God and Time

By John Ruiz-Bueno

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Continued from Page One

Creation of time

Just to be more clear, because both non-Christians and Christians alike agree that time had a definitive beginning, it is clear that time is a "created" entity. It stands to reason, then, that even in the absence of Scripture, God must have been the one to create it.

Going back to Scripture, we see that Genesis 1:4 says that when God created the light and separated it from the darkness, "there was evening and there was morning, the first day." Many interpret this to mean that God created time exactly then. Others point to the stuff that seemed to happen in the spiritual realm before Satan initiated the first sin in the garden (usually from Ezekiel 28) and would say that "the first day" means the first day for Earth, but that God had created time long before this.

It really doesn't matter, as long as we realize that God is not constrained by time. Specifically, we see passages like 2 Peter 3:8, where he says, "With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day," meaning that God perceives time very differently than we do and that it goes both ways — not just that he's so old that time flies for him (ergo "a thousand years is like a day"), but the reverse as well — that he also perceives every infinitesimal detail of every second (ergo "a day is like a thousand years"). Accordingly, it is not enough to say that God is immortal and will experience all of time; we must go further to say that God perceives time differently from us as well.

God's unchanging nature

Another simple concept to understand is that most people define time by change. That is, everything in the universe has an altered state from one moment to the next. Even if it does not do anything immediately observable, its molecules would still be vibrating. Even if something were able to reach absolute 0 temperature (when all motion stops, including molecules and electrons), it would still have variable temperature, changed position in universal space (due to the rotation and revolution of the earth), etc.

However, the Bible tells us that God does not change (Malachi 3:6, for example). Some people interpret this to mean that God's character is constant. This is absolutely true and undisputed. But they go the next step of arguing that his temperament or emotional disposition toward humanity changes, or the way he communicates changes, or the nature of the old versus new covenant changed, etc., and thus there are numerous stark changes that God expresses to the degree that God's unchanging nature can only be a references to his character and core identity.

But this isn't a necessary conclusion; rather, it is a philosophically permissible one, as opposed to a theologically mandated conclusion. An alternative conclusion could be that God is static — everything he has done, is doing, and will ever do has been set in stone instantaneously such that his plan will never be altered — but that when he set this unchanging plan in stone he accounted for all possible variations of time and all possible prayer requests and all possible free-will decisions and then created it. And when God "accounted for" all of those things, this all happened instantaneously with creation itself — that God processes things so quickly that whereas a router might take 1 second to process a webpage, and a computer may take a nanosecond to process a keystroke, but God processes everything in 0 seconds — and thus all things are simultaneous to him.

As a result, he could quite literally be unchanging, yet from our relative perspective, because we are confined by time, we can only see certain aspects of his unchanging nature and plan at different times, and thus we incorrectly perceive it as change. Put another way, it's not that God loved Israel at one time and then was mad at them and then loved them again; rather, it's that God was simultaneously loving and enraged at Israel in his unchanging timelessness, but has expressed each aspect at appropriate times (from our perspective) for the best interests of his overarching plan.

A final illustration

That is not to say that God must be outside of "all" concepts of time. Rather, God may experience something very much alike to what we know as time, but on a different level entirely. For example, consider that I have written a book. In my book I have determined that certain events would happen and at what time they happen and how long it would take from one event to the next. So, the characters in my book experience time in a way that I imagine time would work in my story, which is actually identical to the way I experience time. But it's not as though they are actually experiencing the same time with me. If I pick up the book and spend 1 hour reading through events that unfold during exactly the span of 1 hour in book-time, that's great. But if I stop reading for several weeks and return to that same spot of the book, I can then read the next hour of book-time without things having changed for the characters.

I believe this is similar to how our perception of time differs from God's perception — he can look at the whole of the story and start or stop wherever he pleases, making changes at his discretion. If someone on page 150 were to pray that something on page 8 never happened, God could re-write the story from page 8 and make all appropriate adjustments and thus the prayer on page 150 would never be prayed, but it would still be accounted for. And yet the value in our prayers is that we must still ask, even if things are predetermined, because we never know which prayers God will account for and not — and we know that God does not account for things that we do not ask for (James 4:2-3).

The key difference in all of this is that I create a concept of time in my book that is similar to how I experience time from the reference point of the characters, because I don't know any other way to express time. But God may not experience time our way at all — it could be an entirely created concept, in which case he would be even more transcendent over our concepts of time than I am over the concept of time the characters in my book may have.

God's infinite qualities are certainly mind-boggling to explore.

Image Credit: PeteLinforth; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Eternity-Forever  | God-Father  | Theological-Beliefs

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Published 8-16-16