Four Views of God's Relationship with Time

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by russell55, Jun 16, 2007.

  1. russell55

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    A little while ago I had a conversation with a Christian philosopher about the various views held by Christians (so-called, anyway) regarding God's relationship with time, and how he knows what happens in time. He gave me four broad views that pretty much cover all the possibilities for ways people think about God's knowledge of events in time. I thought it would be fun to give a little explanation of the views, and then let the participants on this board tell which one they feel is closest to their view of God and time.

    First of all there are two categories regarding one's view of God-whether he is mutable or immutable.
    • A mutable God, as philosphically defined, gains experiences or knowledge from the moments in time because he exists in the moments of time, whether or not he actually experiences time as a succession of moments.
    • An immutable God, as philosphically defined, does not have knowledge of time based on his existence within the moments in time.
    Under the mutable God category, there are two possibilities:
    • Open Views (Process theism, open theism, etc.) -- God does not know free choices in the future, because he has not yet experienced what hasn't yet occured in time.
    • Meticulous Views -- God knows all free choices in the future, but he knows them because he exists in (and experiences) all moments in time. He just exists in (or experiences) all the moments at once. (This one, by the way, is held by no major theologians or philosphers as far as the man I was speaking with knows, because it is generally considered to have contradictions that can't be reconciled, but he thinks it is quite common among lay people.)
    Under the immutable God category, there are two possibilities:
    • Higher Dimension Views -- God sees time from a higher dimension, so he can view the whole picture of time always. When people talk about God relationship to time being like seeing all the frames of a movie, this is probably the view they hold to.
    • Traditional Views -- God always knows everything done in every moment because everything at every moment depends on him. He planned each moment, and he brings it into being.
    So where would you fit in? Which view is closest to your own? Why?
     
    #1 russell55, Jun 16, 2007
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  2. TCGreek

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    I hold to the traditional view with some modifications. Our sovereign God transcends time, yet He has entered time to unfold His creative and redemptive plan, all to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph. 1:3-14).
     
  3. russell55

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    I should have mentioned that the traditional views and the higher dimension views don't preclude God from interacting in time. It's just that, in those views, his knowledge of time doesn't comes from his experience of time.

    I'd hold a traditional view as well. I suppose I should have mentioned that, too, in the OP.
     
  4. webdog

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    I would like to know the "contradiction" in the meticulous view. The only ones I can think of would be the ones that contradict with presuppositions already present in one's theology.
    Even breaking down these views...we, finite beings, are putting an infinite God into a nice little prepackaged box that we can deal with. He isn't "either / or". God can be immutable, mutable, any 'able He so chooses.
     
    #4 webdog, Jun 16, 2007
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  5. russell55

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    Apparently, it's not just one contradiction, but a few. The one we discussed is that it's a contradiction to say that God exists in all moments in time at a single moment. It's sort of like saying someone is at all the points on a line at a single point on a line. It's impossible to be at a single point and at all points, and it's impossible to be at all moments and at a single moment. Logically, that's a contradiction.

    Undoubtedly, there are things about God's relationship to time and how he knows events in time that we can't understand. We can't help thinking about it in one way or another, however, and constructing models for how it works.

    If one's model goes against biblical testimony, we can discard it. If one's model has an actual contradiction, we can discard it, since God explains himself to us using reason and logic, and Jesus and the writers of scripture argue things on the basis of reason and logic and discard things on the basis of their unreasonability or illogic.

    And there are several arguments in scripture based on the law of noncontradition, so I think that particular law of logic has our rational God's approval as something we can count on as a way to get at truth, or at least as a way to discard certain untruths. God tell us, for instance, that he is truth, and scripture argues from that statement about God that God cannot lie. Scripture tells us that God is righteous, and Paul argues from that that there can be no unrighteousness in God. Those arguments are based on the law of noncontradiction: something cannot be both A and the opposite of A. The law of noncontradiction is a biblically approved presupposition.

