responsibility to stay inside the rules and solve the problem in a creative way that also satisfies the reader.
If our Story World is to be immersed in Scriptural truth, we don’t have license to allow any-old-activity in time travel. It purposefully constrains the traveler’s activity such that a paradox is prohibited (can’t go back in time to kill your own grandfather). And the travelers can’t say “just this once” as a rescue device.
Each traveler is warned – don’t mess with the rules. They might backfire on you. The rules are embodied in “the Timeline”, the strange, structural data source that is plumbed by the machine to affect the traveler’s journey. The Timeline governs what is available and what is not, and sometimes acts as though it has a mind of its own.
If the traveler violates the rules, the Timeline will automatically bounce the traveler back to “home time”, or the Timeline may affect circumstances to avoid a paradox.
A hard-and-fast rule, is that the technology can’t be used in front of someone who isn’t already aware of its existence. This includes the spirit world, of the evil spirits. The angelics are aware of God’s rules, and use them to fold space, and are also privy to the laws for time. The evil spirits are unaware that human beings have harnessed time travel until the day it happens. This means the Timeline will not allow a human to use the technology in the presence of a spirit prior to this time. If they go back in time, they may find themselves constrained, depending on who is watching or aware of their activities.
Laws of Human Time Travel
Law One – The time traveler is unable to affect significant events anywhere in the Timeline.
In David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself, the traveler goes back in time to kill Jesus Christ, and then into the future to test its effect. He doesn’t like the world without Christ, so goes back in time to stop himself. The obvious problem with this – is paradox. If I’m about to shoot Christ, and then stop myself, why would I stop myself if I hadn’t already shot him and realized the consequence? Moreover, there has to be a rule constraining the changing of significant events and persons, both in the past and the future. As nobody will be able to kill Christ before a time of Christ’s choosing, clearly a rule affects this.
What of the Rapture? The Great White Throne? The presence of the Antichrist / son of perdition? What if a person could foresee the Antichrist’s identity and kill him before he rises to power? According to Law One, this would be impossible. The advent and demise of the Antichrist are foretold, and are significant.
On the other hand, whether it is sunny tomorrow at noon might be significant to some, but not to others. The point being, “significance” on one hand has a strong meaning, but on the other hand is quite subjective and circumstantial.
Law Two – The time traveler may arbitrarily affect insignificant events anywhere in the Timeline, except where such activity violates the first law.
A conundrum of “predestination” is the idea that God already knows what’s about to happen, so why bother? Nihilism, fatalism, and other “isms” dealing with fate, all presume the human’s role is futile. Our decisions are meaningless, and our actions cannot affect anything. This is simply not true.
God interacts with individuals in Scripture with the clear context of affecting the future. God gave humans the capacity to reason, and whether one agrees with “free will” or not, clearly humans have an independent decision-making capacity. Imagine, your spouse loves you because of a hypnosis program. They do and say everything you want, all the time. This is not genuine love, because the spouse is a robot. Genuine love is when a person is loyal because they want to be loyal – it’s internalized.
All that said, God says “my strength is made perfect in weakness” – another thematic verse of the time travelers. “Confound the wise”, “foolishness of preaching” and various other sentiments, means God uses the weak, mundane, insignificant, to bring about extraordinary change.
The time travelers learn they can’t always affect something big, but they can do simple things, or multiple simple things, such as solve a larger problem with its component parts (yes, algebraically!) – but the answer is always in the simplicity, not the complexity.
In my own industry, I’ve learned that “standardizing on simplification” is one sure way to success. Simplification is hard, but when we make things simple for others, we provide a valuable service. In one instance, several of us set up a church-wide passion play for Easter, and worked hard, and diligently, in the background to make it simple for even children to participate in it. Before the curtain rose, over half the church was involved in the play. Involved in telling the Greatest Story Ever Told. Isn’t that where we want to be?
Law Three – The time traveler is free to visit anywhere in the Timeline as a common tourist, except where such activity violates the first two laws.
This simply means the timeline of history will accommodate the travelers as long as they play by the rules. The Timeline is intolerant of rulebreakers just as God is intolerant. There’s a big difference however, in that God offers grace and patience to rulebreakers, but the Timeline does not. Just as physics and chemistry follow lockstep, immutable laws, the laws of the Timeline will accommodate to a point (grace) beyond which it will act without the permission or control of the travelers.
Law Four – The Timeline will automatically enforce Law One, and accommodate (or self-correct for) Law Two.
As noted in Law Three, the Timeline offers grace as long as the travelers “play nice”, but when the travelers attempt (or inadvertently stumble into) a violation, the Timeline acts independently to correct it. Can be a little awkward and unexpected.
This enforcement is automatic in the sense that the Timeline won’t allow certain things, not that it will correct for a violation. In law, we understand that laws are to guide the government in what to do when a law is violated, as well as set the expectation of a citizen what to expect from the government if they do so. But the law cannot stop the crime from happening We know murder is illegal, so why are there 20+ thousand murders every year? Human law will not protect a person from someone who is willing to break it.
That said, the Timeline actively enforces. If a traveler wants to jump to or from a certain location and such an action would create a paradox, the Timeline doesn’t allow it to happen. In the traveler’s corneal displays, they see a “flashing red dot”, meaning their options are limited. They can freeze, slow-mo, etc. They can jump out and come back, but they can’t leave the scene completely until the paradox is resolved.
Law Five – There is no Butterfly Effect – Insignificant things can collectively create larger effects, but not in a runaway form.
If the former laws are in play, this naturally falls out as a warning. The Butterfly Effect is thus: A butterfly moving its wings in Asia ultimately causes a typhoon in the Pacific. The wing motion set into play another motion, and another, ultimately converging to the typhoon.
In time travel scenarios, the Butterfly Effect means I can change the past, and with the tiniest change, radically affect the future. The Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury embraces this theme, where a person is told they can go back in time but must limit their interaction with the past, because the slightest change can cascade into the future.
The Story World of the book series views time as more elastic (or plastic) than rigid, and accommodates the travelers within self-enforcing limits.