The “Eternity Overlay” is an idea about God that’s been in the back of my mind for decades. In a series of blog posts, I’m going to describe what the idea is, and share a number of thoughts about it.
Here’s how the Eternity Overlay started. It was something I scribbled in a notebook when I was a teenager. It looked something like this:
It’s not A –> B –> C
It’s A –> A’, B –> B’, C –> C’
And here’s what I meant by it: It was a description of how transformation comes into the world.
Think of A, B, and C as moments in time. But not just the moments themselves. Think of A, B, and C as snapshots of moments in time, a description of everything that’s happening at that moment. And these moments happen in order. A is prior to B, which is prior to C. It’s not important how close in time they are.
You could imagine A as 8:00 am, B as noon, and C as 3:00 pm. Or perhaps A is the year 2020, B is 2021, and C is 2022. The point is that A represents the world as it is at one particular moments, and B represents the world as it is an another moment, subsequent to A, and so forth. The way we usually understand time and causality, the things that happen at time A are what lead to time B, and the things that happen at time B lead to time C.
For instance, I start writing a blog post on Tuesday (A). Because I’ve already started it, when I sit down on Wednesday (B), I am able to finish it, and post it. (A leads to B.) Then someone reads it on Thursday (C), and is so moved by it that they decide to offer me a job as their own personal philosopher. A leads to B leads to C (A –> B –> C).
Note that you don’t need to have a complete knowledge of everything happening at time A. The concepts of A, B, and C don’t have to represent the entire world as it is at a certain time – they can represent a particular system within the world just as well, so long as that system is consistent across time. For instance, in the example above, the system we’re talking about is my writing career. A represents the drafting of a post, B represents its publishing, and C represents the surprising job offer I receive. Within that system, it’s clear to see the causality, how A leads to B, which leads to C.
I think this is the way we understand things to work in normal, everyday life. (Well, hiring people as personal philosophers admittedly doesn’t happen so much, but the causality works that way.) Yet the Eternity Overlay formula states that this isn’t the way it is. (It explicitly says, “It’s not A –> B –> C.”) That’s because the Eternity Overlay isn’t talking about normal, everyday life. It’s talking about the way that God intervenes in the world.
So the Eternity Overlay is assuming the existence of a God or at least of some higher power of some sort that has the ability, and the possibility, to intervene. That’s important. This is about how God makes a difference in the world, whether and how prayer works, whether and how miracles happen.
If you’re the praying type, think of how you expect God to intervene in your life or in the world. I think we usually expect God to do something in the future, maybe the very near future. Perhaps make a war cease. Or perhaps take a disease away. Or perhaps give us the strength and peace to accomplish something that produces anxiety. We expect God’s action to be done in time. And I mean the phrase “in time” quite literally – I don’t mean that God will act “in time” in the sense of being prompt or timely. I mean it in the sense that God acts within our understanding of time and causation.
To put it differently, let’s say that we are at time B right now. Time A was in the past, and we believe there is nothing that can be done to change it. Likewise, B is what it is, and we don’t expect the present moment to change. So where do we hope God acts? At time C. Any action God might take will get us from B to C. But our hope is that the “C” God takes us to is better than C would have been otherwise.
So, in a way, when we’re at time B, what we’re praying for is that time C will be better than it would have been without our prayer. That’s where the prime symbol (’) comes in in the Eternity Overlay formula. In mathematics, the prime symbol (which looks much like an apostrophe) is used for various purposes. One of them is to denote a variable as related somehow to another. For instance, if x is a particular number, then x’ might be that number after some function has been done to it. If you’re not a mathematical person, don’t worry about it. You don’t need to understand the math. For the purposes of the Eternity Overlay, you just need to understand this: if C is what we expect to come after B without divine intervention, then C’ (pronounced “C-prime”) is what comes after B with divine intervention. C and C’ are two different potential futures.
So we could say that B leads to C, but we would pray that B would lead instead to C’. The assumption behind all this is that God is moving forward through time just like we are, and can take the opportunity at any time to come into the world and make some kind of effect – call it a miracle or an inspiration or whatever – and when God does that, B leads to C’, which we can only assume is better than C would have been.
The Eternity Overlay says no. That’s not how it works. God is not beholden to time the way we are. God is eternal, meaning “outside of time.” (I’ll get to what that’s all about in a future post, I think.) So if God is eternal, then God’s actions don’t actually happen within the time-based causality we’re all used to. Rather, God acts from outside time, not moving us from B to C’, but actually transforming C into C’, and transforming B into B’, and so forth. God is actually making the present different than it “was.” That’s not quite the right way to word it, because “was” is a verb in the past tense, and the present never “was” something in the past, but in a way, it ”would have been” different without God’s action. Verb tenses get really strange when trying to talk about someone acting from beyond time.
And the really odd thing is that it also means that God can change A to A’, which means that God has the ability not only to change the future and the present, but also the past.
So. That’s what I meant by
It’s not A –> B –> C
It’s A –> A’, B –> B’, C –> C’
But there’s a whole lot more to say, which I think is a good thing. If you’re baffled at this point, don’t fret – hopefully in future posts, I’ll explain it in ways that make more sense. (And don’t worry – I believe this is pretty much the extent of the math.) And if you’re intrigued at this point, there’s more to come.
Photo by Dawid Małecki on Unsplash