Archive for the 'Eternity' Category

God is timeless but acts in time

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

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(image courtesy clipartlogo.com)

By Spencer D Gear

When there are discussions about Arminians and Calvinists and their disparate views of predestination and election, some interesting theories sometimes emerge on Internet Christian forums regarding the nature of God’s attributes.

Attributes are ‘the qualities of God which constitute what he is. They are the very characteristics of his nature’ and they relate to the qualities of the entire Godhead. They ‘are permanent qualities. They cannot be gained or lost. They are intrinsic…. God’s attributes are essential and inherent dimensions of his very nature’ (Erickson 1985:265).

I met one person online who wrote:

As to God loving Jacob and hating Esau, it is certainly not illustrative of some being predestined for Heaven and others for Hell. God — in His Divine foreknowledge — saw that Esau would never be a true believer (Heb 12:16,17), and the nation that sprang from Esau (Edom) would be the bitterest enemy of Israel (and of God) throughout their history. Hence God hated Esau (Edom) and loved Jacob (Israel). As Scripture says of Christ "Thou hast loved righteousness, AND HATED INIQUITY" (Heb 1:9).[1]

Another responded: ‘Don’t forget that when God spoke those words it was centuries after the fact and how the two Brothers and their offspring had acted. Based on that it is quite natural for God to say what he said based on their actions’.[2]

That comment seemed to indicate that God knew after the fact rather than before the fact.

No time in God’s being

My response was:[3] I’m not convinced that this is an adequate understanding of God’s eternity/infinity. We know that:

  1. There is no time in God’s being. He is timeless. See Psalm 90:2, ‘Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God’ (ESV). Also refer to Rev 1:8.
  2. God sees all of time simultaneously or vividly. See Psalm 90:4, ‘For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night’ (ESV).
  3. Yet, God takes action in time. Jesus came ‘when the time had fully come’, born of a woman, under the law, to redeem those under the law (Gal 4:4-5) [with help from Grudem 1999:76-78].

Therefore, I find Wayne Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity to be affirmed by Scripture: ‘God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time’ (Grudem 1999:76).
So, the information about God loving Jacob and hating Esau does not have a ‘centuries after the fact’ dynamic when we understand God’s attribute of eternity or infinity because God is timeless in his being. This kind of understanding is seen in verses such as Eph 1:4 where God states of Christians that he chose us in Christ ‘BEFORE the foundation of the world’.

Systematic theologian, Henry Thiessen, wrote that

by the eternity of God we mean His infinity in relation to time; we mean that He is without beginning or end; that He is free from all succession of time; and that He is the cause of time.… That God is eternal is abundantly taught in Scripture…. Eternity for God is one Now’ (Thiessen 1949:122, emphasis in original).

Thiessen refers to Gen 21:33 (‘the Everlasting God’); Ps 90:2 (‘from everlasting to everlasting you are God’); Ps 102:27 (‘You are the same, and your years have no end’); Isa 57:15 where God is ‘high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity’, and 1 Tim 6:16 where the Sovereign, King of kings and Lord of Lords is the one ‘who alone has immortality’ (all citations are from the ESV).

Then came this opposition:

Hundreds of verses oppose such a view

This fellow, who often tries to make others and me seem inferior with his alleged superior knowledge, responded:

None of these verses support your belief. Moreover, there are hundreds upon hundreds of verses in the Bible which explicitly describe man actively, both mentally and physically, opposing the will of God. When God created man, He created him with the ability to successfully oppose His sovereignty – and he has been doing so from the very beginning of his creation![4]

God’s sovereignty does not mean that people cannot and do not commit evil. However, that is all in the sovereign plan of God. How do we know? It is God who has stated the boundaries of his sovereignty. John the Baptist stated, ‘And do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham’ (Matt 3:9 ESV). The psalmist was adamant: ‘Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases’ (Ps 115:3). In saying that God does as God pleases, we know that God cannot do that which violates his own character such as lying (Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18; James 1:13). In 2 Tim 2:13, it states that ‘if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself’.

My three points are untrue

This fellow’s rejection of my three-point claim regarding God’s eternity was what we could call the fourth point: The three points I made above were false. He wrote: ‘Point #3 proves that points #2 and #3 are not true. I find Wayne Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity to be based upon his overactive imagination rather than affirmed by Scripture’.[5]

Notice what he did? He provided not one piece of evidence to demonstrate the falsehood of what I wrote. Thus, his response was a red herring logical fallacy. Red herring fallacies involve the use of a tactic to avoid dealing with the issues raised and pursuit of the person’s own agenda with information that looks as though it is related but is not. It’s a tactic that some debaters often use to get people off specific topics. They need to be exposed for what they do by naming the fallacies they commit.

My reply was[6] that I disagree. Points 1-3 are all valid (which I’ll demonstrate again below). He provided no evidence to counter the view Grudem espoused, based on the scriptural evidence he provided.

Therefore, Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity/infinity is consistent with the biblical revelation he articulated: ‘God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time’ (Grudem 1999:76).

Brilliant, basic Christian theology

A fellow chimed in with a beautiful response to PrincetonGuy and me with his analogy:

Image result for photo clock public domainI can show that point number four (yours) [PrincetonGuy] is not true. Let’s take a look at this by way of analogy. Specifically, let’s go with Acts 3:15 and pretend that God is in some way like an author. I know you don’t like that idea, because it sounds a little too Calvinistic, but lets (sic) go with it, anyway:

1. The author is not subject to the time line of his own narrative. He may have his own time, but it is not the time line of his novel. This is similar to him not being physically contained within the confines of the universe that he created in the novel. Don’t be shocked by this. God is not fully encapsulated within the universe that he created, neither by space nor by time. Otherwise, he could not have existed before the universe in order to create it.

