Its summertime, so just thought I would run off a few off-the-cuff posts about whatever takes my fancy. Today in response to the phrase that one hears so often:
Of course God is outside of time.
Now what on earth would that mean? And where does that come from?
Disclaimer: the opposite statement is not without its problems too, with a more ‘how old is God then?’, kind of problem!
Second disclaimer: there are people we are on the same page with regard to our thoughts, others are in the same book, if you consider I am in another library all-together, it is summertime so just put up with it!
This idea of God outside / above time seems to come from the Hellenisation (big word for the non-word Greekifying) that took place as the Jewishly-rooted Christian faith moved into the world where Greek philosophy ruled. Change was considered to be a measure of imperfection, hence immutability (not subject to change) was necessitated as being applied to God in every area. Time being involved in the nature of change, God was outside of time. The Jewish view has a God whose character does not change. The same today as always, a God who can be trusted. But there is no difficulty in attributing change of mind, experience of emotion, a before and an after with regard to God. Those descriptions demand a God who lives in time.
(There is also an element of the further east one travels that the thinking of time is less linear and more circular. This probably also affects the view of time.)
A God who lives in time: the incarnation is a good case in point. There was when (a time word) the Logos was not incarnate as the human Jesus. The cross and resurrection likewise. They are past events for us… and for God (with respect to God’s experience). The body is no longer in the tomb, there was a before and an after. The parousia has not occurred yet, not for us, nor for the hosts of heaven.
Time does not affect God as it does us. Death is not God’s future, nor even an endless celebrations of birthdays – there is no growing old for God! A day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day: does not mean time is not part of God’s experience, but that his relationship to time is not our relationship to it. It is the same with kids… ‘is it Christmas soon’ is the kids perspective (and it can start on Boxing Day and every day thereafter!); the parent ‘glad to get that behind us, at least we have a year to prepare for the next one.’ (I am sure not true for many families, but the illustration of time and our relationship to it still stands; ‘next week’ is a lifetime away for a kid; for a parent it comes all too soon.)
The interaction with creation demands God and time. The future is still longed for by God, the day when there can be a culmination of the ‘project’ and his dwelling place will be among us in fullness. That future is our future and also God’s future.
Not wishing to get into too deep water, I don’t think that clever-man Einstein’s theory of relativity comes into play either. It seems to state that an event is relative to one’s ‘position’, so can be past for one person, present for another, and future for yet another (and by position of course we mean within the galaxy!). It is relative to each ‘person’ because of their finite position. God has no finite position, being omnipresent, so it seems to me that Mr. E’s clever theory does not speak to God and time. (BTW ‘theory’ in mathematics / science is not the same as the popular use of the word theory, it has been subjected to many tests and come out the other side, unlike my theories! Evolution, for example, cannot be dismissed simply as ‘it is only a theory’.)
How old is creation? What was God doing before creation? If God is in time when did that take place? OK, got me now… yes God inside time is also not without its difficulties either, but before making a response, time seems to me to be primarily defined not by a clock or a calendar but by how a sequence of events are experienced. And that is necessary for a relationship, a real relationship. Listening, talking, thinking, considering, responding, feeling… all time words, all words related to personhood, words applied to God.
So how old is creation? No idea. I kind of think it might be eternal – past and future. Why not? God worked with some pre-matter (chaos) in the ‘beginning’. Maybe the big bang was one of many… If that is the case then it gets round what was a God who is a Creator doing before there was a Creation? The eternal God has been eternally the Creator God, and if what I suggest is OK it does not mean that creation is God!
Or maybe we somehow have to posit a ‘before creation’ a God-not-subject-to-time’ but in the creation act God creates time and space and enters into time. (I wasn’t present… and all of it is a little beyond me, so I press that concept no further).
God inside of time does not solve every issue, but it seems to make a lot more sense to me. I relate to someone who begins the day with me. What are we going to do together; what real conversations will we have; what plans will be hatched? How can we work toward the same future?
Did I mention future in that last sentence? What do we know about the future? What does God know?