The Timelessness of God

God Exists Outside of Time.

God is eternal in the truest sense: meaning he has no beginning or end. Time and space are part of creation; God is not part of creation. God is above the created flow of time, therefore, God is timeless. Wayne Grudem puts it more precisely by stating: God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.[1]

“In the beginning, God…” Genesis 1:1

We see in the very beginning of scripture, that all of time, space and matter begin with someone already in existence. Something has to be eternal, timeless and immaterial; otherwise, we run into the problem of infinite causes. This proof and concept has been around for a long time (since the beginning) but we even see it in thoughts outside of Christianity. Aristotle promoted what he termed the prime mover, this is something outside of creation setting it in motion. Without something being eternal, we have no source and we are left with an infinite chicken or the egg conundrum.

 Since God created time which is implied in Genesis 1:1 (“in the beginning”) it is a logical assumption to say he is above it and outside of it. We also see this in Jude 25 where it says, “to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever.”In Psalm 90:2 it says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” This verse speaks of eternity past as well as eternity future. There was no time before creation. If you were to ask the question, “When did God create?” the answer is unsearchable. “the number of his years is unsearchable” (Job 35:26).

There was no “when” until God created. That is why it says, “In the beginning, God…”  We see God being and existing before matter and time in other places of scripture as well. “In the beginning was the Word… All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). This concept of God creating all things is also found in 1 Corinthians 6:8; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2. God, being other than creation, points towards his independence. His timelessness also leads us towards his immutability, because God does not grow or develop. For the sake of staying on task, I will try not to delve into these topics, but continue speaking about his timelessness. Grudem sums up our first point this way:

But before there was a universe, and before there was time, God always existed, without beginning, and without being influenced by time. And time, therefore, does not have an existence in itself, but like the rest of creation, it depends upon God’s eternal being and power to keep existing. (Grudem 169)

God Interacts and Moves Within Time.

The use of expressions such as “the first and the last” and the “Alpha and Omega” convey the same concept.[2] God is there from the beginning and he will be the ends or goal of everything.[3] We find this all over scripture in both the Old and New Testament.

“I am the first and the last; besides me there is no God.”

–Isaiah 44:6

“I am the Alpha and Omega,” says the Lord God, “who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

–Revelation 1:8

“It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”

 –Revelation 21:6

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

–Revelation 22:13

All of these verses are direct quotations from God, showing God working within time (a succession of moments). The very act of speaking requires one thing to be said and then another. I believe God does this not because he is limited to time but rather we are limited and he is interacting with us on our level. We live in a succession of moments. I think this topic is impossible for us to fully grasp because all of our human experience and language is built upon a succession of moments. Even as you read this post, you move from line to line, and from thought to thought. We grow, change and have a progression, but God does not. Because of this, our limited human experience, it is mind-blowing and truly impossible for us to understand a being that is always “present” in all-time at once. God is always in existence. The biblical language tries to help us with phrases like, “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4).

We must still affirm that these verses speak of God’s relationship to time in a way we do not and cannot experience: God’s experience of time is not just a patient endurance through eons of endless duration, but he has a qualitatively different experience of time than we do (Grudem 170).

Our language tries to give us inklings throughout scripture, but we cannot comprehend it. We still have to use tenses and words like before. But God doesn’t just know the future he is existing and moving in it. God is just as present in the past as he is now or will be in the future at the same time. For some reason, this concept is somewhat more palatable when considering his omnipresence in relationship to space. God is everywhere. Erikson shows that this points to the tension between his transcendence and his immanence: the immanence of God (he is everywhere), the transcendence of God (he is not anywhere).[4] This is also true of time. God is not at any one point in time (he is not anywhere), but rather at all points in time (he is everywhere). And he is working his will always.

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 the ancient times things not yet done,

Saying, “My counsel shall stand,

And I will accomplish my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

Erikson says this, “From all eternity he has determined what he is now doing.”[5] Dr. Grudem wraps this point up like this: Thus God somehow stands above all time and is able to see it all as present in his consciousness.[6]

I think a lot of unsolved paradoxes may exist within the theological realm because of our inability to truly grasp God’s timelessness. Where does God’s will end and ours begin? When were we elected or predestined? How long has God known me? Somewhere outside of time I believe. I know that God is completely sovereign and he is in control of all things, and yet I know I make choices and he is not responsible for the choices I make. I know that God knows the future and is in the future, I know that he doesn’t change, and yet I know that prayer changes things and I should lay my request before him. I don’t know how any of this works out, but I see it in scripture and experience it in life.

Two different analogies were given by Erikson and Grudem to try to make comprehension of how God sees time more accessible. Grudem talks about someone holding a book they had just finished and knowing all of its contents. For a brief time, before the book is put back on the shelf, all of it seems to be present in the reader’s mind. Erikson, although I don’t think he came up with it, talks about a man sitting on a steeple watching a parade. He can see its entirety in one glance without having to watch it in succession. Although these help and may be the best we have, both of these still place God as an outside observer. God is not just watching the parade from a distance. He is next to the drummer at the front, on the floats in the middle, and helping direct the baton twirlers in the back. He is intimately connected to and experiencing it all at once. He is steering the whole procession to his ends and glory. God doesn’t just remember all of history in a brief moment like a good novel. He is in every letter, word, punctuation, and page. He is writing and experiencing it all simultaneously and pointing the whole story to reveal his glory.

Personal Application.

What is amazing about God’s timelessness is that his transcendence and immanence is always present not just historically, but personally. God exists presently not only the historic timeline of creation on the macro level but on the individually personal level as well.

 

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down

And are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

Behold, O Lord, you know it all together.

You hem me in, behind and before,

And you lay your hand upon me. (Psalm 139)

God’s knowledge of us and working within our lives also applies to the redemption that he gives us. Romans 5:6 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” I believe this applies not only to history but to us individually. Christ died for not only the sins I have committed but the ones I am committing and am going to commit. His sacrifice is effective for sins before the cross, during the time of the cross, and after the cross.  “But when Christ had offered for all times a single sacrifice for sins” Hebrews 10:12.

Because of God’s timelessness, his existing outside of time and existing in all time equally vividly, we have a God whose transcendence and immanence impacts our lives. God is near us. God is with us. He is in our past, in our present, and in our future. We put our faith and hope in him who holds all things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Zondevan, 1994.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Baker Books, 1998.

ESV Text Edition. Crossway, 2011

[1] Grudem 168

[2] Erikson 300

[3] Grudem footnotes on 169

[4] Erikson 299

[5] Erikson 301

[6] Grudem 171

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