What do the laws of physics have to do with the crucifixion?
Published on: 06-27-2020
Ellen White wrote: “As Christ in His expiring agony on the cross cried out, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30), a shout of triumph rang through every world and through heaven itself.”* However profound the theology, the physics here is pretty heavy, too, because what she said contradicts one of the most foundational and verified teaching of modern science, Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, which was founded on a single idea: the constancy of the speed of light. This speed, 186,000 miles per second, is also the fastest that anything in the cosmos can move, including information—such as that Christ died on the cross.
Special Relativity teaches that the laws of physics remain the same in all frames of reference in uniform motion. However benign sounding, this principle wreaks counter-intuitive havoc on things as simple as simultaneity. Two simultaneous events in one frame of reference can appear to be in succession to someone in another frame of refence. Both are right. And it all comes back to that blasted notion of light always moving at 186,000 miles per second.
Maybe this would be simpler. When you look at someone across the room, you are not seeing that person at the exact moment you look. The image reaches your eyes at the speed of light, which, though not taking terribly long to go from one end of the room to the other, still takes time, and so you seeing the person isn’t simultaneous with when you looked, however much it might appear that way. When you glance (don’t stare) at the sun, you are not seeing the sun as it is, at the very moment you look, but as it was about eight minutes earlier because, at 94 million miles away, sunlight takes about eight minutes to get here.
The nearest stars outside our solar system are the Alpha Centauri triple-star system. When you look, you are seeing the star system as it was about 4.37 years ago, because that’s how long it takes for the information from it, in this case, its light, to reach the earth. When you look at the Orion Nebula, you’re seeing it as it was 1,300 years ago. Of course, Alpha Centauri and the Orion are next door neighbors compared to stars millions, even billions of light years away, which means that what we see when we look at them is, well, old news, a few million or billon years old, in fact. (To use an analogy: when we look at a star a million light years away, it’s as if we’re looking at a recorded movie of it taken a million years ago.)
Ellen White wrote that when Christ cried “It is finished,” a shout of triumph rang out through “every world,” which would mean, of course, every inhabited world. However, if the knowledge that Christ died would take 4.6 hours, at the speed of light, to reach Pluto—how long would it take to reach those worlds in a galaxy 700 million lights years away, or farther? They would still be about 699,998,000 or so years away from hearing the good news.
One possible solution comes from quantum theory, which deals with atomic and subatomic reality. Though a pioneer of quantum physics, Einstein was troubled by its implications, and with other scientists created a thought experiment that, they claimed, showed the absurdity, if not the impossibility, of quantum theory. The only problem, however, decades later experiments showed that what their thought experiment denied could happen does, indeed, happen.
It’s what’s known as Quantum Entanglement, in which, under the right conditions, subatomic particles transfer information back and forth, not at the speed of light but instantaneously—and it happens no matter how far apart the particles are. Three miles, 3 million light-years apart, it makes no difference—the information is instantly conveyed, as if space and time themselves were non-existent and Special Relativity did not apply. Can this quantum phenomenon, or some variant thereof, explain how something in the classical realm, such as Jesus crying out, “It is finished,” could be instantly conveyed “through every world and through heaven itself”?
Probably not, but I bring all this up to show just how limited our understanding of reality is. How could it not be, when we are immersed in, part of, and even composed of the very things that we are studying? We can no more step out of creation to view it from outside than we can step outside of ourselves. (It’s as if we’re trapped inside the self-referential paradox.) It took humanity 1,500 years after Christ (a few hundred more for Rome) to figure out that the earth spun on its axis and orbited the sun because, after all, we orbit and spin right along with it. Think how much easier it would have been if we were “stationary,” outside of the earth, and just watched it move.
Scripture presents a reality beyond which science could, perhaps, even in principle, reveal. God speaks, speaks! and light exists; speaks again and plants bearing their own seed exist (Gen. 1). He breathes into a lifeless form the breath of life and that form becomes alive, a human being (Gen. 2:7). Jesus, the Creator, is born into humanity—and from a virgin, as well (Luke 1:27). The dead will rise at once “with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16). The Word of God posits a reality so much deeper, richer, and multi-faceted than what we, firmly ensconced in three-dimensions (four, if you count time)—even with our high-powered microscopes, telescopes, atom-smashers, or theories and formulas and computers—can grasp. The only reason that we even know about this reality is because it has been revealed to us, supernaturally, in the Word of God.
Yet this greater reality, this deeper reality, which transcends all that’s before us, gives us our hope, our only hope, of something beyond what’s before us, a reality in which Christ’s cry, “It is finished!”—defying even Special Relativity—caused a shout of triumph to echo throughout God’s cosmos.
* Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1958), p. 69.