God and time

Garry DeWeese (DeWeese@Colorado.edu)
Mon, 10 Nov 1997 10:13:08 -0700

At 02:00 PM 07/11/97 -0800, Jan de Koning wrote:

>>One fact that is causing much difficulty in our thinking is that God is
>>outside time, since as Creator He created time.
>>Jan de Koning
>>Willowdale, Ont.

And at 09:38, 11/10/87, Jan wrote,
>>I fully agree, but since we don't know we have to be very careful with
>"time" arguments. If we don't we get involved all over again in the
>arminian contra calvinist debate about grace contra free will. Since both
>are true, we cannot avoid to think of God above time. But since He is
>above time, He is always working in time, and even came down to live in
>time. It is impossible for finite beings to figure out timelessness and
>above all we cannot claim to know God in all His attributes, and even those
>we know we only know partially.

Well, let's not get involved in free will/fatalism again. Still, I am
uncomfortable with the assertion that "God is outside time," as if it were
a clear interpretation of Scripture. It is not. I would argue the following:

1. The modern terms "timeless," "atemporal," or "outside of time (or above
time)" as synonyms of "eternal" as applied to God are due more to Greek
philosophy than to any philosogical or exegetical arguments from wither the
Old or the New Testament. (I find it ironic that Jan de Koning, who so
often warns us against making facile assumptions based on Greek philosophy
when doing Biblical interpretation, is the one who has several times made
this claim.)

2. The claim that "God is outside of time" is often given no more support
than the further claim that, "If not, he could not be the creator of time."
But this doesn't follow. An analogous argument would claim that God is
not spirit, for if he were, then he could not be the creator of spirit (or
personhood, or being, or...). Properly we should not speak as God being
"in time" (cf. "in spirit"), but rather as a "temporal being" (cf.
"spiritual being"), or, more precisely, we should say that "God's temporal
mode of being is omnitemporality."

3. I think a sound argument can be offered to the effect that no concrete
entity can be timeless, where "concrete" (as opposed to abstract) entity is
understood as an entity which is possible the terminus of a causal relation.

4. An even stronger argument concludes that *if* God is timeless, then
time must be static, not dynamic (B-theoretic, for those familiar with the
philosophical jargon here). But there are significant problems with
assuming static time, and good reasons to believe time is really dynamic.
And if so, then God must be temporal.

5. The strongest support for God's timelessness comes from (i)
immutability, strongly conceived, and (ii) simplicity. But as many have
shown, if God is strongly immutable, then there can be no change in his
knowledge, and God could not know what time it is *now* (as that obviously
changes). I think a better understanding is to say that God is immutable
in his essential attributes, including of course omniscience, but to deny
that the *contents* of God's knowledge are essential to him. As for (ii), I
think it is very difficult to make sense of the concept of simplicity
without resorting to neo-Platonic metaphysical concepts which--as we should
realize--are not necessarily Biblical concepts.

6. The strongest support for static time comes from relativity theory
(specifically, the denial of absolute simultaneity), and frankly I find
those objections much more significant than the objections from
immutability and simplicity. But I believe they can be answered.

Garry DeWeese