God Is A Being Of Duration

The present essay is to provide necessary evidence for the fact that time is an element of God’s existence. A previous essay (The Problem Of Evil: Part One) dealt with this view in its relation to the historical discussion of the problem of evil. It showed this question can only be satisfactorily answered through a denial of the dogma that God is timeless and exists in an “eternal now,” present to all dates of history. The idea that God is in time was introduced as a solution but was not proven to be Biblically and rationally sound as this would have been beyond the scope of that paper. This essay will attempt, in a brief sweeping fashion, to demonstrate the many faceted arguments in favour of the idea that God is in fact a being of duration. While we will briefly look at the moral implications of this view again, we will also examine the metaphysical and epistemological aspects relevant to this concept. Finally, we will address the scriptural data itself, both positively, examining verses which demand the assertion that God is in time, and then negatively, addressing verses which allegedly deny this view. A thorough treatment of this topic has been attempted in the author’s unpublished manuscript The Eternal God where the subject has been detailed but it is hoped that the present paper will allow us to get a taste of the support which exists for this view.

The Moral Argument

The most demanding argument in favour of the idea that God is a being of duration is the moral argument. Since the God of scripture is holy and without sin, he must be free of all charge regarding the presence of sin and evil in the universe. The familiar argument has it that if God is good, all powerful, and all knowing then evil could not exist. For if God has all power he must be able to stop evil, and if he has all knowledge he must have known that evil would exist before he created, and if he is all good he must not want evil. Why then is there evil? Clearly one of the above three statements must break down. A denial of God’s goodness is what one must try to avoid. The statement that if God has all power then he must be able to prevent evil is somewhat limp because it seems to assume that God can cause holiness in a person, whereas holiness and sin must always be free voluntary acts of the moral agent himself. The only way God could prevent evil would be to not create free beings. And of course this was surely a possibility but one which God did not choose to take advantage of. This is where the real center of the problem comes. If God also has all knowledge, does this not mean that he knew what these free beings would do after he had created them? If so then he must have chosen to have evil come into the world because he made them anyway. This accusation seems unavoidable if we insist that omniscience includes knowledge of all future events. However, if God is a being of duration, living in an endless stretch of time, then such future knowledge would not be available to him, at least not knowledge of the future free acts of moral beings which are contingent upon their own free choices. Would this not be a denial of God’s omniscience? Not at all. Omniscience means simply complete knowledge of everything that can be known. The future does not yet exist and cannot be an object of knowledge for any being. God still remains perfect in knowledge, knowing everything knowable. He also has perfect anticipation as his knowledge of the present and the past makes many future events certain for him since their occurrence depends on causal factors rather than men’s free choices. The beauty of this view is it shows how God can have created a world where sin is now present and still be free from blame. He did not know that angels and men would sin. This was their free choice after they were created. God could not omnipotently prevent their sin without violating the freedom he created them with. God could omnipotently cause men to commit certain acts but obedience is a free act and cannot be caused. As soon as the man’s own free agency is removed, it ceases to be a moral act. God is not blameable because their freedom did not mean they had to sin. The moral implications demand that we see God as a being of duration. 

Metaphysical Issues

There are also metaphysical problems with the suggestion that God is timeless rather than living in time. How could such a being act? Action includes prior thought regarding the act to be performed, decision to carry out the act, actual performance of the planned event, and a conclusion of action. It is difficult to see how one could carry out this process without time. No matter how one looks at it action is durative, demanding a certain time frame for its enactment. A timeless being would also not be able to think, as this involves time to sort and collect thoughts. Perhaps the greatest difficulty of these metaphysical implications is the effect they have on God’s attributes of omnipotence and omnipresence. Omnipotence is the power to do everything that can possibly be done. Yet as we have seen, being timeless would make action impossible. Thus God’s great power would be unusable. Unusable power is no power at all. It is impotence. God cannot be omnipotent if he is timeless. Omnipresence is subject to the same kind of scrutiny. It is impossible to see how a timeless being could have any relationship to objects subject to time. This world exists in time. Every object and occurrence exists at a particular time. If God is present to this world then he has to have some kind of time relation with it. One could not be present to objects in time except at this moment or that. It has been suggested that God is in an “eternal now,” present to his creation at all moments as “now” for him. Again, such a conception seems to eliminate the possibility of action and relationship to the world. Presence to something is an act, an occurrence. How could God act in time? If he acts to effect something in history, was he ever not acting in this way since all moments are now for him? Would he not both be and not be doing this act at the same “time” for him? How can such a thing be? This has terrible implications regarding God’s creation and sustaining of the world as well as for the incarnation of Jesus. Was there a time when God had not created? There could not be for him since “created” suggests a past when the proposed action was only an object of contemplation and a future when it was completed. In addition, God could not sustain the existence of his creation except at every moment. Surely this requires time. The implication is that God must have eternally existed in some kind of relationship to the world or rather that a timeless being could not have made a world in time at all. If God is timeless, he cannot really have anything to do with the world. The most drastic implication of all this is that it greatly discredits the idea of the incarnation. How could a timeless being enter time and live a duration of 33 years? Such an idea is impossible to fathom. Was Jesus both 5 years, 15 years, and 25 years old all at once, experiencing each of these as “now” for himself? This is all quite incomprehensible. These are just a few of the metaphysical problems with denying that God’s life, like our own, is one of living in a duration of time, experiencing one thing after another. All the elements of personality require time as a necessary characteristic of their exercise. Thinking, planning, doing, ceasing. These are all things a personal being would do. They all require time. God is a personal being. The metaphysical characteristics of personality require the belief that God is a being of duration. 

