It is so common to hear or read that ‘God is outside of time’, or in the more classical old-style theological way ‘the eternal now of God’. Language when applied to God is problematic, but this concept of time owes more to the influence of philosophy (Greek based) than to the Hebrew scriptures. This does not make it wrong in itself as to think about the issue and to decide that what we have in Scripture is language rather than a description of the reality is valid.
Timeless or temporal (but without beginning or end) are the two options. The first might sound more ‘God-like’, but I consider it runs up against numerous issues.
Personhood. God is described as a Being with thoughts, actions, emotions and interactions (and even of learning). All of which imply some measure of temporal sequence. Of course it could be that only we cannot conceive of personhood without time, and that the Scriptures record God in such ways simply because there is no other concept of personhood that we can relate to.
‘In the beginning’. The timeless view suggests that creation also includes the creation of time, and before this there was no time. Again, language has its limitations, but what does the word ‘before’ mean? The words of creation do not necessarily mean creation ex nihilo, but they do seem to attribute to God that he acted inside time. To suggest that God was existing as trinity and decided (‘when’ was the decision taken?) to create humanity to share life with and this was also the beginning of time seems to run up against so many difficulties as a concept.
The Incarnation. The eternal Logos became human. The Logos was not incarnated from all-eternity, there being a change within the Godhead at the Incarnation and for ever. Timelessness seems to me to suggest that the Incarnation would need to be an eternal situation rather than an eternal intention. So there is a very real change for the Trinity – a before Incarnation, a while incarnated on earth, and a post-resurrection but continuing incarnation. Timelessness necessitates that all events (from our perspective – past, present and future) are now all instantaneously occurring within the experience of God. Maybe that makes God sound awesome but in what sense can we say that the future has already been experienced (or more correctly is being experienced now) by God? The return of Christ, the ‘God will be all in all’, ‘his dwelling place will be with his people’ are all descriptions of a future event for us… and I suggest that those also have to be future experiences for God.
I appreciate there are some real difficulties in the issue of time and God. What would it mean that he lives in time? (I suspect that maybe we should be more profitably exploring that time is in God – therefore any creation has to exist in time.) It certainly would not mean that God grows old or decays, nor that s/he is growing in strength and wisdom, as if given another opportunity the next creation project would be better – though we do have the ‘God regretted he had…’ statements in Scripture.
So however challenging the philosophical nature of this discussion is, I find the concept of timelessness all-but impossible to embrace. There are difficulties with God in time – hence the concept of time being in God might be the way forward – but for me I have to lean heavily in this direction. There is a future for God as well as a future for creation that we (God and creation) are waiting for.
So we have to affirm there never was (a time word) when God was not, and there never will be when God will not be. S/he is not created, but has eternally existed, and will eternally exist. I can experience God by the Spirit today, but more remarkably I can equally be experienced by God today. There are no surprises to God in that relationship but I can certainly give pleasure to the One who redeemed me.
The present two-way relational experience is not dependent on our view of God and time, but seems more consistent with with the God of the Scriptures.