- Jason Andersen
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
I have heard rumors that people on the interwebs aren’t fans of classical Christian theism. Well, here is a meditation on something that might get you thinking about some of the topics and understanding what they are. I haven’t read any of the discussion on the internet. But I have preached sermons this summer from the traditional viewpoint on the persons and attributes of God. In the process of these sermons I brushed up on the topics by reading a book or two. I had ordered this lecture by Eleonore Stump called, ‘The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers.’ It’s quite a nice 100-page essay, but it got delayed in the mail, so I didn’t get to read it before my Eternal God sermon. As I’ve been slowly reading it now, I think it is a fine explanation of how God can both be the God of the Bible and the God who is unchanging, simple, and eternal. So if you want to do the work, feel free to borrow it. Just be sure to be prepared to read a little bit of philosophical and formal logic talk.
But what I was somewhat excited about was that she suggested a way of viewing God’s relationship with time that I’ve come to assume in one way or another. The question is, how can God both be eternal and relate to our temporal existence? It’s quite a difficult question. Well, she wrote in the 80’s about a topic she called ET-simultaneity. What she meant is that we should understand a ‘simultaneity between what is eternal and what is temporal.’ I find this to be the best way for us to understand how a God outside of time works temporally. In other words, his eternity is simultaneous with time. Now let’s stop and think for a minute. What is eternity? Stump says, ‘Eternity is characterized by the duration of a present that is not limited by future or past. Because the mode of existence of an eternal God is characterized by a limitless and atemporal kind of presentness, the relation between an eternal God and anything in time has to be one of simultaneity.’
Now I think it’s important to say that God is outside of time. He created time when he made creation in the beginning. From a human perspective, time and the seasons are kept by the sun, moon, and the stars. It’s kept by the orbit of the earth around the sun that God made in the beginning. But did God permanently enter time when he created it? The answer I think must be no. He can’t have become bound by temporal existence (and we affirm this even in the astonishing mystery of the hypostatic union of Christ’s divine and human natures, Christ didn’t divest himself of his eternal, divine nature when he added humanity to his person). So although we can’t fathom something outside of time, I think we must say that every time in our temporal existence is present in God’s perspective. There are problems to work out in this understanding, but every other way is more treacherous.
But there are things we’ve got to add to make sure that this isn’t a problematic thing. First, God isn’t simply frozen in his eternal present. He is personally related to the world. There is not a chasm between the two that God can’t bridge. In fact, the scriptures are clear that God acts decisively in history. He’s providentially at work in this our temporal existence. And so when we pray to him, although he is eternally now, from our perspective we can say he’s heard and responded to our prayer. That’s divine power. And he knows us, like Stump reminds us, like no other creature knows us. We are always growing. So if we haven’t spent time with longtime friends we have to reacquaint ourselves with each other, but he, our God, knows us in our entirety, both in our youth and our old age. His personal knowledge of us is extraordinary, and so we can trust that he is working good even when others are doing wrong. He knows our weakness and our every need, and he’s powerful and eternally present to meet us in that spot. We hold our understanding in things like this in faith knowing that what we imagine in part we will fully know when we enter into the presence of our eternal and glorious God.