God and Time
This brief paper introduces some ideas about God and time and scripture that address the issue. A separate paper discusses the issue of free will. Before we look at God and Time, let's see what we mean by the word time.
The Two Definitions of Time
We can mean two different things when we talk about time. Clock time for example, means it is Monday June 5th and 9:00 am (Greenwich Mean Time). If you add 60 minutes, it is then 10:00 am. It has always been assumed that clock time is absolute time; that is, everywhere in creation seconds always take one second to pass, and it is the same time (in Greenwich Mean Time) everywhere. Relativity has shattered that view, and this view has been proven wrong in physical experiments. In 1969, two highly accurate atomic clocks were calibrated in Washington, D.C. One was then put on a fighter airplane and flown around the world at a high speed. When it returned, the elapsed time according to the clock on the jet plane was a fraction of a second less than the elapsed time as measured by the clock on the ground. This same effect has also been seen in experiments on subatomic particles. Let's now leave the world of relativity, but just remember, one type of time is clock time.
A second type of time is sequence time. The next time, the last time, the first, second, third, etc. all express sequence time. In our experience on this planet, the order that something actually happens in clock time is always the same order it happens in sequence time. We would need a time machine to break this rule. However, the order that we plan things in sequence is opposite of how it will happen in clock time with what is called "backward inferencing." For example, if the project is due Friday, I should type the final copy Thursday night, the rough copy on Wednesday, and I should start researching the topic on Monday.
Does God use both forward and backward inferencing like we do? Is He limited to thinking the way we do? A verse that at least addresses this question is Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Is God Limited in Time Like We Are?
According to Minkowski, Einstein's professor, we live in a four dimensional universe, where the fourth dimension is time. Time differs from the other three dimensions, however, in that (relativity aside) we all move through time together at the same speed.
Is God restricted in time like we are? Is it impossible for God not only to slow elapsed time by high speed, but to experience time in ways unknown to us? Psalms 90:4 says, "For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night." 2 Peter 3:8 says, "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." So it seems fairly certain that God is not limited in time the way we are.
Does God Have a Ten Million Dollar TV?
Isaiah 46:10 "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please."
Psalms 139:16 "your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."
Suppose you had a TV that could show any true future event. I hope your life is not a soap opera, but imagine you could tune in to "Days of Our Lives" or "Tomorrow" and see what you would do tomorrow. If this TV cost ten million dollars, it would still be a great bargain. What if you tuned in and found out that tomorrow at 3:00 you would cross the street and get hit by a car. So you decide to stay inside tomorrow. Interference appears on the TV and then the reception changes, and a picture of you tomorrow watches this TV watching the tomorrow channel. So you decide it is safe to go out tomorrow after all because it is now safe. Interference then appears and then the reception changes to show the accident you first saw.
So would the TV get burned out from this constant switching every time someone makes a decision? Or would the picture never change, because the future is certain? We seem to have a logical inconsistency here.
The heart of the inconsistency is this. Either the TV knows everybody's final decisions or it does not. Either it shows the future as it certainly will be, or else it shows the future assuming the viewer does nothing to change it. You cannot have it both ways. In the second way the viewer could not change the picture after seeing it, and the picture, once viewed, is somehow unchangeable. In the first way, the future is changeable by the viewer, and so is only as certain as the viewer's choice.
So, did God make all decisions before viewing the picture, or did He make some decisions, view the future, make more decision and then view some more. We do not know the sequence God saw and planned things. We know this though: the past, present, and future is certain to God as the past is to us.
Actually I do not think God has any "ten million dollar TV"; I think the truth is much more amazing. I merely mention this over-simplified analogy as a stepping stone to comprehending more complex views.
Does God Drive a Black Delorian?
In the Back to the Future movies, the heroes, in a rather customized black Delorian car, can travel backwards or forwards in time to whatever date and time they dial. What if God was like that? What if God, observing c.1445 B.C. observed exactly when the Israelites needed to cross the Red Sea, then went back in time to create the earth in such a way that a volcano would erupt on the island of Santorini in the Mediterranean, sending a strong wind at just the right time to part the Red Sea? What if a person's name was not written in the Book of Life, so they would not go to heaven. Christians prayed for them, and they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, so God joyfully time-traveled to the before creation, and wrote in their name?
This is almost the opposite of the "ten million dollar TV idea." Rather than God foreseeing things, God would have infinite capability to react to things in the past, present or future. Did God first set the early conditions (fault lines, etc.) and then make the later events happen at the right clock time, or did He see the events happening and then make the early conditions start at the right clock time. We do not know the sequence God did these. We do know though, that the past, present, and future is at least as changeable by God as the future is changeable by us.
In reality, I do not think God has any "black Delorian" at all; I think the whole truth is much more amazing. I merely mention this over-simplified analogy as a stepping stone to comprehending more complex views.
Does God Have a VCR Player?
A joke goes like this: once two country boys went to the city to watch a movie (a western, of course.) Right before the horse race at the end, the first guy nudged the second and said, "I'll bet you ten dollars the white horse wins." The second guy says, "you're on." The white horse won. After the movie, the first guy, says, "you know, I can't take your money, because I have to confess that I saw the movie before." The second guy answers, "I saw the movie before too, but I didn't think the white horse would win twice in a row!"
In a limited way, we too can see what it is like to travel through time. We can watch a VCR, and any time we want to skip something we can hit fast forward. If we want to see something again, we can hit reverse. If we have the right equipment, we can cut out portions of the tape, edit it, or insert new things into the tape. Now I think it is too simplistic to think that God in heaven has a VCR, but I think to God the past, present, and future are as certain as we can see on a videotape, and they are as changeable as they are to a videotape editor.
Are All Times the Present to Time's Creator?
To us the past is "water under the bridge", unchangeable by us. To us the future is an "uncertain forecast of rain" impossible for us to know with certainty. The only place where certainty and changeability meet for us is the present. What if all three had both certainty and changeability to God? As many have put it, "God is the eternal now." As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, p. 147, "If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn."
It is the opinion of many that all times are the present to God. Saying God only operates within time seems to ring hollow with His knowing for certain the future of our free choices. Saying God only operates outside of time seems ring hollow with His feelings of anger, pleasure, etc. at the time people do things. So as C.S. Lewis points out, why can't it be both? There is no logical barrier to this. Just because there is no creature in our experience that is both inside and outside of time, does not mean God has to be like His creatures.
While we do not know all about God and time, we know
· God knows all of our life before we were born.
¸ We are implored, begged with tears, and told the importance of our making choices that please God.
¹ God is never surprised; nothing happens outside of His Sovereign will.
º We can make choices that truly grieve God's heart, and are worthy of God's just judgment.
» With our limited knowledge and reasoning we can make choices. God with His infinite knowledge and reasoning makes choices too. The interaction of these is certainly more complex than the multi-dimensional complex calculus people are trying to do for the quantum physics of the Big Bang.
¼ Finally, do our best, and leave the rest to God.
So "...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." (Philippians 2:12-13)
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"Why do you divide time, saying that one part is past, and another present, and another future? For how can the future be passing when the present exists? As those who are sailing imagine in their ignorance, as the ship is borne along, that the hills are in motion, so you do not know that it is you who are passing along, but that time [o aion] remains present as long as the Creator wills it to exist." Address of Tatian to the Greeks ch.26 p.76 (before 172 A.D.)
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by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.