2. The author can hold the entire novel in his hand at once. Without even reading it, he knows what happens at every point in the story. He can either consider the story line as a whole, or he can read through it one page at a time, reliving the events. This is similar to God (2 Peter 3:8), and it is by definition a component of his omniscience.

3. Now, here’s the part that you think contradicts the first two: the author can write himself into his own novel as a character. He can interact with the characters as one of the characters, and he can do it on terms with their own time line. Hence, Jesus was God in the flesh, living among us as one of us, though God be eternal, immortal and self-existent. He lived according to our timeline, though God exists outside of time.

Space and time are both considered similarly. If we believe that God exists outside of the physical universe, which he must if he had to create it, then we believe that he exists outside of the universe’s time as well as the universe’s space. Nowhere, ever, has there been any demonstration of a divorce between space and time. Where one goes, so goes the other.

If God stands outside of the universe’s time, then he is not subject to it. For example, I stand outside of the timeline containing the events of World War II (thankfully). Therefore, I am not forced to move through that time at a set pace. I am able to consider individual events, in sequence or as a strategic whole, from that time period, so long as I am properly informed, because I am not contained by it.

Jesus was present within our space, and he was, therefore, contained within our time. He is also Emmanuel, which is to say that he is God with us. Therefore, God with us was present within our space and time. Therefore, God can be both outside of and independent of time, and he can be inside of and working with our time. The reverse is not also true: he can reach down to us, but we can not reach up to him.

This is not fanciful thinking. It’s just basic Christian theology. You can’t deny point number one without denying God’s self-existence, which then means he cannot be the creator of the universe. You can’t deny point two without denying point one, because the second point definitively follows from the first point. If you deny the third point, then you deny the deity of Christ. The first two make you a monotheist. The third makes you a Christian.[7]

This is a dynamic example, so I responded: ‘What a splendid summary statement! You have explained it so well by analogy. In addition, it harmonises (if I understand you correctly) with the 3 points I made’ with their biblical backing.[8]

Wrong philosophical thinking!

My opponent was not at all pleased by the above analogy. He wrote:

No, it is philosophical thinking that is dependent upon unprovable assumptions. Moreover, it conflicts with the historic understanding of God in the Scriptures as described in the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man.[9]

Philosophical thinking is far removed from the analogy. It was used to explain biblical thinking, so I responded to this person: ‘It is biblical thinking as I demonstrated with the Scriptures given in points #1-3 above. Quoting the Nicene Creed does not deal with the specifics of God’s attribute of eternity/infinity and how he acts in time’.[10]

It doesn’t belong in a Baptist forum

What kind of response would you expect from him?

Where is the scriptural evidence that Grudem cited to support his absurd notion that is refuted by the hundreds of passages in the Bible that teach a sequence of events and the cause and effect of each of those events? Does Grudem not know enough about biblical hermeneutics to realize that the book of Psalms is NOT a reliable source upon which to base a theological opinion?…

The Nicene Creed, which Grudem seems to ignore, affirms that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “of the essence of the Father,” and is “of one substance with the Father.” God, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega (and therefore not “timeless”), most certainly did not see “all of time simultaneously.” Theology that expressly and explicitly contradicts the Nicene Creed (as well as the Bible!) is NOT orthodox theology and does NOT belong in the Baptist forum.[11]

Note the emphasis: ‘The book of Psalms is NOT a reliable source upon which to base a theological opinion’. Predictably my response was:

All Scripture is from God – including the Psalms

bible5I wrote[12] that that is his view of the lack of authority and reliability of the Psalms. In fact, it’s affirming your low view of Scripture – the Psalms.

This is the biblical view that I, a Baptist, take with regard to Scripture – all of Scripture – (and so does Wayne Grudem, professor of theology & biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary): ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV).

The Scriptures do not affirm the authority of creeds. The Nicene Creed is a useful summary of theology, but it is not authoritative as are the Scriptures.

The Scriptures affirm that God’s attribute of eternity/infinity is not shared by us. According to Job 36:26, Elihu said of God, ‘Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable’ (ESV).

God’s eternity is suggested by NT passages such as Rev 1:8, ‘I am the Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’ (ESV). So, God’s eternity is affirmed in both OT and NT, the reliable Scriptures that are ‘breathed out by God’ and have a guess what? They are ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ to equip us for God’s good work in our lives. That applies to you and me and all Christians on this forum.
Thus, God is timeless in his being. God was never created so he did not begin to exist. See Gen 1:1; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; and Heb 1:2.

Second Peter 3:8 confirms that God sees all of time equally: ‘But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’ (ESV). Isaiah 46:9-10 affirms similar teaching:

remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose (ESV).

This attribute of God’s eternity/infinity is demonstrated in time, where all human beings exist: Acts 17:30-31 provides but one example:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (ESV).

You can denigrate the Psalms, but that view is not supported by the doctrine of Scripture I’ve cited above, but the Scriptures affirm God’s eternity where:

  • God is timeless in his being;
  • He sees all time equally; and
  • God acts in time – the time we experience.

That’s Bible, and denigrating the Psalms is an avoidance mechanism in dealing with the authority and teaching of Scripture on God’s eternity/infinity.
If you don’t believe the Psalms are a reliable source for theology, why don’t you start a new thread with a title such as, ‘The Psalms are unreliable teaching on biblical Christianity’. I look forward to the response when and if you bring Psalm 23 into that view.

