The Timelessness of God and the Secrets It Unlocks

One of the more complicated issues in theology is not so much theodicy (that is, the problem of evil) as difficult as such a topic can be, rather it is the issue of God’s relationship to time—or, termed in another fashion, the timelessness of God. How does God interact with time? Any book on such a topic, even written for a layperson, can get quite complicated just by the sheer nature of the topic. However, the timelessness of God is an important issue. In fact, the timelessness of God is the key that unlocks other mysteries, or paradoxes, of the faith. First, let us describe what is meant by the timelessness of God and how one can understand God’s relationship to time. Then, we will examine some of the issues that are better understood from a good understanding of this complicated topic.

What is the Timelessness of God?

When we speak of the timelessness of God, we are addressing the issue of God’s interaction with time. Before we engage in the topic, one must understand two terms. Temporal is the term used to describe time since the beginning of the universe. You and I live in temporal time; that is, finite time within this universe. We exist in the present space-time continuum. Atemporal indicates one who exists beyond the scope of time. Thus, when I use the term temporal, I am addressing existence within time and when I use the term atemporal, I am referring to existence beyond this scope of time as it exists in this universe. (You are probably already noting how confusing this topic can become.)

Christian theists believe that God is eternal or atemporal. The psalmist writes of God that “Of old You founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment; like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end” (Psalm 102:25-27).[1] The apostle John addresses the atemporal nature of God, as well as that of Christ (Word), in denoting that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-3).

However, Christian theists also note that God is temporal in the sense that God operates within time. For instance, John continues his thought in chapter 1 of his gospel in noting that “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5). That is to say, the atemporal God acted in a temporal world. Thus, the atemporal God (transcendent) acts within a temporal world (immanent). In Psalm 90:4, Moses denotes that to God “a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.”

Norman Geisler describes the thought process of Thomas Aquinas as it pertains to the matter of time. Geisler denotes, Time is duration characterized by substantial and accidental changes. A substantial change is a change in what something is. Fire changes what a piece of wood is. An accidental change is a change in what something has. Growing knowledge is an accidental change in a being. Aquinas sees three levels of being in relation to time and eternity:

  1. God in eternity is Pure Actuality, without essential or accidental change.
  2. Angels and saints who dwell in the spiritual world of heaven live in aeviternity (or aevum).
  3. Human beings, comprising soul and body, form and matter, live in time” (Geisler 1999, 283).

William Lane Craig in his book Time and Eternity came to the conclusion that “It seems to me, therefore, that it is not only coherent but also plausible that God existing changelessly alone without creation is timeless and that He enters time at the moment of creation in virtue of His real relation to the temporal universe” (Craig 2001, 236). I would agree with Craig. However, I would note that the timelessness of God, or the atemporality of God, does not cease with God’s temporal nature with creation. Thus, God is both atemporal and temporal. God exists beyond the scope of time and also engages in a space-time world.

The Secrets God’s Timelessness Unlocks

As difficult as it is to understand God’s relation with time, one must understand that studying such an endeavor is worth investment.

The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility Paradox

On one particular Sunday, I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with a brilliant Christian man by the name of Caswell “Cas” Booe. Cas and his family owns and operates a popcorn factory near our neighborhood. Cas and I differ on some issues. But of course, we are both Baptists. It is said where there are three Baptists, there are also five opinions. Nevertheless, on the issue of God’s relation to time, we both enjoyed a great deal of unity. Cas demonstrated the mathematics behind God’s timelessness in relation to the temporal world. The results demonstrate something spectacular as it pertains to the issue of God’s sovereignty and human freedom. If God remains atemporal as well as temporal, then it is quite possible that God could see all events (past, present, and future) at the same moment. Thus, God’s foreknowledge is thorough and complete. God not only knows personal decisions made by individuals, God would also know with certainty what individuals would do when placed under certain circumstances. God could see the heart of each person. However, such actions would still require free moral agents to respond accordingly. This would coincide with a Thomistic or even a Molinist compatibilist perspective.[2] When asked about the conundrum between divine sovereignty and human freedom, Cas said, “It’s really an easy solution when you understand God’s relation to time.” Some would claim, “But doesn’t such knowledge take away human freedom?” I would say, “No, as such knowledge requires human response.” I like how the New Living Translation translates Proverbs 16:33. It says, “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT).[3] The Lord determines how they fall, but such determination requires the casting of the dice. Here one may find the perfect harmony of divine sovereignty and human freedom. The person rolls the dice, but God already knows with certainty the outcome of the roll since God can see all events in history. One may claim that such knowledge demerits human freedom. However, I cannot see how such is the case. Meteorologists are able to forecast the weather using computer models. Yet, the forecast is built upon contingent events. God who is outside time has access to know what free creatures would do and how they would do it. Could a person do otherwise? Theoretically, the person could, but God would know of the change. This does not demerit a human’s freedom, but only elevates the glory and grandeur of God.

The Problem of Evil Paradox

The timelessness of God also settles the problem of theodicy. Can a good and powerful God coexist with a world so full of evil? Yes!!! Why? It is because God knows the greater good that will come in the end. One can only imagine the great heartache God possesses in knowing the great evils that have come and will come to the earth. The most heartbreaking of all must have been the knowledge that Jesus would have to suffer and die upon a cross for the sins of humanity. Nevertheless, God permitted such due to the knowledge that something much greater would come in the end—billions and billions of souls saved by God’s grace. The future victory of Christ, while yet to occur in the temporal world, is already a certainty with God in God’s atemporal existence. It is a certainty.

There is a saying that goes, “Something worth having is worth working for.” The same holds true with the complex doctrine of God’s relation to time. Such an endeavor may require great theological, philosophical, and maybe even mathematical knowledge to understand with any great depth. However, the rewards to such knowledge are outstanding.

Bibliography

 Craig, William Lane. Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

© June 1, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] While Molinists accept libertarian free will, they also acknowledge God’s sovereignty. Therefore, Molinists could be said to be compatibilists in this manner.

[3] Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

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