Eternity is Hidden in God's Memory
Some of those who do not completely understand that we never have contact with the original matter and everything we see is actually a complex of perceptions formed in the brain fall into error and draw wrong conclusions. For example, some people understand the explanations about matter being an illusion to mean that matter does not exist. Others think that matter exists as an illusion only when we are looking at it, but when we are not looking at it, it does not exist. Neither of these ideas is correct.
First, to say that matter does not exist, or that people, trees or birds do not exist is definitely wrong. All of these things exist and have been created by God. But, as we have explained from the beginning of this book, God has created all these things as an image or a perception for us. That is to say, after God created these things, He did not give them a concrete independent existence. Every one of them continues to be created at every moment.
Whether we see them or not, all these things are eternal in God's memory. All those things that have existed before us, and that will exist after us, have already been created by God in one single moment. As has been explained in the earlier chapter, time is an illusion; God created time and He is not bound by it. Therefore, those things that will exist for us in the future have been created in one moment in God's sight and they currently exist. But we cannot see them yet because we are bound by time.
Just as those things we will see in the future (or will exist in the future for us) are present every moment in God's memory, so, in the same way, things in the past do not cease to exist, but are present in God's memory. For example, when you were a fetus in your mother's womb, the day when you started to learn how to read and write, the moment you picked up your first school report, the moment you first drove a car, the time an old lady smiled at you when you gave her your seat on a bus, and other such things you experienced in the past, together with all the moments you will experience in the future, are at this moment in God's memory and will remain there for eternity.
Suppose you kick a stone as you walk along a path. The time when you would kick that stone was determined and created in your fate even before you were born. The fact that this stone fell off a larger piece of rock, and every stage at which each of its cracks and recesses was formed—all of these were present in the sight of God even before you kicked the stone.
The same thing is true of a dead butterfly you see in a garbage can or a dry leaf falling from a tree onto your head. From the time the butterfly was still a caterpillar to the time it left its cocoon, from the time its wings dried to the time it fell into the garbage, everything was predetermined in its fate. In God's sight, the living butterfly and the dead butterfly continue to exist and will continue to exist eternally.
Everything is Recorded in The Mother of The Book
As we explained in the foregoing section, God created in one moment every event and every creature that we perceive as past and future. In the Koran it is revealed that the fates of every human being and every other creature are hidden in the Mother of the Book:
And truly, it is in the Mother of the Book, in Our Presence, high in dignity, and full of wisdom. (Surat az-Zukhruf: 4)
… We possess an all-preserving Book. (Surah Qaf:4)
Certainly there is no hidden thing in either heaven or earth which is not in a Clear Book. (Surat an-Naml: 75)
In other verses, God says that everything that happens in heaven and on earth is recorded in this book.
Those who disbelieve say, "The Hour will never come." Say: "Yes, by my Lord, it certainly will come!" He is the Knower of the Unseen, Whom not even the weight of the smallest particle eludes, either in the heavens or in the earth; nor is there anything smaller or larger than that which is not in a Clear Book. (Surah Saba': 3)
It is revealed in these verses that, since the universe was created, everything animate and inanimate, every event which happens are the creation of God and are therefore in His knowledge. In other words, all these things are in God's memory. The Mother of the Book is a manifestation of God as the Preserver (Al-Hafiz).
Past And Future are Actually Experienced in The Present
Because time does not exist in the sight of God, all things happen in a single moment, that is in the "present". All events which we think of as past and future are present to God; in His sight everything is much more clear and vital than we can perceive. For example, at this moment Jonah (pbuh) is being cast into the sea as a result of the drawing of lots; Joseph (pbuh) is being thrown in to the well by his brothers; he is eating his first meal in prison and leaving the prison. At this moment Mary is speaking with Gabriel; Jesus (pbuh) is being born. At this moment Noah (pbuh) is driving the first nail into the ark and leaving the ark with his family at the place God chose for them. The mother of Moses (pbuh) is putting his cradle into the water, Moses (pbuh) is receiving his first revelation from God in the bush, he is dividing the sea and the believers are passing through it. At this moment Pharaoh and his army are being drowned as they cross through the sea and Moses (pbuh) is speaking with Khidr, Khidr is repairing the walls of the orphan children. Those who asked Dhu'l-Qarnayn to build a barrier to protect them are at this moment presenting their request and Dhu'l-Qarnayn is building the rampart that was not to be breached until the Day of Judgment. Abraham (pbuh) is at this moment warning his father, breaking down the idols of the pagans, and the fire they threw at him is giving Abraham (pbuh) coolness. Prophet Muhammad (may God bless him and grant him peace) is at this moment receiving a revelation from Gabriel and he is being taken from Masjid al-Haram to Masjid al-Aqsa. At this moment the people of 'Ad are being destroyed. The dwellers in Paradise are on their thrones engaged in mutual conversation; the dwellers in Hell are being consigned to the flames suffering in great sorrow for which there is no remedy or recourse.
