“Time Adventure”: Solace in Non-Linearity
In the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time, an assortment of imaginative characters—including Jake the stretchy dog, Marceline the friendly Vampire Queen, and the candy monarch Princess Bubblegum—have wacky experiences and learn lessons about life and friendship along the way. Over the series’ near decade-long run, the themes grow deeper as characters experience loss, practice forgiveness and mercy, and learn about the darker aspects of their world, Ooo. The episodes usually star Finn the Human, resident teenage hero of Ooo, accompanied by Jake the dog. By the series finale, titled “Time Adventure,” the characters face overwhelming odds against Golb, a monstrous red creature described as an embodiment of chaos itself. All of the characters band together to fight this threat, but hope is faint—Ooo has been ravaged, and Finn is trapped inside of Golb’s stomach. At this point, BMO, a small, teal robot who usually appears as a peripheral character for comic relief, crawls out of the rubble and into the spotlight. BMO guards Jake and sings, trying to provide comfort as chaos grows around them. BMO’s song, written by Rebecca Sugar, begins with, “Time is an illusion that helps things make sense / So we’re always living in the present tense.” By the time BMO reaches the end of the first chorus, an incredible thing happens: Golb cannot touch BMO. Golb tries to crush BMO and Jake underfoot, but an invisible force protects them. Princess Bubblegum and Marceline figure out that BMO’s song repels Golb, as a being of pure chaos cannot stand up to the harmonies of music. The lyrics of BMO’s song, however, are of no small importance in this moment, as the meaning of the words strengthens the characters as much as the harmonious notes are antithetical to Golb. BMO’s song plays with the concept of time, reminding the other characters that their present situation is not the only thing that matters. For those of us on Earth, remembering that God is outside of time and unaffected by it can bring us comfort and peace similar to BMO’s influence on his friends.
In examining BMO’s emotional song “Time Adventure” and its effects on the plot of the episode of the same name, it is worth looking at what his intent was in singing that song in the first place. Before he begins singing, BMO scoops a tiny, shrunken Jake into his arms and cradles him like a baby. At this moment, Jake probably feels hopeless and alone, as his best friend Finn is trapped inside Golb’s belly, his attempt at stopping the monster seemingly failed. Jake’s tiny appearance signals that both his energy and spirit are near depletion. As BMO physically shelters Jake in an embrace, he says, “How about today, you let me be the papa,” before beginning to sing. Later on, BMO describes his song by declaring, “I wrote this for my son Jake!” Now, as Adventure Time fans know, BMO is most certainly not Jake’s father. Where do these paternal claims come from, then? BMO’s statements, paired with the soothing nature of his song, make it clear that he is doing his best to take control of the dire situation by offering physical safety and emotional comfort as much as he is able. Psalm 91:4a describes the surety of God’s protection in a similar way: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge” (ESV). Of course, BMO is not God, and he cannot embrace all of his friends simultaneously, nor can he offer much in the way of protection, but his desires to provide support come from a beautiful, loving place. Jake is not BMO’s son by any definition of the word, but in this moment, BMO’s claim demonstrates his admirable love and protective attitude. Similarly, God claims us as His children through salvation, a claim bounteous with love. Our heavenly Father walks with us through our most desperate moments, giving us peace and rest. In his small, quirky way, BMO embodies these same traits for his friends.God’s view of time operates entirely differently from the human view, as His omniscience of all history and future outcomes prevents Him from being negatively affected by any present moment. This is not to say that God does not care about the struggles and hardships of people in whatever their current moment is, but that His knowledge of the future prevents Him from experiencing time with any uncertainty, doubt, or fear.
BMO may not be able to offer much in terms of physical protection, as a small non-weaponized robot, but through his love and unique perspective, he creates emotional comfort, which ultimately results in the physical salvation of all Ooo. The main themes of BMO’s song explore the idea of time as being fluid and non-linear. His first line, “Time is an illusion that helps things make sense,” reminds the characters that their experiences are not limited to things happening in the current moment—an enormously comforting thought when terror dominates the present. BMO claims that the linearity of time can be useful, but it is not reality. He goes on to say, “So we are always living in the present tense / It seems unforgiving when a good thing ends / But you and I will always be back then.” BMO is not talking about “living in the past,” where a person refuses to acknowledge change, enjoy the present, or plan for the future. Rather, when BMO says, “You and I will always be back then,” he wants his friends to remember that their current state does not negate the times they shared together in the past. Even as the world crumbles around them, the characters’ histories of love and bravery are as alive and relevant as ever. The Bible describes a similar perception of time belonging to God: “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 ESV). God’s view of time operates entirely differently from the human view, as His omniscience of all history and future outcomes prevents Him from being negatively affected by any present moment. This is not to say that God does not care about the struggles and hardships of people in whatever their current moment is, but that His knowledge of the future prevents Him from experiencing time with any uncertainty, doubt, or fear. In similar fashion, BMO wants his friends to receive comfort through an unconventional view of time, although his lack of omniscience means that he looks for comfort in the past instead of in the future. BMO doesn’t know if he and his friends will survive Golb’s attacks, but he knows that they have vanquished threats before, and they have shared beautiful moments of laughter and love. By focusing on positive memories and refusing an isolated view of the present, BMO’s song uplifts his friends.
In the repeated chorus, BMO uses grammatical tenses to clearly describe three different stages of time: the past, present and future. He then goes on to juxtapose all three together, giving equal weight to each. In the chorus BMO sings, “Will happen, happening, happened / And we’ll happen again and again / ’Cause you and I will always be back then.” According to BMO, time reliably continues on and on, with the events of the past being as important as the events of today which are as important of the events of the future, with neither canceling the other out or being of superior importance. BMO’s song tells his friends that their difficult situation does not negate the good times of the past, nor does their uncertain future impact the moment of camaraderie and bravery they have right now. BMO’s expression of grammatical tenses as categories of time mirrors one biblical description of God as one “who is and who was and is to come” (Revelation 1:8 ESV). God’s non-linear view of time matches an important element of His existence: unbound by time and eternal. BMO’s belief that time is an illusion allows him to see things in whatever order he needs, taking comfort from the past and seeing friendship in the future in order to survive terrifying uncertainty in the present. When BMO shares his perspective with the other characters, he inspires them with the hope to continue their fight. In this same way, we can take comfort in the reminder that God’s unique relationship with time gives Him power over uncertainty.
After BMO’s song ends, the united people of Ooo defeat Golb and save Finn through the power of music. The harmonies may have been the ultimate antidote to Golb’s chaotic discord, but the lyrics of the song provide the necessary encouragement for the characters to renew their hope and efforts. Often time feels restrictive to us humans, as we are bound by its rules and relentless progress. We arrange our activities by time of day, day of the week, and season of the year. Technically, we can think about the past and the future, but we only experience the present. When difficulties invade the present, we can feel stifled, with no way to escape except to continue on, perhaps hoping that this period of time will be shorter rather than longer. How much stronger this sensation would be for the characters in the finale of Adventure Time, faced with seemingly inevitable destruction and the end of the future. Relief enters through BMO, both metaphorically and physically, as he assumes a position of authority and protection. He reminds the others that one individual stage of time is not more important than another, and they can draw from the past and future to find strength in the present. Similarly, when our human perception of time becomes overwhelming and makes us feel trapped in discomfort, what a relief it is to know that our lives are in the hands of a God who is unbound by time.
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