Life in Slow Mo

  • Nathan Schneider
A blue dart popping a balloon full of water

Having ten-year-old and eleven-year-old sons has some perks. Of course, the greatest of these is (in theory) free manual labor for those household jobs in which I most regrettably refrain from engaging, such as picking up our dog’s…um…byproducts. I say “in theory” because what we would like to have happen doesn’t always work out.

But another perk is that my two boys end up introducing me to some really fascinating things that I might not have ever heard of otherwise. A while back, the boys introduced me to “The Slow Mo Guys,” a couple of English blokes who transplanted to the United States and have developed quite an amazing YouTube channel filming various activities in slow motion. Now, these guys started out filming stuff in their backyards, but they’ve since graduated to high-level productions using state-of-the-art slow motion cameras capable of capturing video at incredible frame rates, in some cases upwards to 1.5M frames per second. They are by far the biggest and most influential sources for slow-motion video on the internet, and for good reason. Their curriculum vitae includes videos on “bullet racing,” where they compare the relative velocities of different bullet calibers side-by-side in a kind of high-speed yet extremely slowed-down sprint race, and a massive chain-reaction of explosives at 200,000 frames per second filmed at the test facility at the Colorado School of Mines. Even their backyard video showing the affects of a soccer ball smash to the face is fascinating albeit painful to watch.

There’s no question that slow-motion video is entertaining to watch. No, I’m not talking about that home video your kid shot on your iphone that’s super boring to watch where they jumped really high in the air and it takes forever to get to the end. When it’s done well, slow motion video is mesmerizing. It is, in a real way, doing the same thing for us that the electron microscope did for our understanding of the microverse and the hubble space telescope did for the macroverse. Both these groundbreaking inventions gave humanity an insight into a new world. These high-end slow motion cameras, in their own way, have introduced us to what we might call the chronoverse…the world of time. We get to see the way the world works at the micro level of chronology. We get to see the things that happen so fast that our eyes see but don’t perceive.

But, you might be saying, what benefit does this have to me beyond mere entertainment value? Sure, slow motion video might help a scientist or an engineer, but I’m neither of those. Why should I care about this as something more than just “interesting.” Let me give you a couple of thoughts on this.

It raises our awareness of the intricate splendor of God’s creative work

If science has demonstrated one thing to us, it’s that for everything we come to understand about our world and how it works, we are confronted with ten things we don’t understand. You don’t have to be a scientist by trade to appreciate with humble awe just how gloriously intricate and wonderful God’s creation is. You may see a flash of lightning arc across the sky, but when you see lightning flash across the sky at 105,000 frames per second you get a new perspective on what’s going on right in front of your eyes that you didn’t see because before your mind even perceived it, it was already over and done. I can’t read a passage such as Psalm 18:14—”He sent out His arrows, and scattered them, and lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them”—without that imagery in my mind. It makes us resonate with David when he says, “Great is Yahweh, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Ps. 145:3).

It reminds us that there is more happening in our world than we can humanly observe

Man is the pinnacle of God’s creation (Ps. 8). He is set apart and endowed with the ability to comprehend God and his world in a way no other living creature in the universe can. But it’s not until we slow down time for a moment and watch an event that takes only a fraction of a fraction of a second to occur that we realize how much we see but do not perceive.

It brings greater accountability to the skeptic and the scoffer

Every new invention, from the electron microscope to the Hubble space telescope to the ulta-slow-motion video camera, provides another tool to observe the intricacies of our physical world. And with every new insight, the skeptic and the scoffer is provided another testimony to the “eternal power and divine nature” of God (Rom. 1:20) to which they must either acknowledge in humble and repentant faith, or reject in rebellious suppression in unrighteousness. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1). And with each passing day he must strain harder and harder to hold to that atheistic tenet despite the mounting evidence to the contrary.

It reminds us that time is a resource we must use but not abuse

Watching things happen in super slow motion is fascinating and exciting. But when the video is sped up to real time, it becomes alarmingly apparent that time transpires faster than we’d like. That was Moses’ message in Psalm 90, when he reminds us that while to God “a thousand years…are but as yesterday when it is past,” (v. 4) all of man’s days “are soon gone, and we fly away” (v. 10). God is intimately aware of every picosecond of every moment. For him they stretch on like an eternity while a millennium passes before him like it was a few seconds (cf. 2 Pet. 3:8). He created time and is outside of it. But we aren’t. Time is not a renewable resource. It flows in one direction and we can’t go back and make up for when we waste it. Thus, we must learn to “number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). After all, it is the wise walk, according to Paul, that makes “the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:17).