William Craig doubts Grudem’s view of God’s eternity

William Lane Craig.jpg(William Lane Craig photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Influential evangelical apologist and philosopher, Dr William Lane Craig, does not agree with Grudem’s exposition of God’s eternity. Although Craig uses some challenging philosophical concepts for me, he does raise some issues with Grudem’s view that are substantial. Take a read of Craig’s issues in: ‘A Critique of Grudem’s Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Eternity‘ (Craig 1996).

His assessment is:

It is shown how the attempt of one theologian to explicate the doctrine of divine eternity is logically inconsistent and his attempts to defend an atemporal understanding of eternity mistaken (Craig 1996).

Craig explains one of his issues with Grudem’s formulation of God’s eternity:

Grudem is oblivious to the fact that his claim "God always existed before there was any time" is patently self-contradictory, indeed, doubly so. First, to speak of God’s existing "before" time is contradictory because "before" is a temporal relation. So if God existed before time, He existed at some time prior to time, which is obviously a contradiction. Secondly, to say God always existed timelessly is self-contradictory, since "always" is a temporal adverb meaning "at all times." But to say God prior to creation existed both timelessly and at all times is clearly contradictory. Grudem protests that such objections are "just quibbling" and perhaps this complaint would be justified were such contradictions due merely to a popular style of writing used to explain a doctrine which can be more rigorously formulated with consistency. But Grudem asserts that "I simply do not think it is possible to express any more clearly in English the ideas (1) that time began at Genesis 1:1 and (2) that ‘prior to’ Genesis 1:1 time did not exist (and therefore there was no succession of moments or events in this ‘prior to’ or ‘before’), but (3) that in that timeless reality God still existed, and he existed not just for a brief second or any kind of finite amount of (non!)-time but that he ‘always’ existed timelessly" ("Comments").[13] Now this strikes me as an extremely serious and troublesome assertion on Grudem’s part. If it is really impossible to express such ideas in a logically coherent way, without speaking of such as (non-) time or God’s always existing prior to time, then how is that any different than saying that the Christian doctrine of God is simply logically incoherent? Since logical consistency is a necessary condition for truth, the sentences formulating the Christian doctrine of divine eternity are necessarily false. To believe that the Christian doctrine of God, despite its logical incoherence, is nonetheless true thus involves a sacrificum intellectum on the part of every believer (Craig 1996).

William Lane Craig, therefore, concluded:

Grudem’s treatment of divine eternity is multiply flawed both in its formulation and defense. This does not imply that the doctrine of divine timelessness is either incoherent or indefensible. The same sort of weaknesses in formulation and defense could have been shown to characterize, for example, Clark Pinnock’s defense of divine temporality. I hope only to have shown that Grudem’s own attempt to formulate and defend his view of God’s eternity is in need of major revision (Craig 1996).

Conclusion

Therefore, I conclude that my formulation of the theology of God’s eternity depended too much on Wayne Grudem’s understanding and my exposition of God’s eternity needs to consider the elements of William Craig’s critique. Some of these include:

Grudem defines divine eternity as follows: "God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time" (p. 168). This definition makes it evident that Grudem construes divine eternity to be a state of timelessness, not infinite temporal duration.

Now it is immediately evident that this affirmation outstrips the biblical passages quoted by Grudem as attestation. From passages like Ps. 90.2, Grudem has no difficulty showing that God has no beginning or end: "Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God" (cf. Ps. 90.4; 2 Pet. 3.8). But do such passages support Grudem’s affirmation that "God is timeless in his own being" rather than God’s beginningless and endless duration? Surely not. Grudem cites Gen. 1.1; Jn. 1.3 which indicate that God created all things "in the beginning," a phrase which Grudem takes to mean "in the beginning of all events, or in the beginning of time" ("Comments"). This line is more promising; but Grudem fails to give any argument why such passages should be taken to refer to the beginning of time rather than to the beginning of the world. Grudem is on less sure ground when he appeals to Ex. 3.14; Jn. 8.58 to prove God or Jesus’s eternal presentness (Craig 1996).

Thus it is evident that my own understanding of God’s eternity needs to get rid of statements such as, ‘God always existed before or after’ where ‘before’ and ‘after’ are language for issues in time.

Craig, as a Christian philosopher, has given some profound insight into Grudem’s shortcomings in his view of God’s eternity. Craig’s preferred language is, ‘God’s beginningless and endless duration’.

 

Works consulted

Craig, W L 1996. A Critique of Grudem’s Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Eternity. Philosophia Christi, 19, 33-38. Available at Reasonable Faith, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-critique-of-grudems-formulation-and-defense-of-the-doctrine[14] (Accessed 11 July 2015).

Erickson, M J 1985. Christian theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Grudem, W 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press (published by arrangement with

Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Notes


[1] Job8#28, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Baptists?’, June 27, 2015, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/baptists.7893826/page-2 (Accessed 11 July 2015).

[2] Ibid., classicalhero#47.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#52.

[4] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#53.

[5] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#64.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#55.

[7] Ibid., nonaeroterraqueous#56.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#57.

[9] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#58.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#59.

[11] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#60.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#65.

[13] In Craig (1996, n. 1), Craig stated: ‘I am indebted to Dr. Grudem for his critical comments on a first draft of this paper (Wayne Grudem to William Craig, October 1, 1996). Citations of these comments will appear as "Comments”’.

[14] There is no pagination in this online edition.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 April 2016.

Is God eternal and temporal?

