Re: God and time

Garry DeWeese (
Mon, 10 Nov 1997 18:39:26 -0700

At 05:07 PM 11/10/1997 -0500, Jan de Koning wrote, concerning my claims
about God and time:
>I say, that it helps me to understand the controversies of free will as
>human resposibility. [snip]

Certainly understanding God's relation to time will help our understanding
of a whole cluster of issues surrounding free will. But if we use God's
relation to time to help us understand these controversies, then we must
first be clear as to what that relation is. So let's not get into these
controversies now. ;^)

I then made six claims about God's relation to time, which I will simplify
in what folows:

>>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.
Jan de Koning said:
>I would be very much interested in where you find that argument in Greek
>Philosophy. I cannot remember having my arguments ever read in any Greek
>philosophy work.

Plato, in a seeming departure from conventional usage, distinguished
between *aion* as the timeless, ideal eternity, in which there are no days
or months or years, and *chronos*, the time of the world created as a
moving image of eternity (Timaeus 37d). Under Plato's influence, Philo of
Alexandria said that *chronos* is the *bios* of the *kosmos* while *aion*
is the *bios* of God, an idea traces of which can perhaps be discerned in
the thought of the later Neoplatonists and the Neoplatonic theology of the
early church. However, there is no clear instance of the Platonic meaning
of the word *aion* in the New Testament, and attempts to fix the meaning of
the word in the New Testament by referring to Plato's unconventional usage
are mistaken.

GD said:
>>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."

>If you had read my previous postings, you would have noticed that I do not
>talk about God as creator of spirit in the sense you use it. Sorry, these
>postings may have been on another listing. The words we read in the bible
>as "spirit" are the same as the word translated as "wind" and "breath", see
>for the OT Gesenius under "ruach.". In some texts in the NT Greek word
>"pneuma" is translated in John 3:8 as "wind" and as "spirit." Here I
>definitely have claimed and still claim a Greek influence, which made man a
>body-spirit duality, contrary to the teachings of the OT. Man is a unit,
>when we die, we die. At the resurrection we will become ready for the New
>World, when the New heaven comes down to earth. I have definitely said,
>that splitting man in "body" and "soul" derives from Greek philosophy, and
>is anti-biblical. Most of the theological books I know on this are in
>Dutch. Some may have been translated, but I don't know. At the spur of
>the moment, the only one in English I can remember now is by John A.T.
>Robinson: The Body, A study in Pauline Theology.

I generally agree with you here, except to note that "non-biblical" is not
necessarily "anti-biblical."

>By the way how does
>"omnitemporality" differ from eternity? Note, that I never claimed that
>God is not eternal. I only claim that eternity is not the same as
>stretched out time.

The usual understanding of "eternity" is atemporal or timeless existence,
that is, existence in which there is no temporal succession or duration.
Now if you agree that there is succession in God's being, then we are not
very far apart at all. But if there is no temporal succession or extension
in God's being, then we have a lot of thinking and clarifying to do together.

"Omnitemporal" simply means "existing at all moments of time." It is not
the same as "sempiternal," for a sempiternal entity can come into existence
at a time and then continue without end (a possible example might be the
laws of nature or certain physical constants), while an omnitemporal entity
cannot fail to exist at any time.

Generally, an entity described as "outside of time" is considered timeless
or atemporal, while an entity which is omnitemporal is still a temporal
entity. Both are ways of being eternal--the first, timelessly eternal; the
second, everlastingly eternal.

GD said:
>>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.

>How? In creation, I agree, but for the Creator I don't.

The challenge for the defender of a timeless God is to give an account of
how he can have any relations with a temporal world. All such accounts,
from Boethius through Aquinas up to contemporary theological and
philosophical accounts, face serious problems.

>Besides you can
>never ever say that God is the terminus of a relation. At best that He is
>in every action here in creation.

Perhaps here we have a different understanding of terms. If God causes
anything, then he is a terminus of that causal relation. To my knowledge,
only Thomas Aquinas (and his followers) deny that God has direct causal
interaction with the world. Do you want to say that God never directly
causes anything in creation? Or the stronger claim that God is never the
initiator of a causal chain which has its effect in the world?

GD said:
>>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.

>"If God is timeless" is an expression I never used. I say God is "outside"
>time, and even that does not describe the situation properly, because God
>works in time too.

"Timeless" is the word generally used to describe something which is
"outside of time." If you have objections to the term, I'll change it.

>This whole debate becomes blasphemous, if we want to
>draw God into our definitions. No matter what you say, God is more than we
>ever can define or comprehend.

I'm not sure what it means to "draw God into our definitions." But unless
we wish to confine ourselves to the "via negativa," in which all we can say
about God is what he isn't, we will need to make positive claims about him
which must involve careful definitions. Many of these claims will be
analogical predications, in which the application of a term to God is like
but not identical to the application of the same term in normal human
discourse. But I would say that some claims we make about God are indeed
univocal--the terms mean exactly the same thing when applied to God as when
applied to creation. (I know you are Dutch, and so probably are aware of
the issue involved in the heresy charges brought by Cornelius van Til
against Gordon Clark. I'm Dutch too--although my family has been in
America since 1688--but I side with Clark here.) Now, none of this says
that God does not transcend our rationality, but I would affirm that in his
transcendence, God is non-rational, not irrational.

>Here again I point to the fact, that God
>makes us responsible and at the same time guides this whole world, and
>gives me a new heart, without my asking for it. No matter how you argue,
>you cannot philosophically argue about these issues without taking biblical
>givens into account.

Again, I'll avoid issues of free will and moral responsibility. Yes, of
course we must take biblical givens into account. But where the Bible does
not speak to certain issues which trouble us, should we not try to further
our understanding using whatever means of investigation we have at our
disposal? In this case, I think the investigation can proceed via
philosophical theology. (In other cases, the appropriate discipline might
be archaeology, or comparative semitic philology, or physics, or biology,
or astronomy, or...)

GD said:
>>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.

>While I am, of course, interested in what others say, I am not willing to
>defend philosophical arguments, which I don't hold and to my knowledge
>never used. These arguments are probably medieval in origin, but I never
>studied them in this connection. Here again we start talking as if we know
>God's inner workings. That is again blasphemous. As you see I do not
>underwrite this argument at all, and have never seen it in the theological
>literature I read on this subject. Do not try to read in my postings more
>than I say. Also, I will gladly acknowledge that I am possibly wrong, but
>thus far I have not seen any arguments that convince me, nor any arguments
>that answer the points I made.

I did not think, nor did I mean to imply, that you held to such views of
strong immutability or simplicity. I simply said these were the strongest
theological defenses of a timeless--or "outside of time"--view of God.

GD said:
>>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.

>How? Thus far I am impressed with the arguments, though I have staid away
>from using them in general discussions, I think. If I did not, forgive me.
> I am not enough of a phycisist to dare to debate publicly on these issues.

Since this post is too long already, I'll say something about this in another.

I intend all of this to be in the spirit of Augustine's oft-quoted notion
of "faith seeking understanding."

Garry DeWeese