On the Relationship Between Light, Time and the Mystery of God

"Sun poster" by Kelvinsong - Own work.  Licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Sun poster” by Kelvinsong – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I was meditating on time today, perhaps because it is my 52nd birthday. But also on account of some new mysteries I have learned about the light of the Sun that reaches this earth.

I have long known that to look up in the night sky is to look far into the past. Looking up at the star Sirius I am looking nine years into the past. Looking over to the star Antares I am seeing 250 years into the past. Looking over at the star Rigel I am looking 600 years into the past. Looking further still at the Andromeda galaxy, I am seeing one million years into the past. That is how long it takes the light of these stars and galaxies to reach us. We are not seeing them as they are now, but as they were then. The past, even the distant past, is very present to us.

Even in the daylight, the light of the sun takes 8.25 minutes to reach us. Thus we see the surface of the sun not as it is now, but as it was 8 minutes ago.

But I learned yesterday that the light of the sun is even older than I ever thought. A little research on my part revealed this astonishing fact. The photons of light that reach the surface of the sun and head out to us in eight minutes were actually generated 100,00 years ago, in the sun’s core.

Emerging from the sun’s core as the result of nuclear fusion, a photon of light enters the radiative zone (see diagram above). The plasma in that radiative zone is quite a maze for the photon to get through, such a maze that it takes the better part of 100,000 years to make the journey to the convective zone and the photosphere where it finally begins a rapid journey out into the vacuum of space.

Why does it take this long? Consider an image of you, at one side of a large room filled with people, and you want to get to the door on the other side. But on the way many, many people want your attention and strike up conversations and thus delay your journey across the room.

The diagram above shows the meandering, zigzag motion of a photon as it makes it way through a maze of plasma that detains the photon for up to 100,000 years!

Thus, the light we currently bask is much more than 8.25 minutes old! It is 100,000 years old! The light we currently enjoy was made in the sun’s core back during the beginning of the last ice age.

There is a great mystery of time on display for us at every moment. The past is present in many ways. And our past is “out there” on display and still present as well. If there is any one on a planet near Rigel and they look back through a telescope to earth, say to France, they do not see us now, they see Joan of Arc and other events of the 14th Century taking place. The light of our “today” will not reach Rigel for 600 years.

What is the present? That is mysterious is the sum total space of the universe and it depends on where you are. God, who is just as present as Rigel as here, has the same access to the images of France in 1450, as he does to 2013. Indeed, being present at Andromeda just as much as here on earth, 1 million years ago is just as present to him as now.

The future is even more mysterious, but that is just as present to God as the past and distant past is.

Do not miss the irony of the fact that the light of the Sun and the reflected light of the moon, by which we set our clocks and calendars to measure the present, to tell time what time it is now, is 100,000 years old.

Does anybody really know what time it is? Only God, only God. Time is very mysterious, and the more we think we know the less we really do.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.How precious to me are your thoughts, God How vast is the sum of them!Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you. Psalm 139:16-18

32 Replies to “On the Relationship Between Light, Time and the Mystery of God”

  1. Happy Birthday Msgr Pope! May God Almighty bless you abundantly each and every day.

  2. Time and other realities are very mysterious. I have accepted that so many things are beyond my understanding, and I’ve put my trust in God. 🙂

  3. Enjoy the day of your birth, drink wine for blessings; and good food in thanksgiving.

    Happy Birthday, good Father….your work is magnificent.

  4. Happy Birthday, Monsignor!

    Wonderful reflection! When I read “scientific” articles like this, I’m always struck by the notion that things are rarely what they seem. The fact is, there is a reality that is outside of what I can perceive. When I reflect upon this, it makes it so much easier to live by faith.

    Enjoy your day!!

  5. What I do know is that the Father and Son are eternal, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and he will remain with us forever. Time and death have no dominion over those who believe.

  6. Strictly speaking, I don’t think it makes sense to say that God “knows when ‘now’ is” exactly because ‘now’ is relative to each subject or Being. If God is eternal and in all times, that means there is no “universal present” that is “truly the present” other than from our perspective. God is “right now” just as present to Joan of Arc as to us, and so there is no reason to say that her present is actually past in any absolute way, merely relative to our perspective. This becomes even more important when we consider that, according to Special Relativity, even the question of the simultaneity of events is entirely relative.

  7. Happy Birthday, Monsignor! May God bless you with good health, strength, and many more years to celebrate. Felicidades! Have a beautiful day full of joy!

  8. Reading this gives me more reason to believe in a CREATOR WHO has made all things right….Happy birthday father Popo

  9. A very happy birthday,Msgr. I have enjoyed your articles over the past few years. You need to put them out as a book someday soon I hope. I also thank you for your mission to my parish this year. God bless you and keep up the good works you do.

  10. That we don’t see things in real time may be one of the punishments of original sin. Sound and smell are like that, also. Taste and touch are experienced in real time. I like to think that we see the Eucharist in real time, as the result of a Eucharistic miracle.

    Monsignor, last night, at work, I listened to the podcast of the episode of The World Over on which you appeared. I thought you did well, especially when you took the conversation a step back to consider the purpose of law in general and in that you did not affect an indignant, or shocked, or surprised, or any excessively emotional, tone.

