Re: God and time

Moorad Alexanian (alexanian@UNCWIL.EDU)
Tue, 11 Nov 1997 10:09:29 -0500 (EST)

At 10:13 AM 11/10/97 -0700, Garry DeWeese wrote:
> 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

Dear Garry and Jan,

I believe that how God views us is useful in the discussion of some issues,
in particular, the question of God knowing what we are going to do in the
future. In physics we can draw diagrams of spacetime where a point
constitutes an event occurring at a particular position in space and at a
particular time. The world curve of a sequence of events will depict what is
the spatiotemporal behavior of something. Therefore, the whole lifetime of a
person can be denoted by a curve beginning with the point of conception and
ending in the death of the individual. That is to say, all the actions of
the individual are there to be seen yet the individual may not loose his/her
ability to decide for himself/herself. For God the whole lifetime of people
is like an eternal Now. Of course, there is more knowledge of God that the
mere spacetime. He knows us before conception and after death. The analogy,
of course, breaks down but it is still useful. I recall reading C.S. Lewis
on these points and I found his writing useful. In particular, when he said
that the reason that God knows what you are going to do tomorrow is that He
already saw you do it. That view is consistent with seeing the whole of the
path in the spacetime diagram.

Best regards,