Here’s a question. Does it make sense to ask God: what time is it now? Or, what is going on the universe, right now? The timelessness view says no. There is no “now” from God’s point of view. He “does not live in a Time-series at all. His life is not dribbled out moment by moment like ours…God is outside and above the Time-line.” [1] Timelessness says that God has no present, no history, no future. He only sees that one moment is (tenselessly) after the other.

This topic matters, by the way, from a strictly practical standpoint, because the question is whether He relates to time in such a way that you can have a relationship with Him. I think God had better be in time if you are going to have a conversation with Him or observe His hand at work in your life. He had better be in time if He is going to hear your prayers when you make them.

I claim that the Bible does not support the timelessness view; rather, it completely undermines it. Reading the Bible would never lead you to think that God stands outside of time unless you already held that view as a prior philosophical commitment. Unfortunately many Christians have held this presupposition, perhaps unthinkingly. I think the timelessness view is rooted in Plato and Aristotle [2]and comes to us via Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas.[3] Not from Scripture.

While there are many arguments against timelessness [4], I offer just one that I find simple and important.

  1. Jesus is fully God:

In the beginning Jesus was with God and he was God (Jn 1:1); in him all the fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col 2:9); he is in the form of God (Phil 2:6) and the exact representation of God’s being (Heb 1:3). Jesus claims to be equal to (Jn 5:18), and identical with, YHWH (Jn 8:58, 10:30).

  1. Jesus, being fully human, is temporal:

He became flesh and dwelt among us; he came to his own people (Jn 1:11, 14); he was born in the likeness of men and found in human form (Phil 2:7-8). Jesus has a human genealogy (Mt 1); in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4, Eph 1:10) he was born at a specific time and place in history (Lk 2:6-7). He grew up (Lk 2:40, Heb 5:8-9), began his ministry at age 30 (Lk 3:23), was tempted for 40 days (Lk 4:2), and offered himself to the Father once for all time (Heb 7:27, 10:14). He is now waiting at the right hand of God (Heb 10:13) and always lives to make intercession for us (Heb 7:25). Etc., etc.

  1. Therefore, God is not fully timeless.

God entered time, live and in person. The Son of God became the Son of Man.

This does not show that God does not also stand outside of time in some sense. But the thrust of this argument is that God is not purely, exclusively timeless. He has gotten His metaphysical hands dirty.[5]

I think that to avoid the conclusion, the timelessness proponent has to do some awkward violence to the Trinity. She would have to say either that Jesus was somehow not fully God while Incarnate, or that Jesus was somehow not really human while he walked among us.

But wait, you say! I’d always thought God was outside of time? Let’s consider some general arguments on behalf of timelessness.

1. Some people, especially those who claim that God has exhaustively definite foreknowledge (EDF) of the future, think that God’s knowing all events for all of time implies that He stands outside of time, looking down at it.

But I do not think that EDF entails timelessness (nor do I believe in EDF, but that doesn’t matter here). Let us imagine that God is not timeless: He exists in time, or is present in some sense. Would this prevent him from having EDF? I think not. There is no obvious reason why He could not have perfect knowledge about the future in the same way that He has perfect knowledge about the past, while still being in the present. Just because time is asymmetrical for us doesn’t mean it is for God (as any timelessness proponent would agree).[6] So EDF does not imply timelessness.

Therefore, as we examine Scripture, it is not enough to show that God has EDF (if this even can be shown, which I would disclaim) in order to show that God is timeless.

2. It may be objected that God is absolutely immutable (totally unchanging in any way) and therefore must be totally timeless, for only a God outside of time could never change in any way. But we must distinguish among ways that God is unchanging.

He is indeed immutable and unchanging in His everlasting duration [7] (Ps 102:25-27), His character (Jm 1:17, Heb 13:8, 1 Jn 1:5), His faithfulness to His plans and promises (Num 23:19, 2 Tim 2:13, 2 Cor 1:20), His power (Rom 1:20), His kindness (Ps 103:17), and His mercy (Mal 3:6). These are essential attributes: necessary for Him to be God. (Theologians have also referred to these as His Perfections). When Scripture says that God does not change, it invariably [8] refers to such attributes.