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Infinite by algotruneman

By Spencer D Gear

What is God’s relation to time and eternity? Leading conservative theologians give these explanations about the nature of God’s eternity and time:

clip_image002H Orton Wiley: ‘By eternity as an attribute of God, we can mean only that He stands superior to time, free from the temporal distinctions of past and future, and in whose life there can be no succession. This is the sense of those scriptures which speak of the eternity of God, none of which more explicitly set it forth than the reve­lation of the name I AM THAT I AM. From its first declaration made to Moses (Exod. 3: 14) to the final revelation made to St. John in the Apocalypse as that which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Al­mighty (Rev. 1: 8), this name not only declares the Aseity or Self-sufficiency but the Eternity of God’ (Wiley 1940:335).

clip_image002[1]Henry Thiessen stated that the eternity of God means ‘his infinity in relation to time…. He is without beginning or end; that He is free from all succession of time; and that He is the cause of time… That God is eternal is abundantly taught in Scripture…. Eternity for God is one Now’ (Thiessen 1949:122, emphasis in original). Thiessen refers to Gen 21:33; Ps 90:2; 102:27; Isa 57:15 and 1 Tim 6:18.

clip_image002[2]James Montgomery Boice explained that a quality in the name of God that was given to Moses – ‘I AM WHO I AM’ – ‘is everlastingness, perpetuity or eternity. The quality is difficult to put in one word, but it is simply that God is, has always been and will always be, and that he is ever the same in his eternal being’. He explained that ‘this attribute of God is explained everywhere in the Bible’. He referred to Gen 21:33; Ps 90:1-2; Rev 1:8; 4:8; 21:6 and 22:13 (Boice 1986:105).

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Courtesy Open Clip Art Library (Public Domain)

But if you then go onto the Internet where some Bible-based evangelicals are interacting, an interesting mix is found. If you want to encounter some hairy doctrine, try visiting some of the Christian forums on the Internet. There I med Brad who asked:

There seems to be two main views on how God relates to time. Most philosophers today hold to the position that God is Temporal like we are. They say that He operates and responds to events in time successively just as we would. The problem is this means God could not see what has not happened yet because… it has not happened “yet.” The only logical way to know what will happen (without causing it to happen and short circuiting free will) is to somehow experience it. And of course logically if someone has the ability to experience the future and relay it to us, then there must be more to time than only current time. And they must be experiencing time some other way than only temporally.

Some argue that God could just make good predictions on the way things will happen based on His divine observation of the way things are going in the present. Similar to seeing a marble rolling toward the edge of a table and predicting it will fall on the floor. But that isn’t the way Bible prophecy is….

The second view is that God is “Timeless.” The philosophers who view that God is timeless deny God being temporal. In their view God does not exist in or experience time in succession as we do, but rather He exists beyond time. He exists at a non-temporal location called eternity where He experiences all centuries and time at once. An analogy to help us try to even conceive of this would be to take a snapshot picture of every second of my entire life, from birth to death, and arrange them all in one giant frame that I could experience all at once. Of course my eyes and brain would be completely incapable of processing all that at once, but God’s could…..

So you can see how both temporal and timeless views fit scripture on one sense but conflict on another. On the one hand God knew things before the foundation of the world. God can see the future. But on the other hand God called out to Adam asking where he was? He was grieved by man’s sin before the flood. He expressed surprise at Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son. And most importantly, we are clearly taught that God does answer prayer as a result of our asking, something that requires temporality. Contemplating all of this left me with a very mind boggling dilemma.

What are your thoughts?[1]

clip_image005(courtesy clker.com)

The thoughts that rolled in

One poster wrote:Temporal is the life we live in the present, it doesn’t pertain to our spiritual life which is what God judges after death. As for the answering of prayers that is in the hands of God. He may answer them in this life or maybe in the next. But I guarantee, that he will only answers prayers that are within his jurisdiction’.[2]

How do you think Brad would reply to the thought that temporal refers only to this life? He wrote: ‘I was wondering why you don’t believe we will experience temporal time in heaven? John describes his experience there within a temporal frame work. Paul does too. Even the prophet Eziekiel (sic) describes his vision of the throne  of God Temporally’.[3]

He continued:

I didn’t notice this the first time.

So do you see yourself as a Christian Judith?

I only asked because most Christians would say that it is being found in Christ and Him alone that renders one not guilty. You seemed to suggest there is more to it than that.[4]

Judith’s response was: ‘There certainly is, for we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this world’.[5]

Temporal time in heaven?

How should one respond to the concept of experiencing temporal time in heaven? I wrote:[6]

I also do not believe I ‘will experience temporal time in heaven’. I will experience aeviternity [7] in heaven (definition given at the foot of this article).

This is why I don’t believe I’ll experience temporal time in heaven. What is the meaning of ‘temporal’? My Aussie Macquarie Dictionary gives these meanings of ‘temporal’:

  1. ‘of or relating to time.
  2. ‘relating to or concerned with the present life or this world; worldly.
  3. ‘enduring for a time only; temporary; transitory;
  4. Grammar a. ‘of, relating to, or expressing time’ (The Macquarie Dictionary 1997:2180).

The reason why I will not be experiencing temporal time in heaven is because time will be over when I get to glory. I thank God that it will be gone forever. I will be experiencing the aeviternal dimension of my existence in the presence of the trinitarian Lord God. My taking warfarin for heart surgery for over 30 years will have finished. All the aches, pains, conflict, wars and rumours of war will be gone forever. What a day, glorious day, that will be when my Jesus I shall see!

