Friday, February 16, 2007

Excerpts of Questions about God and Time

It seems that inevitably in a message at church or a worship song comments are unconsciously made about the characteristics of God and the nature of history. It seems a bit curious for a pastor to make comments on the nature of time and then how God fits into that box (or doesn't fit in that box). It is my contention that the Bible doesn't talk about the nature of time itself, though it has numerous examples of God relating with humanity historically, so Christians should thus not make extrapolate claims about the nature of time from an assumption they make prior to reading Scripture. So...to examine that a bit I've posted a few excerpts from responses to questions about God and time:




Doesn't God work outside of time?

The Bible clearly does present God as living and acting in time. The notion of God as timeless, "outside of time," originated in Greek philosophy but has often been accepted by Christian theology.

The problem is, this is a very difficult concept to really understand. Just saying, "God is not limited by things like time" is not good enough. One needs to give a lot of careful thought to grasping what divine timelessness really means. Unfortunately, people often pick up the idea very superficially, and in effect what it means for them is that "anything goes" when we are talking about God in relation to time. In effect, it is just a way to get out of having to think about the problems in the area.

--- William Hasker Ph. D.



First, let me say that it is quite common for people to think we are saying God is "limited" by time. This is quite a pejoritive way of putting it. It makes it sound as though we believe God is imprisoned in time and Chronos may consume him (as in the Greek myth). If God freely decides to get involved with us and play in our ballpark by the "rules of the game" which he established at creation, then it is not we who are limiting God, but God who is deciding to operate in this fashion.

There is no need to dismiss the biblical texts where God plans, repents, changes in his emotional state, anticipates or is surprised at our sinful response as mere anthropomorphisms. It is common to do so because a timeless deity simply can't do these things or experience such states of affairs. These biblical depictions are metaphors which reveal the kind of God who addresses us. In my view the Bible depicts God as experiencing duration rather than timelessness or simultaneity (all time at once). God is everlasting through time rather than timeless. God is faithful over time rather than being immutable because of timelessness. Neither a timelessness being nor one having simultaneity can genuinely respond, deliberate and do many of the things the Bible ascribes to God.

Does this mean that time is uncreated? "Time" in the sense of the measurement between objects was indeed created. Prior to there being a creation, time in this sense did not exist. "Time" in the sense of the duration of consciousness and relations between persons is uncreated since the trinity is everlasting. The triune godhead has eternally related in conscious love. Does God experience created time as we do? The Bible portrays God in this way but does note that as everlasting, God does not suffer decay and is not at risk of having his purposes thwarted by running out of time as we do.

--- John Sanders



But what if Einstein was right, and time is fluid?

First off, we must be exceedingly careful not to overstep our bounds when entering into an area of expertise which is not our own. This is clearly the case when theologians talk physics, with precious few exceptions. (Ian Barbour, John Polkinghorne, R. J. Russell and others who have degrees in both fields) Given this, some interesting conversation does take place but must be used tentatively.

Presently the field of physics is basically spit into those who operate under the assumptions which serve as the basis of Einstein's relativity theory on the one hand, and those who operate under the assumptions of quantum theory on the other. The goal sought by the field of physics as a whole is what is referred to as the Grand Unification Theory, a theory which, it is hoped, will bring the "truths" of these two subfields of physics together. Relativity theorists claim that their foundations are proven, as do quantum theorists, the problem is that these claims are mutually exclusive.

In terms of the relation of time to physics, we see differing ways of handling the issue in each "camp." Relativity theory spacializes time. Quantum theory temporalizes space. Either way, I think Open theists have something to say.

In terms of relativity, time is "relative" to the location and movement of the observer. Greg Boyd has made a tentative proposal in a conversation we had on the subject that God is the omniscient observer which relativizes those various perspectives. God is not subject to the limitations of moving at the speed of light because God is already everywhere there is to be. This seems to pose a possible solution to relativization of time by relativizing each particular observer in terms of their relation to the one absolute observer who keeps perfect time.

In terms of quantum, time is not spatialized but space is temporalized. Nobel Prize winner Ian Prigogine is currently in the process of reconceiving all physical laws in terms of what he refers to as the principle of irreversibility. This is to say that the course of reality (time) is ultimately irreversible and real, which is fundamentally denied in the relativity view. This view squares solidly with what open theists proclaim about God's relationship with time.

The best book that I have found which takes up this topic is called "Physics and the Ultimate Significance of Time" edited by David Ray Griffin. it includes articles and essays from some of the most important scholars that open theists could draw on for support. These are discussions of time in both physics and theology by physicists and theologians, some of whom are both. I wrote the third section of my Masters Thesis on this topic which is available at Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN. An easier read and a favorite of Boyd's is "The Arrow of Time" by Coveney and Highfield.

The good news is open theists have at least half of the physics field on their side (quantum theorists) with a possible plausible explanation (Boyd's "omniscient observer" insight) for the other half as well!

--- Tyler De Armond