Time Travel and
The Beautiful Mystery of God
By Anthony Casperson

This past season, one of the series I’ve been watching on TV is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. It follows the exploits of a group of heroes (and villains) from DC’s other CW shows as they join together to defeat Vandal Savage, a powerful “immortal” enemy. They do this by utilizing one of sci-fi’s most common tropes: time-travel.

The concept of time travel has many iterations. From H.G. Wells (who shows up as a character in Legends of Tomorrow’s episode “The Magnificent Eight”) and his book The Time Machine, to Back to the Future, to The Terminator, to Doctor Who, to certain Fire Emblem video games, and even to certain characters in the tabletop game Sentinels of the Multiverse, time travel shows up a lot.

Typically, the idea is to change the terrible events of one’s present by changing things in the past. This is certainly true in Legends of Tomorrow. Captain Rip Hunter (played by Arthur Darvill, who gets a role upgrade from playing a Time Lord’s companion to being a Time Master himself in DC’s LoT) loses his wife and son by the hand of Savage and vows to save them. He gathers the motley crew of heroes and villains to help him in this endeavor.

A staple of sci-fi, time travel is something that’s fun to think about. There are plenty of things in my past that I’d like to change, lots of pain that I’d love to undo. However, a question always rises to the surface, will trying to change the past actually end up accomplishing anything? Is time fluid, capable of extreme changes? Or is it set, always self-correcting? In DC’s LoT, Rip has difficulty trying to save his wife and son because he says that time is self-correcting and wants his wife and son to die.

Basically, the question comes down to, if the freewill of humanity can change history, or if time is arranged by a guiding hand that always fixes everything. For a theonerd, this train of thought leads us to a discussion that’s been going on for centuries, if not millennia, dealing with a beautiful mystery of God. The discussion of how human freewill and God’s sovereign will interplay with one another.

The doctrine of election, whether conditional or unconditional, was highly discussed during the time of the Reformation (the 16th century) and has been a persistent area of division among followers of Jesus ever since. To those who adhere to conditional election, human freewill takes precedence in the act of salvation. We are saved because of our choice to accept the offer of salvation that God gives through the sacrifice of Jesus. To those who adhere to unconditional election, God’s sovereign will takes precedence. We are saved because of God’s choice to save us from the beginning of the world, regardless of anything we would do.

There are reasons why this discussion has raged through the centuries. Mainly because both sides have passages of the bible that “prove” their side, some of which are adjacent to each other. Take for instance Ephesians 1. God chose us to be followers of Jesus before the foundation of the world (v. 4) and predestined us according to the purpose of his will (v. 5). This seems to show God’s will taking precedence. However, Paul continues by saying that salvation came after the Ephesian believers heard and believed the word of truth (v. 13), seeming to say that human will has an important role in the act of salvation.

Now, I could go into great detail about both sides’ arguments, but that goes beyond the scope of this single blog post. Also, I hold that there is a middle ground to this discussion. During my time in seminary, I wrote a paper about this topic of election and discovered a man from the time of the Reformation who held an interesting view. His name, Balthasar Hubmaier. (Yeah, I know, interesting name.) Hubmaier saw both sides of the argument and felt that there had to be some concordance, some place where the two wills, both of God and human, meet.

Basically, in this “concordant election” God’s will takes precedence, but the human freewill must intersect this place of God’s will in order for election to occur. And this can actually be seen in the same Ephesians passage. Verses 11 and 12 show both that we who are followers of Jesus were chosen beforehand for salvation, but that it came to those who first put their hope in Jesus’ sacrificial death.

In this understanding, God has created a universe wherein events and attitudes lead us to freely make specific choices, not others. There is no other choice we could have made because God didn’t create that universe in which we made that choice. If he had made a world in which we would have made such a different choice, we would have freely chosen that direction.

I know, thinking about the outcomes of alternate timelines can get kinda hairy. As it comes to a person’s salvation from the power of sin, it essentially comes down to, it’s up to God if someone finds themselves in a world where they are predestined, but it’s up to the person whether or not they are predestined in the world in which they find themselves.

But what does this discussion of concordant election have to do with time travel? Well, it makes me think, is time travel even possible? Could this piece of sci-fi trope-dom remain forever in fiction? How much does trying to make different choices in the past create in us the desire to take God’s place in his universe? If God had wanted us to make other choices, he would have made a world in which we made those choices. So, in our desire to change the past, we are falling to the very sin of Satan, where we are claiming ourselves to be God.

Now this isn’t to say that we followers of Jesus should never think about the fictional concept of time travel and eschew any media that entertains such a notion. No, just because something could not be possible considering one’s worldview, doesn’t mean that one should never think about such things. It means that we have to stand realizing that time travel is the realm of fiction.

Agree or disagree about both time travel and election as you will. You’re free to do so. But at the very least I hope that this post has helped in thinking about how our theology and nerdy tendencies have to interact. Perhaps helping someone think about that fact is why I wrote this post. Maybe not, but God knows why I wrote it.

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Balthasar Hubmeier

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