On the other hand, God can and does change in His thoughts, in His action in the world, and in particular in responding to His creatures. We may call this His relational mutability. The Biblical narrative is filled with examples of God “repenting” (Ex 32:14, 2 Sam 24:16, etc.) or “regretting” His actions (Gen 6:6, 1 Sam 15:11,35). He also responds directly to the actions and decisions of people, especially to our repentance and faith (Jer 18:7-10, 26:3,13, 2 Sam 24:12, Jonah 3:9-10, Jesus’ whole ministry). God’s relational mutability does not imply a change in any of His essential attributes. To the contrary, His dynamic flexibility is required by His unchanging commitment to justice and mercy in dealing with wayward and fickle people.

Moreover, God has undergone at least two major changes: Creation and Incarnation. In creating, God took on the new (non-essential, or extrinsic) property of sustaining all creation. Having created, He stands in a new relation in which He did not stand before (even if there is no “before”).[9] And then, the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, became the Son of Man, fully human. The Word became flesh (Jn 1:14). He remains fully, bodily human (1 Tim 2:5, Phil 3:20-21), seated at the right hand of God (Acts 1:9-11) where he continually intercedes as our high priest (Heb 7:25).

3. It might also be objected that if God is “stuck” in time in some sense, then He is limited, not totally free and sovereign. For example, if God has a past, then He could not make any past moments present again, nor alter them in any way. I respond that the timeless view actually limits God much more: it posits that God’s existence is one eternal static moment, in which nothing ever changes either in God or in His creation (from His point of view). This means that God is not free to revise, to update, to respond, or to interact meaningfully with His creation [10], nor to change His plans. He is static, not dynamic. He couldn’t make anything (including Himself) other than it (timelessly) is!

4. Many Christians also worry that a temporal God would not have total control over the future and so would not be able to keep promises or to guarantee His ultimate victory. I respond that, whereas our temporality restricts our knowledge and control of the future, a temporal God could still have perfect foreknowledge and perfect control (especially since He is infinitely intelligent). What’s more, God’s perfectly knowing the future could not in itself help Him to keep us safe or to accomplish His purposes – quite to the contrary! If He knows (perfectly) that Suzy is going to die in a car accident on Friday night, He cannot on the basis of that knowledge prevent the accident. For then He would have been wrong about knowing that she would be killed in the first place. So His foreknowledge is, in itself, providentially useless.

Fortunately, He is free to intervene in our broken temporal world to save us, and He has done so once and for all on Calvary.

The result being that Jesus Christ is Lord, right now.

 

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1944), 147-8.

[2] For discussion of the strong influence of Greek metaphysics (which most timelessness proponents admit), see: Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann “Eternity.” The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 78, No. 8 (Aug., 1981), 429-458; Millard Erickson, God the Father Almighty (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 112;  Nicholas Wolterstorff, “God Everlasting” in Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, Eds. Steven M. Cahn and David Shatz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 78; Thomas Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 65-66.

[3] The view is expressed in Augustine, Confessions, Book 11; Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Book V: VI; Anselm, Monologium, Books XVIII-XXIV; and Anselm, Proslogium, Books XIII, XIX-XX; Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Question 10; and Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1: 15.

[4] For example, that God is described in A-series terms (e.g. “was and is and is to come,” Rev 1:4,8; 4:8); that God moves (e.g. “across the surface of the waters,” Gen 1:2); or that God has relationships with temporal beings, with whom He shares a covenantal history and future (the whole Bible).

[5]  For the second time. And not so differently, perhaps, from the first time (Gen 2:7).

[6]  If you still doubt this, consider Jesus. He predicted his betrayal (Jn 13:21-27), his death (Mt 26:2), his resurrection (Mk 8:31), and the destruction of the temple (Lk 21:20-24), among other things. And surely Jesus was present in time!  The point is that God’s being in time does not by itself preclude Him from knowing the future.

[7] Not the same as timelessness. Existing at all times past, present and future is different from not existing in any time at all. The Bible frequently describes God as everlasting (e.g. Gen 21:33, Ps 93:2, Is 40:28, Jer 10:10, Hab 1:12, etc.). The contexts make clear that “everlasting” is best understood as always living and never fading or dying: unending duration. Consider also that if God wanted to tell us that He stands completely outside of time, He certainly could have.

[8] Pun intended.

[9] See William Lane Craig, “Timelessness and Omnitemporality” in Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 1, 2000, 30.

[10] As timelessness proponents like Paul Helm agree: God does not really “act” in the universe. See Paul Helm, Eternal God: A Study of God without Time (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 69.

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