    The diameter of the moon is 2,159 miles. The diameter of the sun is 870,000 miles. The diameter of the sun is about 403 times larger than the diameter of the moon. Yet, during the total eclipse of the sun, the sun and the moon match each other so perfectly that only the sun’s corona is visible. The earth could have no moon. The earth could have sixteen moons, none of which ever entered into eclipse with the sun. The orbit of our one moon could be such that it never entered into eclipse with the sun. If the moon was just a little bit closer to the earth, it would more than obscure the sun from sight–the sun’s corona wouldn’t be visible–, when the moon entered into eclipse with the sun. If the moon was just a little bit further away from the earth, the moon would not totally obscure the sun from sight during an eclipse. People like to discuss all the coincidences that have to occur for there to a be an universe and one that has life in it, and those are good things to discuss. The total eclipse of the sun by the moon is a coincidence unconnected to all of the other coincidences. A bonus coincidence. That we are alive and able to know is astonishing, and as a bonus, every now and then there is a total eclipse of the sun for us to observe. To me, the total eclipse of the sun by the moon is a Personal touch. Also, the sun is a God metaphor (source of life and light, etc.) and the moon is a man metaphor, as is the earth. So, the eclipse of the sun and moon is like, is a metaphor for, God nature coinciding with man nature. But the moon is dead. So, the total eclipse of the sun is a metaphor for the Crucifixion, and, indeed, there was a total eclipse of the sun at the time of the Crucifixion.

  11. Just think Monsignor, the photons generated when you were born 52 years ago will emerge 99,948 years from now. So you are still young, relatively speaking. Happy Birthday!

  12. Time is God’s creation; it is a created thing; it has a beginning and an end; it means succession of events; it means becoming, possessing a potential; it means Salvation Redemption; it means One Act of God revealed in God’s Time; it means God’s Moments; it means a beginning and an end of our bodies and everything material; it means BC and AD; it means the 33 years of Jesus in this temporal and terrestrial life…..

    Lets follow this up with Eternity, Msgr!

  13. A very Happy Birthday Msgr. Pope….the gift of yourself is a gift to us all! A little poem/prayer for you on your birthday:

    Today is my Birthday Lord

    Of all the gifts I’ve received, I hold the
    gift of Your love closest to my heart.

    Of all the friends I’ve known, I cherish
    above all Your friendship.

    There have been difficult days on this
    journey called life, even sorrow, but You
    have been there for me.

    There has been joy and laughter,
    I’ve seen Your Presence there.

    You breathed life into my soul
    and You chose me to live!

    I hope You are pleased with me.
    I ask that You forgive me when I fail You.

    Today is my birthday, Lord,
    and I offer this day to You…
    I ask only that You walk with me.

    Lead me home, O Lord,
    where we will rejoice and celebrate
    this journey of friendship and love
    in the everlasting life prepared by You.

  14. Happy birthday, dear Msgr Pope, and may God bless you always. You are a shining light. I always enjoy and learn so much from all your reflections.

  15. Happy Birthday Monsignor Pope! God bless you, thanks for the many ways in which you serve Him.

  16. Very best birthday wishes, Msgr. Pope

    Thanks for everything you do to serve us.

  17. Happy Birthday, Monsi. Thanks be to GOD for your reflections that open my heart, enlighten my mind and cleanse my lips that I may honor HIM, obey HIM and declare HIM. May the Good LORD Bless and keep you.

  18. мнагоя літа во здравія во спасенія. A Ukrainian wish for many years of helath and holiness which can be sung at many times but, especially at birthdays.

    1. Those who love to look things up have had their moment to fulfill their desire so, the pronunciation in the alphabet most readers understand is; Mnohaya Lita Vo Zdravea Vo Spaseniya.

  19. Happy Birthday, Master Theologian! And God Bless you!

  20. “…because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1:78-79

    “Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.” Genesis 1:3

    “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1:9

    “And the Word became flesh…” John 1:14

    (All verses taken from the version of Bible on http://www.usccb.org: http://www.usccb.org/bible/books-of-the-bible/)

    I knew that the starlight we see is from the past, but I never thought about time and the mystery of God as presented here. Very interesting. In the past, I have facetiously wondered about sound travel to heaven and whether it takes time for prayers to rise and thus be heard by God. I appreciate this post for reminding me how tenuous my grasp is on what I think I know.

    @Monsignor Pope: Happy belated Birthday! I am not Catholic (though I recently began attending Mass in my town and am looking also into the Orthodox Church), but I’ve been reading through your posts and cannot deny being stirred to a more virtuous life and reflection of what the truth of the gospel truly is. The more I learn, the more I seem to not understand. Please pray for me and I will pray for you, as well. I wish to worship God “in spirit and in truth.”

    1. We pray for you Seeker. May you encounter GOD in the depths of your heart. Remember, you will not find HIM, HE will find you and HE will reveal to you the fullness of Trutth, Love, Grace and Mercy little by little and not necessarily in that order. May the LORD makes HIS Face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. GOD Bless you.

  21. Happy Birthday Msgr, I pray that God will continue to guide direct and bless you with more Wisdom, as you labour in his Vineyard. I also pray that He rewards you with eternal life when you must finished the mission for which He created you.

  22. John Wooden said, according to wikipedia at least:”Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.”
    I can only add:”And from Msgr Pope’s blog…” 🙂
    God bless You!

    Oh, and happy birthday!

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