Epistemological Difficulties

The metaphysical problems also affect the question of epistemology, both for God and for us. In regard to God his natural attribute of omniscience is thrown in question. God might know some things within himself as knowing does not necessarily take time. Knowing can be a present state. But he could know nothing outside himself as this requires time to learn or experience the object of knowledge. In order to know how to bake a cake I need to see it done or have it explained. Agreed, perhaps God could know this without having to learn it but he certainly could not know how this particular cake was baked without time to see and apprehend it as an object of knowledge. The cake is baked over a period of minutes. We might try to conceive of God as simply present to each moment in the process. But how the cake was baked is the total process itself. No simple presence to each moment can give knowledge of the connection of these moments so as to derive knowledge of a process. Time is needed to connect each moment as part of a series of moments. In the same way God could not know what was going on in our world without time to experience it and absorb what he has observed. God’s omniscience becomes absolutely limited knowledge if he is not in time. There are also epistemological problems where we are concerned. Our knowledge of God and thus understanding of ultimate reality requires the communication of God to his creation by revelation. Our knowledge is limited by our finite comprehension of the world around us and of our subjective personal experiences. How are we to know God and experience his reality if he cannot enter time to communicate to us? What evidence would we have to believe that a God exists who has not and could not give us evidence to substantiate such belief. Human knowledge is always based on evidence sufficient to produce the fact of conviction regarding the truth of this knowledge. God could give us no evidence at all if he was outside of time as he could not act in our world to communicate himself to us. The Bible presents quite another God, one who is living, acts, remembers, plans for the future, and so forth. This is of course the ultimate test regarding God’s nature. All philosophical considerations aside, what does the Bible say about God? To this we now turn. 

Scriptural Evidence

Space is not sufficient even to begin looking at the scriptural evidence for God existing as a being of duration. Of course there are places in the Psalms which refer to his days being through all generations, that he inhabits eternity, that he was before all else, that he was, and is, and will be, a description which very adequately describes our temporal existence. As well as general statements regarding his temporal existence, there also are descriptions of his activities, which require the understanding that he is not timeless, but very much approaching the future as we do. There are passages like Genesis 6 which record God as being deeply grieved that he ever created man, owing to the wickedness of the world. Did he not know all along that this would be the state of things? If he was going to be so grieved as to wish he had not created then why did he create? Could a person create a world they wished they did not create? We cannot do things we do not really choose to do. How could opposite choices exist in God? They must exist so if he is timeless. We see places of similar import in Jeremiah where God begins to send judgement but then relents of what he had sent, regretting his own action. How can such passages be read except with the obvious assumption that God is in time? Another aspect of the same kind of situation is where God has made a statement regarding what will occur and then changes his mind so that the event will not occur. II Kings 20 records the account of Hezekiah’s illness. The prophet comes to him and announces that God has said that this illness will result in his death and that he should put his house in order. Hezekiah weeps before the Lord and begs for an extension of time. God grants it! The illness did not result in death, even though God said it would. This cannot be explained in terms of a timeless God. Another case in point is when God told Moses he would destroy the children of Israel and make Moses into a great nation. Moses prayed and God agreed not to carry out his plan. See again the case of Jonah and Nineveh. God announced that the city would be destroyed, he even gave them a date, forty days from then. The whole city repented and God did not carry out his intended judgement. Some people say that the above accounts are to be seen as God accommodating himself to men’s time-bound existence but that he really knew what the outcome would be. Such a view cannot avoid the charge that God lied. If he knew one thing was going to happen but said that another would, no matter what result he was trying to produce through such testimony, it was false testimony. God lied! This must be so if God is outside of time. However, if God is in time then these passages read naturally. To the above passages can be appended passages that show God learning what actions people would do. Abraham’s test with Isaac is a good example. Once Abraham had gone all the way in his willingness to allow God’s will in his life regarding his son, God said “Now I know that you fear me and will not even keep your only son from me.” Evidently prior to this event God could not be certain. Jeremiah 3:6-10 shows God astonished at the rebellion and idolatry of Israel. God says that they did differently than he thought they would. Here we are given a look at God’s thoughts themselves and what we find is that events are taking place that are other than God anticipated they would be. As much as three times later in Jeremiah God says that Israel has offered her children in the fire to Molech, something he never dreamed they would do. In Exodus, after the event with the golden calf God commanded that the people put off their gold rings and trinkets so that he could know what he should do with them. Their action conditioned what God’s response would be. With such passages indicating that God learns from events what men will choose and then responds accordingly it is difficult to see how anyone would question that God is in time. 

