Questions on the Nature of Time and God’s relationship to time
In a recent dialogue (along with countless other conversations I’ve had with people) the issue of God and time is always one that sparks more questions than any other. Here are the main ones: Does God live outside of time? Can He step in and out of time? Does time not limit anything that is in it? Will there be time in heaven/eternity?
The first thing to consider when answering these issues is to first ask, “What is time”?
What is time?
For our purposes here time can be defines as a passing of events or a sequence of events. Simply put time has a present, before, and after. So with that understanding of time, is God in time? We can with confidence say yes. How so? Did the second Person in the Trinity take on a human nature? Yes. Is He presently here as a human on earth? No. Therefore we have an example here of a before and after event that took place in time which would constitute the conclusions that God is in time seeing how He acted in time. Now here is where it gets sticky and questions are raised. Doesn’t the bible say that God is eternal? I thought God was not bound by time etc etc. Lets unpack this.
God is either timeless or temporal.
Timeless means there is no temporal location or extension. Temporal, not to be confused with temporary, means something that exist in time and has an interaction, extension, and location in time. So something timeless can not interact with time, can not act in time and can not be in time. Something that is temporal can not be timeless. It is either one or the other and can not be both because the two are contrary to one another. So how does this work with God? Well here is how we would qualify it: God, with out creation, was timeless. This means He was in a single state of consciousness that did not change and knowing all tense less truths. However, once God created the universe, He created time and by doing so stepped in it. God is eternal in the sense that He has not beginning or end, but this has no implications to whether or not He stepped into time or not. After all, even though time had a beginning, it has not end. Thus God can be in time because with out hindering His eternal attribute. It is also wise to remember that we too will not have an end. Once we leave this earth our existence remains eternal as well.
The next question that is usually raised is “So is God bound by time?”
The first thing to consider regarding this question is the essence of time. Does time bind? In short, no. When we say “we are bound by time” we mean that we have a limited duration on this earthly life and thus are “bound” by the allotted duration we have here. However, it is not time itself that binds us but rather the amount of time we have. Take money for example. If someone had 10 dollars then they are then limited to spend only 10 dollars. But if someone had endless amounts of money, although they use a monetary currency, there is no boundaries to what they can spend. Therefore it can equally be said that money does not bind your spending habits, but rather limited money binds your spending habits. So God being in time is not “bound” by it since He has no expiration date as our earthly bodies do. To take it a step further one might say that because of time we age and grow old and deteriorate. However it is not time itself that does this but changes that happen to our physical bodies that take place during our earthly stay.
Is time physical?
No. Image with me for a second that God refrained from creating a physical world and only created angels (who we know are not physical). Would time still exist? Yes of course. Even though there is no physical universe of space or matter, time would still exist because even an angle’s thoughts consist of a sequence of mental events and thus we have time. God creating anything at all creates a sequence and thus we have time.
Can God step out of time?
In short, no. Why not? Because once something becomes part of time there is no going back to being timeless. Take for example if God were to do away with everything that He created, would there still be time? Yes because there would always be the sequence of “after” creation and “before” God did away with creation, thus time is still there. That being said, time will never go away. And that’s ok. There is nothing wrong with that.
Will there be time in heaven?
Yes. To answer that we simply have to ask, “Will there be a sequence of events in heaven”? Yes, of course there will. We will be interacting with God and other people. It will be beautiful. And as we already discussed, unlimited time is not binding.
Does God being in time impact His greatness?
No. The idea of God is that He is a maximally great being. That is to say God is the greatest conceivable being that could possibly exist. So what would a maximally great being be like, timeless or temporal? Well if a being is timeless, remember this means it can not interact in time. But clearly God answers our prayers, listens to us, the Son took on a human nature and became a man and died for our sins. Clearly we have a God who interacts in time and a maximally great being would be such a being who would interact with us. So if anything it would make sense for a maximally great being to be temporal (in time) as opposed to timeless and once again we can qualify it by saying that with out creation God was in a state of timelessness but once He created He created time and stepped into it by doing so.
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