It seems to me that any explanation of death and life after death must confront the concept of time. Does time exist for those who die? Is linear time even real, or is time simply a construct of the living to approximate the passage of temporal existence? The ancient Greeks had two basic concepts of time, one quantitative (chronos) and one qualitative (kairos). We English speakers and other Westerners have serious difficulties understanding the distinction between linear time (quantitative) and eternity (qualitative).
St. Paul said of entering into eternal heaven, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Co 15:51-52, NET). This description of eternal life is one that necessitates an embodied resurrection, not simply a spiritual or disembodied one. It is both quantifiable and qualitative. Nevertheless, St. Paul does not deal in any systematic way with the concept of time between physical death and the second coming of Jesus which would effect the beginning of a new “type” of time. St. Paul did say that he would “prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Co 5:8, NET), but he does not explain what that experience would be like when one dies.
It does not take a leap of faith or incredible insight to believe that in “eternity” there is no quantitative time, and that after death chronological time ceases to exist. Thus, for those who believe in an intermediate state, whether Catholic purgatory or some other non-Catholic construct, the time between death and the second coming of Jesus is so infinitesimally short that St. Paul can only refer to it as a “twinkling of an eye.” Thus, any “suffering” in the intermediate state cannot be experienced as such, nor be shortened by the prayers of the faithful, for the sufferer will not be able to distinguish between the time of death (quantitative) and the time of his or her entrance into eternal life (qualitative). Thus, time eternal is always present in any given moment.
Similarly, the Eucharistic re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on the altar is outside chronological time as well. Since, time does not exist in eternity, but is always present, Christ exists in the moment (kairos) of his sacrifice every time the rite is re-enacted in the Eucharistic celebration. This fits with the philosophy of time concept referred to as “Eternalism.” Markosian (2014) said of “Eternalism”, “Objects from both the past and the future exist just as much as present objects.”
Heaven, then, is truly in our hearts, as Jesus said (Lk 17:21). It is a present reality as well as a future reality. The intermediate state can only be a metaphor of what can’t be described in logical terms. When we die, we live. There is no death, just a passing from one reality in the present to the eternal present.
Markosian, Ned (2014). “Time” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/time/>.
© Paul Dordal, 2015