Possible Objections

Many other passages could be cited but we must turn now for a brief look at some of the passages which are supposed to prove that God could not be in time but must be timeless and living in an eternal now. Many people point to the predictive prophecies of scripture as an absolute denial of God’s living in time. Isaiah 46 says that God makes known the end from the beginning, telling what is to come. Yet the passage itself contains the answer to this question regarding most prophecies. Verse 11 says that God brings about what he has said, what he has planned. Thus, predictive prophecy is either God’s revealing what he knows will happen because all of the necessary causes are already in place, or it is a revelation of what God intends himself to do. Since he is omnipotent, he can bring about anything that he says will happen simply by acting in history to bring it about. People also point to Jeremiah chapter 1 where God tells the prophet that before he was born he was known and chosen as a prophet to the nations. This passage could prove prior knowledge of Jeremiah’s existence, but certainly not timelessness since timeless knowledge of Jeremiah’s existence would still only be knowledge of him when he actually existed. But prior knowledge of Jeremiah’s existence is possible for a God in time. God could easily have known Jeremiah was to be born and chosen to use his life to call Israel back to himself. We seem to see the same situation with Paul who tells us in Galatians 1 that God set him apart from birth. The issue is, did Jeremiah and Paul have to comply with God’s desire? Could they not, like Samson and King Saul, have become a discouragement to God by failing to fulfil his desired plan for their lives? Paul seems to believe this call could have been thwarted, for in speaking of his call on the road to Damascus, he says, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Apparently he could have been. God may have chosen many people prior to their birth to serve some purpose. This does not necessitate that God is outside of time. In looking to the New Testament the cases of Peter and Judas are considered evidence against the view we are examining. Jesus told Peter he would deny him three times before the cock crowed. How could Jesus have known this since this involved Peter’s free will? Of course here we can only speculate since scripture does not give us any information. But we are told in the narrative that Satan had requested to sift the disciples like wheat, making Peter’s temptation an event which was likely already on Satan’s agenda and thus known by God (See Job 1). Jesus knew the state of Peter’s heart and his self-confident fickleness. It took little to deduce that such would be what occurred. It is also possible that Jesus statement was not so much a prophecy as a warning to try to get Peter to be careful and avoid his fall. We often make statements like this to try to prevent them. The case of Judas is also interesting. John 6 says that Jesus knew from the beginning who was going to betray him. Here we must ask, the beginning of what? From the beginning of time or simply from near the beginning of his ministry when Judas began to harden his heart? The latter seems likely. It is hardly possible that Jesus after great prayer and waiting upon God would choose as one of the twelve someone who he knew would betray him. This only scratches the surface of the Biblical evidence for the belief that God is a being of duration. Both the rational and the Biblical information is overwhelming. The above should suffice to demonstrate beyond any plausible doubt that only through such a view of God can reason and revelation be harmonised with the existence of a personal being who is our creator and with whom we have to do. The traditional conception of God as a being outside of time, living in an eternal now, is incompatible with the moral, metaphysical, and epistemological evidence. It also is not in accord with the record of scripture, which is our final standard regarding truth. 1997 Kel Good, used by permission; this publication may be copied freely as long as no alteration is made to the text. 

Copyright 2019 Kel Good. This publication may be copied freely as long as no alteration is made to the text. For more information write: Kel Good via What I Believe This Week (www.whatibelievethisweek.com)

Leave a Reply