Do We Leave Time When We Die? (A Bad Argument)
For example, sometimes it is used to mean everlasting (being inside time but having no end, beginning, or both), and sometimes it is used to mean atemporal (beyond or outside time).
We saw that God is eternal in the second sense. He is completely beyond time.
But what about us?
Specifically: What about us when we die? Do we journey beyond time to be with God in the eternal now outside of time?
You often hear the idea that we do.
This idea seems to be based on reasoning something like this:
- God is outside of time.
- God is in heaven.
- When we die, we go into heaven.
- Therefore, when we die, we go outside of time.
But we need to be careful here. That’s not a formally valid argument. Consider this parallel:
- Bob is outside of Scranton.
- Bob is in ecstasy.
- When I think about God’s love, I go into ecstasy.
- Therefore, when I think about God’s love, I go outside of Scranton.
That doesn’t follow at all. I might think about God’s love and go into ecstasy even though I am located in Scranton. (Note: People in Scranton might disagree. I’ll leave that up to them.)
This is also important because the Church does not understand heaven as a physical place up in the clouds where God literally has a throne but as a state of spiritual communion with God and the saints.
Thus John Paul II taught:
In the context of revelation, we know that the “heaven” or “happiness” in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity [General Audience of July 21, 1999].
And the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
1024 This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called “heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.
1025 To live in heaven is “to be with Christ.” The elect live “in Christ,” but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name.
For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom.
1026 By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened” heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.
So the Church understands heaven in terms of a relationship with the Holy Trinity and the community of the blessed incorporated into Christ rather than a physical place.
But if I can be the state of heaven by virtue of being definitively happy due to communion with God and his saints, without it implying that I am in a particular physical place then I could similarly be in that state without implying that I am inside time or outside of time.
In other words: Whether you are “in heaven” tells you about your spiritual state (definitively happy, in communion with God and the saints) but does not tell you about where or if you are located in space and time.
The argument above, thus, does not work–despite its superficial plausibility–just as being “in ecstasy” does not tell you anything about whether you are also “in Scranton.”
If this argument does not work, does Catholic theology have anything to say about whether we leave time upon our death?
Tune in tomorrow.