Friday, April 19, 2013

Practical Theology 6: God as Eternal

My series on theology that is practical continues...

1. Is Theology Practical?
2. Why Believe in God?

God as Creator
3. God as Other
4. God as All-Powerful
5. God as All-Knowing

6. God as Eternal
In regard to time, the Bible tells us that God existed before the foundation of the world (e.g., John 17:24) and that he will exist forever (e.g., Psalm 102:27). When we couple this truth with his power, knowledge, goodness, and unchangeability we know we have a God that we can depend on who will be with us forever. As Psalm 102:27 says, "You remain the same, and your years will never end."

God will always be around.  He will always be around knowing what to do (all knowing), able to do it (all powerful), and willing to do it (good and active).  God acts within time as we know it.  He did not create the world and then abandon it. Rather, he is an ever present help in time of trouble (Psalm 46:1). As Hebrews 7 says of Jesus Christ, "because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them" (7:24-25, NIV).

Christian thinkers of the ages have of course asked and attempted to answer many questions that the Bible does not address relating to God and time. For example, if God knows the future, then how can I do anything other than what God knows? Many have therefore wondered if God's "foreknowledge," his knowledge of the future, implies "determinism," that God determines the future.

One solution of the Middle Ages is to suggest that God is "timeless," that God's relation to time is not the same as our relationship to time.  Boethius (480-ca.524) famously suggested that God looks at all time at the same time, that God exists in some kind of eternal "now." Accordingly, he does not know the future ahead of time, as it were, but he knows it now. [1]

Let's say that you are present for a football game that is not shown on television until several hours after the game is over. You have a knowledge of what is about to happen in the game on television without determining it.  In the same way, God knows now what is going to happen in the future because he sees the future now even though we who exist in time have not yet got there.

Again, it is very important practically to recognize that the Bible simply does not ask nor answer these questions. As we will see later in this series, the Bible makes both statements that imply predeterminism and statements that imply free will.  It does not work out the details philosophically. The result is that we as Christians can legitimately disagree on the answers while also continuing to think through these issues in the light of apparent scientific discoveries. There is no one Christian answer.

It does seem to be the case that many Christians think of God as existing within time in the same way we do.  Many Christians seem to think that God moves moment by moment as we do, even though he lives so long that a "thousand years is like a day" (e.g., 2 Pet. 3:8). It is understandable that a person would get this impression from the way the Bible describes God, using anthropomorphic language.

However, God would not be God if we take this language too literally. The Bible, using ordinary language, often talks of God in terms that (if taken literally) make him sound like the supreme being within the universe but not the all-powerful, all-knowing Christian creator of the world out of nothing. The Bible points us in this direction, on this trajectory, but it was post-biblical Christian theology that unpacked the full significance of God in these areas.

When we take relativity into account, the picture becomes much more complicated.  If God created spacetime out of nothing, then the essence of God indeed does not exist within our spacetime plane.  Indeed, relativity tells us that what we call time itself moves differently depending on how fast something is moving. In the twin paradox, one twin ends up younger than the other after he returns from flying in a spaceship near the speed of light. So you could end up older than your grandfather if he took a little trip in a very fast rocket.

God as Spirit thus exists within every inertial frame of reference and experiences time at least in multiple sequences.  It is thus not unreasonable to think that God exists outside the sequence of events as we experience them, as Boethius suggested. This suggestion removes the conundrum of foreknowledge and predestination.

Ultimately, we have no point of reference to know whether there might actually be a multiverse with multiple futures based on a practically infinite number of turning points in history. In such a thought experiment, the particular timeline we think of as a singular history could be only one of a nearly infinite futures, all of which God knows and participates in. However, this is merely a thought experiment, meant to show how little we actually know about such things.

[1] I am not meaning to preclude the possibility that God somehow knows the eternal now even without observing it. I am only meaning to show that foreknowledge from our temporal perspective does not in any way require predeterminism from God's perspective.

7. God the Spirit
8. Three in One
9. God as Love
10. God as Just
11. God as Unchanging

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for another in this good series.

"If God created spacetime out of nothing, then the essence of God indeed does not exist within our spacetime plane." Interesting thought, indeed.