Further replies

Another wrote:

I believe God is timeless. That is I believe “time” is a construct of God for man’s benefit, to mark seasons, measure boundaries and changes.

When God asked Adam, Where are you? It wasn’t because God didn’t know where Adam was, it was a question for Adam to think about….in order for Adam to think about where he was at spiritually, having broken fellowship with God.

God can either be in the temporal for the sake of man, while still living in the eternal timelessness. He is after all omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent.[8]

She went further:

The Lord impressed me with how while I’m down in the situation feeling overwhelmed, God is above in a multitude of dimension, seeing things that I don’t normally see and He sees it all at once and has it within his power to help me navigate through places that I thought were scary…

At that moment my anxiety vanished forever concerning those trials … I saw from a different vantage point.[9]

Here’s another perspective on Brad’s observations and question, from another poster to that forum:

We live in 4 dimensions: height, width, depth, time/space yet science has determined that there could be up to 11 dimensions (however small). God is outside of our 4 dimensions (which would be beyond time/space) and can see all of human history at one time. One example using another person in the same dimensions would be seeing a parade from a helicopter — those on the ground will only see the parade as it goes by but the person looking down would see the total parade at one time….

So, the descriptions you’ve given about God using feeling, answering prayer, is His way of communicating with us on our level but this does not mean that any of what happens on this mortal realm is a surprise to Him. I think God works through time because that is how we live but does He change His mind? I don’t think so. I think He works through circumstances and time to change us to confirm to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

What blows my mind is to consider what our existence will be beyond this realm. Will we still be limited to time after we are raised by God and made “imperishable” (1 Cor 50-54) – or will it time still be a dimension that can be used for God’s purposes? That is, once Christ returns and Heaven is on Earth (Rev 21 & 22), will those in Christ move between time and eternity, like Angels do?

One of my favorite scripture passages is “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11)

I sense both the pull of eternity God has placed in me but also the limitation of this perishable body to understand what He has done, is doing and will do.[10]

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Photos-public-domain.com

Is God both timeless and temporal?

Brad wrote:

I totally agree that God is timeless. But again let me clarify what that term means to most philosiphers (sic). It doesn’t mean that God has experienced an infinite amount of time temporally (in succession). But rather He is experiencing all temporal time from infinity to infinity, all at once in one timeless instant….

As for Him creating time consider this; In Genesis 1:14 God tells us He created the sun, moon, and stars to be “markers” so that man could measure time, but nowhere does He ever tell us exactly when He created time. Time may actually even be an eternal extention (sic) of Himself….

So is it possible that when God said that a thousand years is as one day to Him, or one day can be as a thousand years, that He was saying just that? That He is both timeless and temporal?[11]

To suggest that God is both timeless and temporal is to say that God is a temporal Being. Such a statement is contradictory to Scripture but an oxymoron – a temporal God?? How should I respond to this post? Here it is:[12]

Perhaps you could consider this. There was no need for God to say at any place in Scripture, ‘I created time at such-and-such a time and I stated it in Chapter & Verse’. Why?

Because the very first verse of the Bible should answer that question, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’ (Gen 1:1). From the very first moment God created ex nihilo (out of nothing) the very first thing he made, time began. Time is needed only because there is a creation in which it is to operate.

My proposal is that there is no need for God to state one word about his creating time because that should be understood by us as only creation needs time. At the moment God created the heavens and the earth, time began.
You might like to take a read of these two articles:

 

The unchanging, eternal, timeless God and the temporal

Here’s how I responded to Brad’s opening statement:[13]

clip_image009Thomas Aquinas (courtesy Wikipedia)

Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica (1920), wrote on ‘The eternity of God‘. He said, ‘Eternity is nothing else but God Himself. Hence God is not called eternal, as if He were in any way measured; but the idea of measurement is there taken according to the apprehension of our mind alone…. Eternity truly and properly so called is in God alone, because eternity follows on immutability; as appears from the first article. But God alone is altogether immutable [unchanging]’ (Aquinas 1920:1a.10.2-3).

Norman Geisler has summarised several of Aquinas’s arguments to support his conclusion (Geisler2003:101-103) – unless otherwise stated, the citations are from Geisler:

 

  1. ‘Whatever exists in time can be computed according to its befores and afters. However, a changeless Being has no befores and afters; it is always the same. Consequently, God must be timeless’.
  2. ‘Time is duration characterized by substantial and accidental changes. Substantial changes are changes of substance.  He uses the example of aeviternity [see definition below] (the existence of angels, and the existence of Christian believers in heaven) to demonstrate accidental changes. Accidental changes are those that are changeable. ‘Angels can increase in knowledge by divine infusion, and they have changeableness with regard to choice, intelligence, affections and places’. However, there can be no substantial changes with them – changes of their substance (what they are made of). What is true of angels is also true of elect believers in heaven.
  3. ‘Time is defined as a measurement in terms of befores and afters. God has no before or after, since He is changeless. It follows, then, that He must be timeless, for if he were in time, He could be measured according to a before and an after, which implies change’ (Aquinas 1920:1a.10.6).
  4. ‘Whatever is in time has succession of one state after another. From this Aquinas concluded that whatever is immutable is not temporal. This argument stresses another aspect of time: Whatever is temporal has successive states, one after the other. But as an immutable being God has no changing states, one after another; therefore, God cannot be temporal’.
  5. ‘In brief, total immutability implies eternity [Aquinas 1920:1a.10.2], for whatever changes substantially is in time and can be computed according to befores and afters. Whatever does not change cannot be in time, since it has no different states by which befores and afters can be computed; all are the same – it never changes. Therefore, whatever does not change is not temporal; God is eternal’.
  6. ‘Not only is God eternal, but He alone is eternal [Aquinas 1920:1a.10.3]. The reason for this is that God alone is essentially immutable, since all creatures can cease to exist. But, … eternity necessarily  follows from immutability, and from this, that God alone is essentially eternal’.
  7. Aquinas (1920:1a.10.4) provides these reasons for distinguishing eternity from endless time (in Geisler 2003:102-103):

(1)    ‘Whatever is essentially whole is essentially different from what has parts. Eternity differs from time in this way (eternity is Now; time has now and then); hence, eternity is essentially different from time. In other words, God’s eternity is not divided; it is all present to Him in His eternal Now. So it must be essentially different from time, which comes only a moment at a time’.

