Interstellar, Space-Time and Jesus

Interstellar, Space-Time and Jesus February 10, 2015

EarthBeware of spoilers and black holes!

Space and time are not absolute, as Galileo and Newton claimed. They are “personal” and intimately connected, as Einstein argued, according to Kip Thorne, the astrophysicist behind the movie Interstellar. Our time flows at different rates, according to Thorne (See his interview titled “What Is Space-Time?”).

The movie Interstellar draws on Einstein’s insight that time passes more slowly when the gravitational pull is stronger. See the following article: “The Science of ‘Interstellar’ Explained.”  An article in Business Insider refers to “gravitational time dilation” in its discussion of the movie:

Gravitational time dilation is a real phenomenon that has been observed on Earth. It occurs because time is relative, meaning time runs at different rates for different reference frames. When you’re in a strong gravitational environment time runs slower for you relative to people in a weak gravitational environment.

If you are near a black hole, like the one in the film, your gravitational reference frame, and therefore your perception of time, is different than someone standing on Earth. This is because the gravitational pull from the black hole is stronger the closer you are to it.[1]

In Interstellar, one hour on the planet near the black hole equals seven years on earth. While that might be very difficult for us to imagine given our experience and the Earth’s weak gravitational pull, time does operate in this way in relation to gravity. Actually, we can draw from our everyday experience to account for it.

Take for example a GPS satellite. Did you know that time goes faster above the earth in a GPS satellite than it does on earth? A GPS satellite is wired to auto correct its time measurements to compensate or account for gravity. Given its distance from Earth’s gravitational pull, the satellite must adjust its time calculations to account for the stronger gravitational pull that slows time the closer one gets to Earth.

As noted above, the force is far stronger, if we are talking about a black hole. See the discussion of time and relativity as it relates to gravitational pull in this video titled “Neil deGrasse Tyson on ‘Interstellar’” (beginning around the 5:30 mark). See also the documentary, “The Science of Interstellar”(beginning around the 9:00 mark); as the narrator of the documentary states, “The more massive the object, the more space-time is warped, and the greater the gravity … the greater the gravity, the more slowly time flows.”

Beyond physics, metaphysical reality operates analogously in this way, too. Take for example the biblical claims that “…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; ESV); and “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law…” (Galatians 4:4; ESV). Spiritually speaking, Jesus bends space-time to conform to the gravitational force of his love. In love, he accommodates himself to our context, our categories and dimensions so as to communicate with us and save us from the mess we have made of life on planet Earth.

It is almost as if Jesus lived beyond the fourth dimension in a kind of tesseract, whereby the entire sequence of his life and all of life are constantly before him.[2] After all, he is the Alpha and Omega in whom eternity and time interpenetrate. Perhaps he based his narrative on Interstellar (!), or is it the other way round?

The movie Interstellar is a bold project in at least two ways. It seeks to account for state of the art science with state of the art cinematography; it also seeks to couple deep science with deep love. Scientists and astronauts race across and slice through space-time to save humanity from extinction. According to Scripture, Jesus also races across space-time, shall we say, to save humanity from extinction. The gospel is a bold project, too.

I love how Jesus engages Nicodemus in John 3 and the woman at the well in John 4. He relativizes or personalizes his spatial-temporal framework to account for their spiritual needs in those moments of encounter. He does the same with each of us and calls on us to do the same for each other rather than fit people into our fixed coordinates. Jesus challenges me to stop fitting people into the coordinates that benefit me, as if I were a human (or inhumane) version of a black hole that swallows everything around it based on its “self-serving” gravitational pull. The gravitational force bound up with the mass of his love does not cause him to implode like a black hole or spaghetti-fy people, as would a black hole. Rather, he goes out of himself to make relational space-time for us.

Will we go back to the spiritual analogue of absolute space and time or forward in view of Jesus to the spiritual analogue of personal space-time in our engagement of one another?


[1]For various discussions on relativity, see the following: “What is the difference between Special and General Relativity?”; “Special & General Relativity Questions and Answers;” “What is a space time continuum?”; “Theory of relativity explained….” See also “Gravitational Waves: Ripples in the fabric of space-time.”

[2]Regarding higher dimensions and tesseracts see “Neil deGrasse Tyson Explains the End Of ‘Interstellar.’” The fourth dimension involves the three spatial coordinates (up-down, front-back, left-right) and time. The tesseract in Interstellar requires a higher dimension(s) (see “Neil deGrasse Tyson on ‘Interstellar’” beginning around 12:16).

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