The Harvard Ichthus recently published an article by Nathan Otey that tackles the question of the timelessness of God. The classic idea is that because God made everything, and time is a created dimension of space, God must have made time and is therefore not bound by it. The Harvard Ichthus however, disagrees with this logic.
So, the timelessness view says that from God’s point of view (which is presumably the ultimate or ‘right’ point of view), time is like a linear axis on which all the moments are placed in order. From His point of view, however, none of these moments is ‘present’ or ‘past’ or ‘future.’ He only sees that one is after the other… The problem is that if this were true, then from God’s point of view nothing would ever change
Otey goes on to say:
…build a 3-dimensional model which captures all of the information from the changing 2-dimensional plane using point (x,y,t) to represent point (x,y) at time t. Again, this 3-dimensional model will allow us to see all of the 2-D movements all at once or ‘timelessly,’ and again this model will itself be static.
Now, the timelessness view says that we just play one more iteration of this game (at least) to get at God’s point of view. He sees all events occurring in 3-dimensional space all at once, because he can see four-dimensionally: (x,y,z,t).
But this view, I think, fundamentally misrepresents the universe we live in. If this is what God sees, He does not see the universe as it actually is, or at least he does not see us as we actually are.
I don’t think that we are in a position to say that God’s four dimensional view of the universe is fundamentally flawed. For one thing, as the author himself points out later on, we cannot see four dimensions. So right out of the gate, our view of the situation is limited. Thus, at this point the problem is that we do not fully understand God, not that God does not fully understand us.
Consider how God answered Moses in Exodus 3:13-14 concerning who Moses should sent him to the Israelites.
Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I am has sent me to you.”‘
God has made Himself known to us as it says in Romans 1:19-20, but there are many aspects of God and His will that are beyond us (as in Isaiah 55:9). This is not to say that we are out of options when it comes to trying to understand God’s timelessness, but more on that later. Back to Harvard:
…Now the timelessness view implies that God sees human beings and our world as static, unchanging: which I find completely unintelligible, because I cannot see or think in 4-D. But my point is that even if this were intelligible for God, He would not see what we are actually like. Movement and change are absolutely essential to ourselves, our experience, and our universe. Unchanging, timeless people are not people at all.
If a scientist performs an experiment by dropping a ball and then measuring the height that it bounces for each consecutive rebound to plot on a graph, the scientist is looking at both the real time experiment and the “timeless” data sheet. He is not restricted to just seeing one or the other. In the same way, God who is outside of time is not restricted to viewing His creation “statically.” Also, have we forgotten that Christ comes into the picture? God came down in human form to live just as we do, withholding His power in order to live like we do, and to die like we do. Then, rising from the dead, He conquered death and offered salvation to anyone who follows Him. It is only when we meet Him in heaven, when the veil is taken from our eyes and we see God face to face, that we truly become ourselves as we were designed to be.
Now Otey’s next sentence is a very bold one indeed:
“Unchanging, timeless people are not people at all.”
Is this true? God is described as unchanging, and timeless and we are made in His image. Our souls are eternal, that much we know. But unchanging… that’s up for discussion. (Maybe only after we see God does our soul become unchanging as we live in heaven.) When it comes to trying to understand the addition of another dimension to our logic puzzle, I think C.S. Lewis had a good grasp on things. He once wrote on the topic of dimensionality and his reasoning was something like this: just as a 2D square is not destroyed if it were to become a 3D cube (because the cube is an additional dimension that cannot exist without some 2D properties), a 3D person does not cease to be a person when he is incorporated into the forth dimension. Especially if he was originally created for that forth dimension from the very beginning.
Lastly the Otey says:
On the other hand, if God is to observe us as we actually are, in motion, undergoing change, then He must see us in moments, in time. He cannot watch me ride my bike unless He saw where I was, and sees where I am, and (possibly) will see where I will be. If He is watching me move, then there is a present (for Him) in which I am moving, and he is watching.
Moreover, if God saw humans timelessly and therefore statically, He could not interact with us. He could not engage in relationship with us, because relational interactions can only take place in time.
Romans 8:33-34 reminds us that Christ intercedes to God for us, and John 16:6-8 tells us that the God has sent us the Holy Spirit so that we may know the will of God. So it appears that God can be timeless and remain with us, understand us, and speak to us — because God can transcend dimension, because God had given us Christ, and because we now have the Holy Spirit.
There is one last thing I have yet to discuss: Otey has argued that God cannot be outside of time because he can’t understand how God could understand us. Now I must ask: What does it mean to put God inside of time? We know from Einstein’s equations that time itself was created at the beginning of the universe. If God is inside of time, then He could not have existed before time and therefore could not have created the universe. Meaning that if God was inside of time, He would not be God because something more powerful than the god who is constrained by time must have made time… and would therefore be God.
In order for God to be God, He must be outside of time.