(2)    ‘Endless time is not eternity; it is simply more of time. Eternity differs in kind from time; that is, it differs essentially, not merely accidentally, from time. Endless time differs only accidentally from time because it is only an elongation of time. Since endless time is simply time – just more of it – eternity must differ from it essentially. To state it another way, more of the same thing is essentially the same thing; therefore, endless time does not differ essentially from time’.

(3)    ‘An eternal Being cannot change, whereas time involves change by which the measurements of befores and afters can be made. Thus, an eternal Being, such as God is, cannot change. In other words,

(a)    Whatever can be computed according to befores and afters is not eternal.
(b)    Endless time can be computed according to befores and afters.
(c)    Hence, endless time is not the same as eternity’.

‘The eternal is changeless, but what can be computed by its befores and afters has changed. It follows, then, that eternal cannot be endless time. It must be something qualitatively different, not just different in quantity’.

(4)    ‘Aquinas argued that there is a crucial difference in the “now” of time and the “Now” of eternity [Aquinas 1920:1a.10.4, ad. 2). The now of time is movable, but the Now of eternity is not. Eternity is not movable in any way; therefore, the Now of eternity is not the same as the now of time. The eternal Now is unchanging, while the now of time is ever changing. There is only an analogy between time and eternity, not an identity. God’s Now has no past or future; time’s how does’.

clip_image011Dr Norman Geisler, courtesy normangeisler.com

Geisler wrote:

‘Another way to understand the difference between God’s eternity and time is to recognize that time is an accidental change, not a substantial change. A substantial change is a change in what something is; an accidental change is a change in what something has. Aquinas pointed out that time is an accidental change, and only humanity, not God or angels, has accidental change. So only humanity is in time. Angels undergo substantial change (creation), but this does not involve time. The only mode of being that existed before angels began was an eternal mode (God)’

‘A substantial change (for men or angels) is not a change in time, for no substantial change has a before and after in time. eternity is one pole, and time the other. Hence, substantial change for man is a change into or out of time, but not a change in time. God cannot change substantially or accidentally. Since He is a necessary Being, He cannot go out of existence. Since He is a simple Being, He has no accidents. Therefore, God cannot be temporal in any way, since time involves change’ (Geisler 2003:103).

clip_image013

(Augustine of Hippo, Latin theologian (354-430) – courtesy of Wikipedia)

A beautiful serve from a woman who knows her product

This woman put the challenge to Brad:[14]

Brad (B): I can’t seem to find any philosiphers (sic) who have published a conclusion like Noelle and I have arrived at. That is to say, none of them seem to want to say God is could be both timeless and temporal.

Janet (J): I don’t know why you are consulting philosophers rather than theologians. You can look all you like, but you won’t find any legitimate theologians who posit that God is both temporal AND outside of time because that is a self-contradiction, which cannot possibly be true of God. A God who is a self-contradiction is no god at all. A God who both is limited to time and at the same time outside of time is an insupportable proposition.  What theologians do say, however, is that God is absolutely outside of time but works WITHIN time to accomplish His will, and necessarily so because that is the plane on which we humans live.

B: Would a God who told us not to lie, merely “act” surprised? You can see how a critic might constrew that as deception.

J: Those of us who know God as Truth know He doesn’t “act” at anything.  Are you that critic?

B: So what if God saw the surprise party in advance and could erase that information (temporally) for the purpose of genuinly expressing surprise and thereby relate to us on our level?

J: You are suggesting that an omniscient God can turn His omniscience on and off like a light switch. So He’s omniscient, except when He isn’t? An omniscient God who is sometimes not omniscient is another self-contradiction.  Are you not able to see the absurdity?  Are there any other characteristics of an immutable (go look that up) God that He switches on and off at will?  Why is it important to you that God be surprised by anything?

This was my response to her:[15]

Congratulations on an outstanding post. Thank you for raising the stakes so that we are discussing an orthodox view of God as declared in Scripture.

