If you don’t know what a Loki is, neither did I until six weeks ago. He’s a character in the Marvel cinematic universe, and an unsavory character; he’s not referred to as the god of mischief for nothing. My son, our youngest at 19 and a keen observer of culture, called me into his room to tell me I had to watch something. He showed me a scene from the first episode of the new Disney+ TV show (unfortunately; I now officially hate all things Disney, but that’s for another post) called, you guessed it, Loki. The scene had Loki, played by British actor Tom Hiddleston, and the wonderfully phlegmatic Own Wilson playing Agent Mobius. Given the main “character” in the show is time itself, that leads to some interesting conversations given none of us have a clue about what time is, and it always perplexes and amazes us. The little dialogue my son showed me had me hooked.

I haven’t scene too many Marvel movies, and it’s been quite a while at that, but I do believe that universe tends to deal with some pretty significant metaphysical issues, like life and death, meaning and hope, purpose and despair, and in this series the nature of time and our place in it. The little snippet I saw was a fascinating discussion of free will and determinism. Loki was convinced he was free and that he had agency, and that his choices mattered, that they had real consequences that could turn out one way or the other depending on those choices. He apparently hadn’t made many good choices in his Marvel life. Agent Mobius does a cynical job shooting down Loki’s pretension, in an Owen Wilson blasé kind of way, that his life and what he does really matters at all. He and everything and everyone all are all cogs in this big time machine, and each one just plays with the cards they are dealt.

It’s fascinating to watch creative secular people try to deal with something as mysterious and profound as time. Being a mystery to us, we have absolutely no idea what it is. Augustine, the great  fourth century Bishop of Hippo put the mystery this way in Book 11 of his Confessions:

For what is time? Who could find any quick or easy answer to that? Who could even grasp it in his thought clearly enough to put the matter into words. Yet is there anything to which we refer in conversation with more familiarity, any matter of more common experience, than time? And we know perfectly well what we mean when we speak of it, and understand just as well when we hear someone else refer to it. What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain to to someone who asks me, I do not know.

We only know that time is, and that it is relentless.

To those of us who have experienced more of the mystery, the relentless nature of it is a constant marvel. As an officially “old person,” I am often to the great annoyance of my children commenting on the swift passage of the mystery. One priceless moment in time happened with my same youngest son. I was lamenting how fast it all goes, and in exasperation I said to him, “There is no way you can relate!” And he asked the logical question: “Then why do you keep telling me?” I said, “Because that’s what old people do!” We are simply incredulous. I can’t really be this old, can I? Just wait, kiddo, you’ll be as incredulous as me one day. I had a similar experience with a stranger when I was 22. My first day on my first job out of college I was being introduced around the office. In the process, I came across an older man who asked me in a condescending way, “How old are you?” When I said 22, with a look of disgust on his face he replied, “That’s disgusting!” At the time, of course, I thought that was bizarre. Now, I understand.

As for Loki and our Marvel universe, time is supposedly ruled by Time Lords, and the timeline is allegedly sacred. If you mess with it, all kinds of variants go off of the sacred timeline, and who knows what horrible things will happen on those timelines. Think of it as the multiverse on steroids. It is far too complicated and convoluted to explain, and I couldn’t explain it anyway, but since God doesn’t exist in the Marvel universe, time is as relative as anything else. Human choices in effect become sovereign because those choices control everything. Fortunately, in this universe, the only one that exists, God who created it is the only sovereign being. He is, as King David says in his final address to the people of Israel, the ruler of all things. That is the greatest comfort for those of us who trust our sovereign God.

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