    So, no, I don't think he can be both mutable (able to change) and immutable (unable to change), for exactly the same reason that he can't be always truthful and also a liar, or both perfectly righteous and unrighteous.
     
    #5 russell55, Jun 16, 2007
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  6. Baptist Believer

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    Why is that a logical contradiction? Since we are dealing with God, not a human, God can be many places at once.

    Since God didn't spell it out for us in the scripture, we need to hold our models very loosely (since they are likely to be wrong, or at best horribly incomplete) and not condemn our brothers and sisters who develop models we don't agree with.

    One of the dangers with using logic is that we often think of God in terms of categories or attributes instead of seeing God as an integrated Person(s) who is not internally conflicted and challenged by our inability to understand. Our appropriate use of logic is often hampered by our lack of imagination and humility.

    As for the original question, I cannot give a decisive answer since I do not understand the nature of time well enough to be able to analyze God's relationship to it.
     
  7. skypair

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    I would probably be one of these. I, of course, understand that your source would likely not circulate with "major theologians" who hold this view. It's like Sproul saying no one holds to Adam's free choice being responsible for sin when, in fact, that is the ONLY real biblical option.

    His view notwithstanding, God both foresaw all things and "appeared unto all men" -- sometimes as "the angel of the Lord," sometimes as a "cloud by day and a fire by night," as a Christophany, etc.

    skypair
     
    #7 skypair, Jun 17, 2007
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  8. russell55

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    Of course God can be many places at once (and is, since he's always everywhere), but that wasn't the contradiction. You're statement avoids contradiction because it's saying God in many places at one time.

    It'd be nonsense, though, to say he's at every place in one single place, because every place can't a single place, because it's all places. So too, with time. He can't be in all moments at a single moment.

    Well, we certainly can't comprehend the whole of God, having finite brains and all. I do think we can bank on some things in regards to his character and his relationship with the world because he's spelled them out for us, and I don't think it's arrogance to think that we can know those particular things truly.

    Fair enough. Would you know enough to be able to say whether you consider God to be contained in time (the mutable views), or transcending time (the immutable views)?
     
    #8 russell55, Jun 17, 2007
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  9. russell55

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    This guy does not necessarily hold to my own theological view at all, if that's what you're getting at, and he's not getting these categories from "circulating". He's getting them from text books and reading. Apparently, there are many published works by philosophers and theologians defending the other three views, but not so for this one.

    If you think God knows future events in time because he has foresight of all things, then I'd guess your view is a higher dimension one (under the immutable category). It doesn't seem that you think God knows the events in time only from experience within time.
     
    #9 russell55, Jun 17, 2007
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  10. webdog

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    All time is, is a measurement. God transcends all time, as you cannot measure God. It is not illogical in the least to state God is omnipresent / omnitemporal, as He CREATED time.
     
  11. russell55

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    Are we still talking about the meticulous view? The meticulous view doesn't include the idea that God transcends time, but rather, it has him contained in time, and knowing events in time by experiencing all the moments of time. In other words, it has him existing contained within the moments of time—all moments, yes, but contained within those moments. He is in all time, but not beyond (or transcending) all time. That, I think is where the contradictions in the meticulous view come in. It desires to gives God qualities that would come only from transcending time, yet still have him contained in (or limited by) time. If it allowed for God transcending time as well as interacting within time, those contradictions would disappear.

    But then, of course, it wouldn't be a meticulous view, but a higher dimension view.
     
    #11 russell55, Jun 17, 2007
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  12. webdog

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    From the OP, I didn't take the meticulous view as God only exists and is contained within time. If that is what you are getting at in the OP by that view, I agree with the notion He transcends all time, and also exists omnitemporally (all points of time...at the same time)
     
  13. russell55

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    Yes, I went back and looked at my opening post, and I should have been clearer when describing mutable views. In those views, I wrote that God "gains experiences or knowledge from the moments in time because he exists within the moments of time, whether or not he actually experiences time as a succession of moments." The reason he gains knowledge of events in time from being in the moments of time is because he does not transcend beyond the moments of time, so there is no other way for him to know those things except by experiencing them in time. Sorry for not being clearer!