I would modify one point when you stated:

I don’t know why you are consulting philosophers rather than theologians. You can look all you like, but you won’t find any legitimate theologians who posit that God is both temporal AND outside of time because that is a self-contradiction, which cannot possibly be true of God. A God who is a self-contradiction is no god at all. A God who both is limited to time and at the same time outside of time is an insupportable proposition.[16]

There are a number of liberal theologians who would call themselves ‘legitimate theologians’ who oppose an orthodox position. Here are some statements by liberal existentialist theologian, Paul Tillich (1886-1965), from his Systematic theology (1968). The chapter is on ‘The actuality of God: God as creating and related’ (Tillich 1968:280f). These are a few grabs:

  • ‘The concept of eternity must be protected against two misinterpretations. Eternity is neither timelessness nor the endlessness of time. The meaning of olam in Hebrew and of aiwnes in Greek does not indicate timelessness; rather it means the power of embracing all periods of time. Since time is created in the ground of the divine life, God is essentially related to it. In so far as everything divine transcends the split between potentiality and actuality, the same must be said of time as an element of the divine life’ (Tillich 1968:I.304, emphasis added).
  • ‘Special moments of time are not separated from each other; presence is not swallowed by past and future; yet the eternal keeps the temporal within itself. Eternity is the transcendent unity of the dissected moments of existential time’ (Tillich 1968:I.304, emphasis added).
  • ‘If we call God a living God, we affirm that he includes temporality and with this a relation to the modes of time. Even Plato could not exclude temporality from eternity; he called time the moving image of eternity’ (Tillich 1968:I.305).
  • ‘And eternity is not the endlessness of time. Endless time, correctly called “bad infinity” by Hegel, is the endless reiteration of temporality’ (Tillich 1968:I.305).
  • ‘On the basis of these considerations and the assertion that eternity includes temporality, the question must still be asked: “What is the relation of eternity to the modes of time?” An answer demands the use of the only analogy to eternity found in human experience, that is, the unity of remembered past and anticipated future in an experienced present. Such an analogy implies a symbolic approach to the meaning of eternity. In accord with the predominance of the present in temporal experience, eternity must first be symbolised as an eternal present…. An eternal present is moving from past to future but without ceasing to be present’ (Tillich 1968:I.305-306, emphasis added).
  • ‘A relative although not an absolute openness to the future is the characteristic of eternity’ (Tillich 1968:I.306, emphasis added).
  • ‘God’s eternity is not dependent on the completed past. For God the past is not complete, because through it he creates the future; and, in creating the future, he re-creates the past’ (Tillich 1968:I.306).

clip_image015

Tillich’s gravestone in the Paul Tillich Park, New Harmony, Indiana (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

As you will appreciate, this is out of the mind of theologian Paul Tillich. In the quotes I have given from these three pages of his systematic theology, not one Scripture is given. Exegetical support was not on the mind of this theological liberal theologian.

However, he was a German refugee and professor at Union Theological Seminary, New York City. His God was the non-theistic ‘ground of being’ with whom a person could have an experiential and existential encounter. So of Tilllich, church historian, Earle Cairns, stated that ‘he dissolved both the Bible and creeds into subjective expressions of human thought to be subjected to historical criticism’ (Cairns 1981:446).

Janet’s response to me included these statements: ‘I have never thought that existentialism lines up in any way with Biblical Christianity, holding as it does, among other things, that that each individual – not society or religion or the God of any religion – is solely responsible for giving meaning to life.  That is about as anti-Biblical as it gets, in my view”.[17]

[18]My response was that I agreed. When people chuck out biblical declarations and replace with existential experience, it leads to any kind of view of Christianity. In my thesis, I’m working through how this happens with the contemporary postmodern deconstructionism that has overcome much of liberal theology. Its outcomes are just as devastating when the reader is the one who determines meaning and not the intent of the original author.
Of Paul Tillich, Janet wrote:

He who wants a salvation which is only visible cannot see the divine child in the manger as he cannot see the divinity of the Man on the Cross and the paradoxical way of all divine acting. Salvation is a child and when it grows up, it is crucified. Only he who can see power under weakness, the whole under fragment, victory under defeat, glory under suffering, innocence under guilt, sanctity under sin, life under death can say: Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.[19]

That’s worthy of thought.  And he did work the Bible into that one![20]

Yes[21], it is worthy of thought, much thought. Tillich, at times, was a strange paradox in some of his views. It was he who wrote:

One should eliminate the term “eternal condemnation” from the theological vocabulary. Instead, one should speak of condemnation as removal from the eternal. This seems to be implied in the term “eternal death,” which certainly cannot mean everlasting death, since death has no duration. The experience of separation from one’s eternity is the state of despair (Tillich 1968:II.90).

He failed to weave a lot of biblical theology into that kind of statement.

What does the Bible say?

clip_image017American family Bible dating to 1859 (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Biblically, God’s eternity is affirmed in Exodus 3:14 when God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’. Jesus confirmed this meaning when he stated, ‘Before Abraham was, “I AM”‘ (John 8:58). Let’s check out a few other Scriptures:

clip_image019 Genesis 21:33, ‘Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God’ (ESV).

clip_image019[1] Psalm 90:2, ‘Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God’.

clip_image019[2] Psalm 102:27, ‘but you [Lord God] are the same, and your years have no end’.

clip_image019[3] Isaiah 57:15, ‘For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite’.

clip_image019[4] John 1:3, ‘All things were made through him [the Word, Jesus], and without him was not any thing made that was made’.

clip_image019[5] John 17:5, ‘And now, Father, glorify me [Jesus] in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed’.

clip_image019[6] 1 Corinthians 2:7, ‘But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory’.

clip_image019[7] Colossians 1:16, [For by him [Jesus, the beloved Son] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him’.

clip_image019[8] 1 Timothy 6:16, ‘who [God] alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen’.

clip_image019[9] 2 Timothy 1:9, ‘who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began’.

clip_image019[10] Titus 1:2, ‘in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began’.

clip_image019[11] Hebrews 1:2, ‘but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world’.

clip_image019[12] Jude 25, ‘to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen’.

clip_image019[13] Revelation 1:8, ‘“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty”’.

clip_image019[14] Revelation 21:6, ‘And he said to me, “It is done! I [God] am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment’.

clip_image019[15] Revelation 22:13, ‘I [God] am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”’.