God sees and hears all these things, in this moment, with a far greater clarity than we can imagine. God can hear sounds at frequencies that we cannot hear and He can see things that we cannot see. All the events and sounds that we can perceive and not perceive are all present in the sight of God and experienced at every moment in all their vividness. None of these things is ever lost but continue in God's memory with all their details.
This is also true of all the events in your life. For example, the foundation of the house left to you by your grandfather is at this moment being constructed. Your father is now being born in this house. The moment you first started to talk is happening now. You are now eating the meal you will "actually" eat ten years from now.
The reality that all these examples present us with is this: no moment, no event or no existing thing has ever, or will ever cease to exist. As a film we are watching on television is recorded on a film strip and composed of several frames, and as our not seeing some of the frames does not mean that they do not exist, so it is with what we call "the past" and "the future".
It is very important to understand one point correctly: none of these images is like a memory or a dream. All of them are vivid as if you were experiencing them at this moment. Everything is vitally alive. Because God does not give us these perceptions, we see them as past. And God can show us these images whenever He wants to; by giving us the perceptions proper to these events, He can make us experience the events.
From these examples it can be seen that for God, past and future are both the same. For this reason, nothing is hidden from God, as is pointed out in this verse;
(Luqman told his son): "My son, even if something weighs as little as a mustard-seed and is inside a rock or anywhere else in the heavens or earth, God will bring it out. God is All-Pervading, All-Aware." (Surah Luqman: 16)
To Those in Paradise Who Desire To See It, God can Show The Past Just as It Happened
If a servant of God in Paradise wishes, God can show him things from the earthly life just as they happened. (God knows the truth.) For example, if a person in Paradise asks God to let him see his dead dog alive again, his burned house before it was destroyed, or the Titanic before it sank, God can show it all to him even more vivid that it was before. For example, as the Titanic makes its way on the sea, the fish surrounding it will all be in the same place as at that moment and the passengers will be discussing the same things using the same words. Or ancient great civilizations can be seen in the high point of their splendor and wealth. A person who is curious about the Inca civilization can see any period of this civilization whenever he wishes. Because every event continues to be lived eternally with the same vividness in God's memory, the person who wants to see an event will find everything present the same as it was.
In one verse, God reveals that in Paradise people will have everything they desire:
... You will have there all that your selves could wish for. You will have there everything you demand. (Surah Fussilat: 31)
If those in Paradise wish it, God will show them every worldly image and occurrence that will give them sorrow but will make them happy and joyous. This is a great blessing that God has prepared for His worthy servants in Paradise.
The Importance of This Matter For Human Beings
This matter is of great importance for human beings because everything that happens to us in a day, even things we have forgotten by the time evening comes, the way we act, our attitudes and every thought that crosses our minds are unforgotten and kept in God's sight.
For example, a person gossiping with his friend forgets this; it is not important to him. But that moment when he gossiped remains forever in God's sight. Or if a person has a negative thought about Muslims, that thought, the moment he thought it, the expression on his face and the sentences he used all remain forever in God's sight. Or the self-sacrifice with which a person feeds his friend although he himself is hungry will remain eternally in God's sight together with the circumstances of that moment, and the attitude and the thoughts that were expressed. Or a person who remains patient in a difficulty for God's sake and speaks kind words to the one who is troubling him will not have his fine moral behavior lost, but kept for eternity. And on the Day of Judgment, God will question all the good and evil deeds that a person has committed; those things which people have done but forgotten will confront them unforgotten and unchanged. Some people will even be surprised that the book they are given in the course of the reckoning is so detailed and they will say,
The Book will be set in place and you will see the evildoers fearful of what is in it. They will say, "Alas for us! What is this Book which does not pass over any action, small or great, without recording it?" They will find there everything they did and your Lord will not wrong anyone at all. (Surat al-Kahf: 49)
For this reason, a person aware of this reality must never forget that his every act and thought are locked for ever in God's memory and will continue to exist there; he must take care and fear the Day of Judgment.