Sunday, September 13, 2009

God, Time, & Eternity

God, Time, and Eternity (2009-09-13)

Is God beyond time or in time or both?  If you think both then you need to provide a model or some way of understanding how God can both be in time and beyond all time.
God is eternal.  He lives from everlasting to everlasting.  God is the creator of time.  He existed without time.  He is not restricted by the dimension of time.  This week in his BIG series lead pastor Dennis Bachman taught on the issue of God being eternal yet he God “all the time”.
God was, He is, He will be.  He is called the “Alpha and Omega,” the “Beginning and the End.”  The Epistle of Jude states in 1:24, “Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen.”
I think there is a way to resolve the paradox of God being both beyond time and in time. God is timeless without creation, and in time subsequent to creation.  That is, without creation there is no time and God simply exists atemporally.  Yet, God really relates to us in time.  In fact, God became man, a human being, in time, for yours and my salvation.  However, God’s nature does not grow or develop in any substantial way thereby undergoing an essential change in His nature.
The fact that God is not bound by time does not mean that He is not conscious of and concerned for what is now occurring in human experience.  God is aware of what is happening, has happened, and will happen at each point in time.  Yet at any given point within time He is also conscious of the distinction between what is now occurring, what has been, and what will be.
God has from all eternity determined what He is now doing.  Thus His actions are not in any sense ‘thoughtless’ reactions to events taking place.  He does not get ‘taken by surprise’ or have to formulate contingency plans.  God is neither diminished by time, nor is he wearied by it.  What this means is that “time” is good, though we think of it as a commodity or something to be managed in America.  God is the creator of time and space.  Time is created by grace, just as our salvation is by grace.  God enters time, he condescends to it just as God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, condescends to space by becoming human.  Reflection on such topics is not an act of intellectual gymnastics but means of devotion and worship that should awe and inspire us.
The fact that God is timeless sans (without) creation and endures throughout all time  should help us rightly engage His world, with His patience, with His sense of urgency—is we can all it that, and with His long-suffering. 

George Haraksin II
Pastor of Christian Formation
NewSong Church


  1. Alexander Schemann in his book For the Life of the World speaks of the act of taking the Eucharist and the accompanying liturgy is the Church's deliverance from Time into the presence of the God who is not bound by Time, and then exiting the church the Church, after going through the process of communion is commanded to return into the world, into time to bring the redemption of Time to the world that is burdened and bound by Time. I can't summate his entire book, since I've read it twice and I still very barely understand his rudimentary points, but he writes this:

    "Let us depart in peace," says the celebrant as he leaves the altar, and this is the last commandment of the liturgy. We must not stay on Mount Tabor, although we know that it is good for us to be there. We are sent back. But now "we have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly spirit." And it is as witnesses of this LIght, as witnesses of the Spirit, that we must "go forth" and begin the never ending mission of the Church. Eucharist was the end of the journey, the end of time. And now it is again the beginning, and things that were impossible are again revealed to us as possible. The time of the world has become the Time of the Church, the time of salvation and redemption."

    He also describes time as: "Time is the only reality of life, yet it is a strangely nonexistent reality: it constantly dissolves life in a past which no longer is, and in a future which always leads to death. By itself, time is nothing but a line of telegraph poles strung out into the distance and at some point along the way is our death." Haha. Too true, depressing, but true.

    It'd be interesting to hear your thoughts in response, although one can't really get a feel for the Schemannator as we've nicknamed him without spending a great deal of time in a vastly small amount of his words and without receiving the very special gift of a massive brain ache.

  2. In the books of Genesis and Jude both time and space are considered created by God and good. Due to the fall and sin both time and space become a "problem" to fallen human beings, because, as you rightly say, death enters into creation and time. The redemption story revealed in the bible and Christ reveals the redeeming of both space and time.

    We must attempt to keep our thinking straight the best we can on these matters. We must be mindful to regularly distinguish between our "experience" of time and "what time is" in and of itself. This is the distinction between the ontology (nature/essence) of time and the epistemology (knowledge) of time. By analogy, my experience of swimming in the ocean--it feeling cold, wet, and tasting salty-- may be different from another person's experience of swimming in a lake. However, both experiences are encounters with water and what water 'is' (ontologically) is different than how we 'experience' water (epistemologically).

    Though our experience of time is both a blessing and a curse, it seems to me you are quite right in proclaiming God's redemption of time through Jesus' incarnation and His ongoing activity in creation.

    George Haraksin II
    Pastor of Christian Formation NewSong Church
    Adjunct Instructor in Philosophy Azusa Pacific University

  3. I humble submit that time is an interruption of eternity. A parenthesis in eternity that will at one point, end, or “be no more”. Then all will once again be eternity. I also submit for your consideration that the quality of eternity is the fact that there is only one will operating in the universe, the will of God. Up until the point in eternity when there was only one will, the will of God, there was only eternity. At the point there was heard for the first “time” a will opposite to the will of God (Isa. 14:12-14), time began. In Genesis 1 and 2 God gives order to time and places a being, man, in the midst of time who can live with the quality of eternity in such an environment. Alas, he fails and becomes subject to time. Thus we have redemption’s story. Four thousand years later Emanuel. As you said, “God enters time, he condescends to it just as God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, condescends to space by becoming human.” While on this earth Jesus lives with the quality of eternity (one will) in the midst of time. The last Adam accomplishes what the first Adam failed to do. Time has no hold on him, Jesus, because he always pleases His Father. Not until his “time” came did he allow the effect of time, death, to lay hold of him and only after he took on himself the sin of the world. It was only then that time could rightly lay hold of him. Three days later he breaks the hold of death and time and becomes the first fruits of them that sleep. Through his redemptive act he offers us the ability to live with the quality of eternity in the midst of time.

    Mike Cowart
    Pastor, Maranatha Fellowship Church
    Baton Rouge, LA

  4. Mike,

    Thank you for the “humble” response. I too offer a reply in this same spirit. I hear you saying or implying in the comment above that “time” is an evil, a problem and/or a burden. I think this view of time is untenable given Genesis 1 and Revelation 20-22. God declared creation good, and this would include time. Just as the immaterial and material/physical world is created good so time is created, initially, as a good, a blessing for humanity. But just as our bodies and souls and creation has become corrupted and subject to sin, so time is now experienced as a burden due to sin and suffering.

    At the end of the book of Revelation God creates a new heaven and new earth and the people of God are physically resurrected and take part in that new creation. It seems any participation in that new creation requires time—time as defined as change, activity, the exchanging of properties (philosophically). You speak of the “quality of eternity”. This sounds very poetic but I do not know how to make any meaningful sense of that phrase. Technically God is the only eternal being though we may be “everlasting” beings. If we speak of a “quality” of eternity you may be musing about the experiential feeling of what time will feel like without suffering, pain and sin while being in God’s presence. I agree “time has no hold” on God in that time is not a burden or problem for God.

    Finally a comment on the “one will” in eternity statement you made above. Strictly speaking or ontologically speaking there will be many “wills” in the new heavens and new earth including God’s will because there are many persons and angels in that creation that have wills. You may mean that God’s will is finally done “on earth as it is in heaven.” From a Christian perspective this means that we are unified with God’s will in purpose but still remain distinct ontologically from God’s being—though we share in the divine nature says 2 Peter 1:4. To sum up, if I read you correctly, I think you are stating that we will be of one purpose with God in the heavenly state but not that our wills are extinguished—that would be either a Buddhist or Hindu view depending on how you define things.

    Thank you for the opportunity to reason together under God’s grace.