Monday, February 29, 2016

Time and God's Eternity

I'm working on an academic article on time and eternity. I'm particularly gripped by the question of whether God's eternity implies that God is timeless. My answer to date is, No, in some way, God has to have movement and progression in order for there to be speech and music in heaven. Moreover, God's Incarnation in Christ requires that God has touched the temporal sphere and inhabits it. At least, that's a thesis (or maybe two) I'm pursuing.

Since this piece will surely will not see the light of day for several months, it seemed good simply to lay out two key quotations.

First from Wolfhart Pannenberg in first volume of his Systematic Theology:
“The thought of eternity that is not simply opposed to time but positively related to it, embracing it in its totality, offers a paradigmatic illustration and actualization of the true Infinite which is not just opposed to the finite but embraces the antithesis”
And, particularly on the question of how the Incarnation helps us interpret God's temporality (or not), Thomas Oden, who summarized the relation between time and eternity through the pattern of the Incarnation, was particularly helpful: 
“The decisive Christian analogy concerning time is that between the eternal indwelling in time and the incarnation. Brilliantly, the classical exegetes taught that the creation of time is analogous to the incarnation in this way: The Father inhabits time, just as the Son inhabits human flesh” (from the Living God, citing Hilary, Nemesius).
I draw then this provisional conclusion: The eternal God embraces temporality. God is not timeless or atemporal, but is also not defined by earthly time. Indeed God, in many senses, transcends time... which, I suppose means, that God doesn't stay some timeless Deity, up in the sky, but truly interacts with you and me. And that I take to be central to the Gospel.

1 comment:

Gregory Simpson said...

I appreciate this argument Greg. Notions of God's timelessness seem to be very dependent on a human understanding of time, the tools we use to measure time, and the finite nature of earthly existence. As you point out, "God's Incarnation in Christ requires that God has touched the temporal sphere and inhabits it." The implication here is that of God's choice, rather than of God's reality. One could argue that God's choice is no choice at all, if a relationship between God and humanity is to exist.

We need God to be timeless, because it creates separation in our minds. We need God to exist in a 4th, 5th, 6th etc dimension, because that prevents comparison in a finite way. But we also need God's presence in the finite world of our existence to help us rationalize the 3 dimensional space we call earth.

That said, I guess I am in agreement with your provisional conclusion, and would also leave you with a quote from one of your favorite theologians;

“God, I believe, does not live in a Time-series at all. His life is not dribbled out moment by moment like ours: with Him it is still 1920 and already 1960…God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today.’ All the days are ‘Now’ for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them…He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him.” —Mere Christianity (1944), pp.147-8 C.S. Lewis