Norm Geisler has an appropriate summary statement of God’s eternity and creation of time:

God not only created the ages, but He was also before the ages. To be before time and to have made time is not to be in time. Therefore, the Bible teaches that it was not a creation in time, but a creation of time that God accomplished at the beginning. The Creator of time can be no more temporal than the Creator of the contingent can be contingent or the Creator of an effect can be an effect Himself (Geisler 2003:95).

Bill Craig’s understanding is something with which I concur:

If God is timeless, he is also unchanging, but it does not follow that He cannot change. I’d say that He can change and if He were to do so, He would cease to be timeless. And that’s exactly what I think He did. Whether God is timeless or temporal is a contingent property of God, dependent upon His will. What is impossible is changing while remaining timeless. But it seems to me that a timeless being can change and thereby cease to be timeless (Craig, Q & A #37, ‘God and Timelessness‘).

I think that hit the mark. If we are going to speak of God as timeless, we cannot accept that he is a changeable Being. If God changes, he ceases to be timeless – if that is our meaning of timelessness.

What do you and others understand by Bill Craig’s statement that ‘a timeless being can change and thereby cease to be timeless’?

What is our understanding of timelessness? I have a simple definition of timelessness: Timelessness refers to existing outside of time. So the Lord God Almighty is timeless only in the sense that he exists outside of time. His existence outside of time does not impede his interventions into the time realm. It was He who created time.

I recommend the apologetic article, ‘Can a timeless God be personal?‘ [UK Apologetics]

This is a topic that I have not encountered amongst the laity in my part of the world. Are the people in your church interested in this kind of topic of God’s eternity and how He relates to time? I haven’t discussed it in mine. I don’t expect it to have a prominent place in the Bible study I attend this week. Are we concerned about anything of significant interest to the people of God? Is this a place for philosophical meanderings instead of dealing with revealed reality from the Scriptures?

See:

Conclusion

The Scriptures declare God’s eternity, as having no beginning and end, in a number of concise statements:

clip_image021 ‘I AM WHO I AM’;

clip_image021[1] ‘the everlasting God’;

clip_image021[2] ‘from everlasting to everlasting’;

clip_image021[3] ‘your years have no end’;

clip_image021[4] ‘inhabits eternity’;

clip_image021[5] ‘before the world existed’;

clip_image021[6] ‘before the ages’;

clip_image021[7] ‘alone has immortality’;

clip_image021[8] ‘before all time and now and for ever’;

clip_image021[9] ‘I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’.

Therefore, evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, provides an accurate summary of God’s eternity with these words:

God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time’. He explained that ‘sometimes this doctrine is called the doctrine of God’s infinity with respect to time. To be “infinite” is to be unlimited, and this doctrine teaches that time does not limit God or change him in any way (Grudem 1999:76).

With regard to time, Grudem made the following points, supported by Scripture:

  • ‘God is timeless in his own being’;
  • ‘God sees all time equally vividly’;
  • ‘God sees events in time and acts in time’ (Grudem 1999:77-78).

Works consulted

Aquinas, T 1920. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. New Advent, 2nd rev edn, available at: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/index.html (Accessed 2 November 2013).

Boice, J M 1986. Foundations of the Christian faith, rev edn in 1 vol. Downers Grove, Illinois/Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church, rev enl edn. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Geisler, N 2003. Systematic theology: God, creation, vol 2. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Grudem, W 1999. Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. J Purswell (ed). Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

The Macquarie dictionary 3rd ed1997. Delbridge, A; Bernard, J R L; Blair, D; Butler, S; Peters, P & Yallop, C (eds). Sydney, NSW: The Macquarie Library, Macquarie University, Australia.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Tillich, P 1968. Systematic theology, vols 1-3. Digswell Place, Welwyn, Herts: James Nizbet and Company Limited.

Wiley, H O 1940. Christian theology, vol 1 (online). Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Available at Wesley Center Online, http://wesley.nnu.edu/other-theologians/henry-orton-wiley/h-orton-wiley-christian-theology-chapter-14/ (Accessed 2 November 2013).

Notes:


[1] Christian Fellowship Forum, Bible Study & Discipleship, ‘Is God timeless or temporal?’ Brad#1, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=1&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122540 (Accessed 2 November 2013).

[2] Ibid., Judith#1.

[3] Ibid., Brad#3.

[4] Ibid., Brad#4.

[5] Ibid., Judith#5.

[6] Ibid., ozspen#14.

[7] The meaning of ‘aeviternity’ is: ‘In Scholastic philosophy, the aevum (also called aeviternity) is the mode of existence experienced by angels and by the saints in heaven. In some ways, it is a state that logically lies between the eter nity (timelessness) of God and the temporal experience of material beings. It is sometimes referred to as “improper eternity” (Wikipedia).

[8] Christian Fellowship Forum, loc cit., Noelle#6.

[9] Ibid., Noelle#8.

[10] Ibid., Cheryl#7.

[11] Ibid., Brad#10.

[12] Ibid., ozspen#17.

[13] My response to Brad#1 is in ozspen#12, ibid.

[14] Ibid., Janet#13.

[15] Ibid., ozspen#18.

[16] Ibid., Janet#13.

[17] Ibid., Janet#20.

[18] Ibid., ozspen#21.

[19] This citation is from Paul Tillich’s, The new being, chapter 11 (online), available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=375&C=24 (Accessed 4 November 2013).

[20] Christian Fellowship Forum, op cit., Janet#20, emphasis in original.

[21] Ibid., ozspen#21.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 September 2016.