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Divine Eternity and Eternal Life

This is a topic that has fascinating me ever since I took a class on God and time in seminary at Talbot. Thinking about God’s temporal mode of being is like peeling an onion. In order to answer the question of God and time, you need to explore whether God is simple or complex, whether he knows the future or not, the nature of time, the nature of the universe, the special theory of relativity and more.

 I plan on making four basic points and then one application today.

My first point is that the bible is underdetermined when it comes to God’s relationship to time. It does not, as many think, teach that God is timeless. And it may even be inconsistent with divine timelessness. Minimally, I want to say it is at least neutral and unsettled. Here is what the bible indisputably teaches about God’s eternity.

This is where the agreement ends. The question then becomes what is God’s relationship to time? Or to put it another way, what is his temporal mode of being? Is God “outside” time or “inside” time? The Bible is not clear on this.

Scripture is underdetermined (and perhaps, but I’ll set this aside for now, inconsistent with divine timelessness). It is enough to note, as one of the leading thinkers on the biblical data about time, James Barr, concludes: “if such a thing as a Christian doctrine of time has to be developed, the work of discussing it and developing it must belong not to biblical but to philosophical theology.”[4]

Second, it is a logical contradiction to say that God is both “inside” and “outside” time. I’ve noticed that those who simply assumed that divine eternity means God is timeless or “outside” time quickly shift, when confronted with some of the biblical and philosophical evidence for a temporal God, to the idea that God is both inside and outside time. Given this move, I want to cut it off at the front end. It is not possible to consistently or coherently maintain that God is both timeless and temporal. As William Lane Craig notes, “God is timeless if and only if He is not temporal. This definition makes it evident that temporality and timelessness are contradictories: An entity must exist one way or the other and cannot exist both ways at once.”[5]

Third, I want to simply argue that God is temporal. Recall, God is either timeless or temporal, either “outside” or “inside” time. Further, recall that Scripture is at least underdetermined on the question of God’s temporal mode of being, if not inconsistent with divine timelessness. I now want to argue that it is best to think of God as temporal, for three reasons. For the first two reasons, you can find extended discussions of both in William Lane Craig’s chapter on divine temporality in his book Time and Eternity. I’ll try and summarize.

First, God is “in” time because there are tensed facts and God’s knows them.

Second, God has real relations with the world and this entails that God is temporal.

Finally, (and this reason has to do with the nature of physical time itself) the dynamic or A-theory view of time is correct and entails that God is temporal 

Finally, I want to respond to one popular objection to the idea that God is “in” time, a response that came up in discuss with my son about this topic. The worry is that if God is “in” time, this somehow makes God a prisoner of time. So, is a temporal God a prisoner of time?

Why does this matter to me?

 I want to return to the idea of an everlasting God. God is permanent. God is not a being that comes into existence or goes out of existence. God is not a being that becomes weary and tired, nor is God, on the temporal view aloof and so transcendent that he fails to spend any time with us, let alone quality time. So, let’s begin with the great statement about eternal life that we find in John 17:3. Jesus states:

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, NIV)

Notice that eternal life is about knowing God, being in relationship with God. And this, of course, makes the most sense when we conceive of God as existing with us, moment by moment in and through time. This idea of God’s permanent presence in my life matters, in at least three ways.

First, because God is everlasting, there is available to me an everlasting strength. In Isaiah 40:28 we read of the everlasting God who does not “grow tired or weary.”

Second, because God is everlasting, there is available to me an everlasting presence. Many things in life, including the many good things in life are fleeting. They pass away. A good date with my wife, a good bite of key lime pie, a good book ends, and so on. Life is fleeting. Time passes. But God is everlastingly present—always with us, both now—and in life after life after death, he will still be with us.

Finally, because God is everlasting, there is available to me an everlasting meaning. I’ve always loved the end of the Narnian series. After all these adventures, Lewis ends The Last Battle, as the main characters arrive in the Real Narnia with the following,

But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.[16]

The idea is that not just in this life but for all of eternity we will be on a quest or journey. We are part of a story, and on-going story that goes on and on and on and gives us meaning, both now and forevermore. Because God is, and always is, there is meaning to our lives, and there always will be. Thus, we quest as pilgrims on the way to and with God forever.

So, God is eternal. God is everlasting. God is permanent. God is with us, moment by moment “in” time, without being the creator of time (since it is an entailment of the divine being), or if we like, without being the creator of metaphysical time since such temporality is a dimension of God’s own life, and thus, God is not problematically bound in any way by time.

[4] James Barr, Biblical Words for Time (London: SCM Press, 1962), 149; quoted in Craig, Time and Eternity, 20.

[5] Craig, Time and Eternity, 15.

[16] ://www.samizdat.qc.ca/arts/lit/PDFs/TheLastBattle_CSL.pdf

 

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