God’s Relationship to Space and Time

multiverse time travel

In his excellent Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem considers God’s eternality and his relationship to time and space (get your thinking cap on here). Grudem says,

In the New Testament, Peter tells us, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). The second half of this statement had already been made in Psalm 90, but the first half introduces an additional consideration, “One day is as a thousand years”; that is, any one day never ends, but is always being experienced. … Since “a thousand years” is a figurative expression for “as long a time as we can imagine”, or “all history”, we can say from this verse that any one day seems to God to be present to his consciousness forever.

Taking [this into] consideration…, we can say the following: in God’s perspective, any extremely long period of time is as if it just happened. And any very short period of time (such as one day) seems to God to last forever: it never ceases to be “present” in his consciousness. Thus, God sees and knows all events past, present, and future with equal vividness. This should never cause us to think that God does not see events in time and act in time, but just the opposite: God is the eternal Lord and Sovereign over history, and he sees it more clearly and acts in it more decisively than any other. But, once we have said that, we must still affirm that these verses speak of God’s relationship to time in a way that we do not and cannot experience: God’s experience of time is not just a patient endurance of eons of endless duration, but he has a qualitatively different experience than we do. This is consistent with the idea that in his own being, God is timeless; he does not experience a succession of moments. This has been the dominant view of Christian orthodoxy throughout the history of the church, though it has been frequently challenged, and even today man theologians deny it…

Thus God somehow stands above time and is able to see it all as present in his consciousness. Although the analogy is not perfect, we might think of the moment we finish reading a long novel. Before putting it back on the shelf we might flip quickly through the pages once more, calling to mind the many events that had occurred in that novel. For a brief moment, things that transpired over a long period of time all seem to be “present” to our minds. Perhaps this is faintly analogous to God’s experience of seeing all of history as equally present in his consciousness.

I think Grudem is exactly right. We cannot perceive knowing all that has, is, and will happen all at once, but we can be sure that God knows. By the very fact that God created time, matter, and space, we can be sure that God relates to time and space in such a radically different manner than we do, since we were created to exist in time and space.

As God says in Isaiah 46:9-10,

For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish my purpose”

I think clearly the God-ness of God demands that he stand transcendent, outside of time, unlimited by mankind’s own limitations. Yet all at the same time, even though God knows all things necessarily, we must also affirm that God acts inside time, and interacts with humans on their own level.

Grudem says,

It is necessary to guard against misunderstanding by [saying that] God sees events in time and acts in time…It is evident in scripture that God acts within time and acts different at different points in time… The repeated emphasis on God’s ability to predict the future in the Old Testament prophets requires us to realize that God predicts his actions at one point in time and then carries out those actions at a later point in time. And on a larger scale, the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation is God’s own record of the way he has acted over time to bring about redemption to his people.

We must therefore affirm both that God has no succession of moment s in his own being and sees all history equally vividly, and that in his creation he sees the progress of events over time and acts differently at different points of in time; in short, he is the Lord who created time and who rules over it and uses it for his own purposes.

This is a hard thing to understand (possibly incomprehensible). But I like how Grudem finishes; Since God created time, he can interact in time for his own purposes. He is able even to interact and see time successively from mankind’s vantage point. God desires to interact and condescend to his creation. And of course, we can be sure that God has done this incredibly so in the person of Christ.

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