I will preface this post by saying that from a point of discipleship, what I’m about to say is meaningless. It’s also a place where I have no problem if people disagree with me, as long as they are actually considering the foundation of their disagreement. However, it’s a point I’ve encountered in the middle of a variety of discussions on predestination, free will, and other such stuff, and I think it’s a good example of people assuming a point as given without the proper consideration.
I refer to the relationship between God and time.
The conventional wisdom seems to be that time–the actual sequential experiencing of things, not merely our units for measuring it–is a part of creation that we experience, but that God himself exists outside of time. Therefore, the notion of whether God foreordained something (say one person’s belief or another’s unbelief) is actually somewhat academic since God sees past, present, and future in some timeless sense whereby the very notions of past, present, and future don’t actually apply to God’s experience. It’s how at least some folks explain the paradox in Romans 8:29 where God predestined (implying choice) those whom he foreknew (implying awareness of another’s choice).
There’s really no biblical evidence I can think of that supports this notion, which derives largely (I have heard) from Plato who did believe the ideal God was immutable (that is, unchanging/unchangeable), impassible (that is, unaffected by outside forces, so nothing can influence him) and extra-temporal. In contrast, though, the biblical account is full of instances of God interacting with his creation in ways that clearly show creation influencing the creator–for example Moses’ arguments persuading God not to blow the Israelites to smithereens, or God’s relenting from the disaster promised to Nineveh–and this in ways that rather clearly suggest that God intended or said one thing but as the circumstance unfolded he went a different way. Such accounts make very little sense in the context of a timeless and immutable God.
But what if time, rather than being a created thing, is rather an element of God’s nature itself? Before you get all freaked out on me, let me clarify. I’m not suggesting that time is divine, or that there is a divinity like Father Time of legend. Rather, what if God’s nature is to experience an unfolding reality rather as we do, albeit on a much grander and longer scale? God can still be eternal (existing from eternity past, will exist into eternity future) even if he experiences that eternity in an unfolding, progressive sense. But if God actually knows a past, a present, and the possibility of a future just as we (after all, his image-bearers) do, it does put these questions in a completely different light.
For one thing, it makes the possibility of free will truly free. The usual outside-of-time, sees-past-and-future-as-one construct really can’t escape the notion that everything we do is in some sense predetermined (I would go so far as to say that I can’t really see much room for a middle ground between absolute deterministic Calvinism on one hand and Open Theism on the other). One cannot foreknow an outcome unless that outcome is fixed and therefore subject to knowledge, and no amount of multidimensional babble frees us from that trap.
But it also brings a whole new meaning to prophecy, as I implied before in my post on God’s sovereignty. By this I mean that when God foretells the future, he’s doing so, not because he “knows what’s going to happen” in any passive sense of the word, but rather because he has purposed that this is going to happen. True future-telling prophecy, then, is merely the result of God tipping his hand about something he intends to accomplish; or what is far more likely, God decreeing what he has determined must be. It is true, not because of God’s omniscience, but because of his sovereign power.
What do you think? How else would a notion of a timely God rather than a timeless one, impact your theology or world view?