    Okay, I understand God transcending time, and I understand God existing at (and in) all points of time (being omnitemporal), but I don't know why you add at the same time. What do you mean by that? Are you meaning that God knows all moments eternally, in a way that transcends moments and is not really one moment or at the same time at all; or that he knows all moments of time in one actual moment of time (at the same time)?
     
    #13 russell55, Jun 17, 2007
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  14. webdog

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    What I mean is God exists in all times at the exact same time. He exists yesterday, today and tomorrow...now. It's hard to wrap the human mind around, but being truly omni-anything...including omnipresent, requires this.
     
  15. russell55

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    I suspect you aren't defining time as a succession of moments. How are you defining it?
     
    #15 russell55, Jun 17, 2007
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  16. webdog

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    Time is a succession of moments. To illustrate what I'm trying to say, take a blank piece of paper. Draw a small little line in the middle. That little line represents time (beginning and end)...the rest of the blank paper represents infinite eternity. Since we know God is omnipresent (exists everywhere at once), there is no place on that piece of paper God doesn't exist. Every point within that line, and on that piece of paper is filled with God's presence. This is how I envision God being both ominpresent and omnitemporal / atemporal.
     
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  17. russell55

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    Okay. It seems that you are of the "higher dimension viewpoints", since time as a line on the paper is an example is one they use. The "at the same time" phrase, however, tends to be used in defense of the meticulous view, so it throws me off. I think they use it because they want to avoid any concept of the "eternal now" or of God trancending time, so they speak of "at the same time" or "all at once"—phrases grounded in time itself—in order to avoid time-trancendent language.
     
  18. Deacon

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    My belief - Immutable; traditional view but with a minor caveat;

    When I was younger and had to pray about something, I figured that I could pray for something even after the event had passed;
    I figured God was timeless; He could pre-date or post-validate my prayers even after the event to work it out as I had prayed.

    For example: Joe if going for surgery on Tuesday and I forgot to pray, I could still pray Wednesday for his surgery if I didn't know the results because God still had the ability to honor my prayers.

    The problem with this view is it depends upon MY knowledge (or in this case my ignorance) of the event.

    I now believe that God honors timely prayers.
    I don't find any biblical evidence that God honors late prayers.

    This is particularly important when praying for our missionaries over the dateline.

    Rob
     
    #18 Deacon, Jun 17, 2007
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  19. Humblesmith

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    I think this is a very important issue. It seems to touch on many other points of doctrine. It's also on the list of topics that I hope to dive into in detail someday. There is a book called "God and Time: Four Views" that I have on my list of books to read.

    As I understand it, I would take the Higher Dimension view, which appears to be what a couple of others of you are holding to. Now, even though God transcends time, he can still act in time. So from one eternal, omniscient perspective, God intervenes in time. I don't see how it could be any other way without limiting God or falling into some type of serious theological error......or at least getting very, very close to a serious error.

    As for the mutable / immutable question, every classic creed and statement of theology for many centuries held to the immutability of God. If there was one that didn't, I've never seen it. But I have seen many that held to immutability. When we get to the modern open theists, we get people who deny this. These folks have the largest problem, for a god that is bound by time and has to learn the future is a limited god, which is heresy.

    William Lane Craig, as I understand it, holds to a view where God was timeless before time was created, but then became "in time." This seems contradictory to me....how can God not be bound by time, then after he creates it, become stuck in time?

    Anyway, my vote is for the higher dimension view..........at least for now.
     
    #19 Humblesmith, Jun 17, 2007
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  20. russell55

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    I've not really paid much attention to what he believes about God and time. As you've explained it, that sounds a little contradictory to me, too. If God created time, doesn't he always have an existence separate from it.
     

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