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.

Sin and the Sovereignty of God (part 4): Answering More Objections

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In my first post about objections to God’s sovereignty, I addressed the objection that if God is sovereign, then he is the cause of sin.

In this post, I want to address the objection that goes something like this: If God decreed everything that would happen, this makes us puppets, and takes away any real choice that we would make. In my opinion, misunderstanding the nature of how God makes his decree leads people to this conclusion. In my former posts, here, here, and here, part of my argument included the fact that God is able to decree the free choices of humans. That God decreed those free choices by no means takes away free will — it simply means that God can be and is sovereign over even the free actions of man.

Louis Berkhof says,

This objection [that God’s sovereignty takes away our free choices]…ignores the logical relation, determined by God’s decree, between the means and the end to be obtained. The decree not only includes the various issues of human life, but also the free human actions which are logically prior to, and are destined to bring about, the results.

In short, God’s decrees include our free choices. And what this means is that although God has planned to include my actions and choices in his plan, my choices are still my choices. Many argue for instance, that within a world where everything is decreed, prayer and evangelism are meaningless. But in fact, this is again misrepresenting God’s sovereignty. When it comes to answered prayers, God decided before hand to accomplish his purposes in and through our freely offered prayers. God dwells outside of time; so although I make my prayers in the year 2014 (or whatever year), God can decree to answer my prayers before the world even existed, and even use them to accomplish his purposes. To me, this makes prayers all the more important. God has designated the means to his own end, and my freely offered prayers are included in it. As Berkhof says, we cannot ignore the logical relation between God’s ends, and the means to his end.

Wayne Grudem has some more helpful insight with this objection. He says,

In response to the claim that choices ordained by God cannot be real choices, it must be said that this is simply an assumption based once again on [subjective] experience and intuition, not on specific scripture texts. Scripture repeatedly indicates that God works through our will, our power to choose, and our personal volition, and it consistently affirms that our choices are genuine choices, that they have real results, and that those results last for eternity…

[However], the kind of freedom that is often assumed by those who deny God’s providential control of all things is a freedom to act outside of God’s sustaining and controlling activity, a freedom that includes being able to make decisions that are not caused by anything external to ourselves. Scripture nowhere says we are free in those senses. That kind of freedom would be impossible if Jesus Christ is indeed “continually carrying along things by his word of power” (Heb 1:3) and if God “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11).

I think Grudem makes some good points here. First, just because we choose to do something doesn’t mean that God didn’t ordain to permit and use your free choices. Subjective experience alone cannot confirm or deny anything.

But also, Grudem makes a great point that no one is completely free, or outside of God’s providence. This would be impossible — even God’s permissive will is under his sovereign control. While we may say that we willfully and freely make choices in the sense that God in no way forces us to make the decisions we do, still God sovereignly decreed to permit and use those free choices, making them certain.

Grudem then critiques the theological idea that God simply foreknows everything, but does not decree anything. I found it immensely helpful. He says,

Others [who disagree with this idea of God’s sovereignty] say that God knows the future [simply] because he is able to see into the future, not because he has planned or caused what will happen…

[However, this] response fails to render our choices free in the way that [they] wish them to be free. If our future choices are known, then they are fixed and therefore predetermined by something (whether fate or the inevitable cause-and-effect mechanism of the universe). And if the are fixed, then they are not “free”…

I think that this is exactly right. Whether God decrees or not, if he foreknows the future, this means he foreknows a fixed future. And this means that the free will we may want doesn’t really exist, because the future God foreknows is fixed.

More than that, if the future is not certain because of God’s final decision, then what makes it certain? Fate? Nature? Random coincidence? Either way you slice it, something has to make the future fixed. While we do make free, non-coerced, unforced choices, these choices are either fixed by God’s decision, or by another force unknown to us.

With that said, I believe that God is able to render certain free-will actions, and that this by no means takes away man’s free choices. It simply means that God is the ultimate authority over all that has, is, and will happen. It certainly does not make us puppets.