Timeless, Eternal God
There are six main reasons which explain why Christians can perceive God as eternal & timeless;
- The Bible suggests God always exists
- God is not a physical being like us
- God is the creator of the universe, time passing is a feature of the universe – God as the creator of the universe is therefore outside of time
- God is the ultimate cause of why things exist & why there is change in the universe – this relates to Thomas Aquinas’ first two ways
- God is perfect & hence is not subject to time because time passing implies imperfection – when time passes you lose what you were previously (Anselm’s Proslogion)
- God exists necessarily (Aquinas’ 3rd way)
Boethius’ Timeless God:
- In his book The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius pondered the problem of God’s omniscience
- If God is entirely omniscient & so knows the future, then he is wrong to reward and punish us for our behaviour, as it is beyond the scope of our control
– And yet the Bible teaches divine reward and punishment
“If God knows that something might happen, and then again, it might not, then this can hardly be called knowledge. But if God firmly knows things then they become inevitable.”
By this, Boethius was comparing the idea of God being not truly omniscient – limiting his power & his greatness which makes him God – to the implication of God being entirely omniscient. If God is completely all knowing, then future events become inevitable.
“That which is now judged to be most equitable, the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the good, will be seen as the most unjust of all; for men are driven to good or evil not by their own will, but the fixed necessity of what will be.”
Through this, Boethius tackles the problem of free will and God’s omniscience, which then leads to problems when it comes to God’s actions as the judge of good and bad. What is traditionally seen as fair as outlined through scripture – the punishment of the bad and the reward of the good – becomes unfair. If God is entirely omniscient and knows the future, then humans have no choice but to act as they do – we are stripped of our free will.
And how can God fairly judge and punish or reward us if we were incapable of choosing another path?
- Boethius ultimately comes to the conclusion that he has made a mistake
- God doesn’t know or experience things in the same way that humans do – humans exist inside of time, they have pasts which are fixed and futures which are uncertain
- God however, does not have the same constraints in time that we have
- God has perfect knowledge of what we freely choose to do
- All events occur simultaneously for God, in one eternal presence
Aquinas’ Timeless God:
“Eternity is simultaneously whole, while time is not, eternity measuring abiding existence & time measuring change… the primary intrinsic difference of time from eternity is that eternity exists as a simultaneous whole and time does not“ – Thomas Aquinas quoting Boethius
By this, Aquinas meant that God had to exist outside of time, viewing all events at once. This is needed due to God’s simplicity – his position as the unmovable first mover, the unchangeable creator & the necessary creator of the universe as outlined in Aquinas’ first 3 ways.
- To explain his theory of a timeless God, Aquinas used the analogy of the road:
- God is sat on a hill
- He can see the road we travel from the hill far above, viewing everything at once whereas those along the road only see what is around them
– God is apart from time & space, he is not affected by time in the same way as humans
– God is immutable & so must be timeless
– God is omniscient & also just
Developing on Boethius
– God hears all prayers; those in the 13th century & those in the 20th century at the same time
– God hears & answers all prayers in his timelessness, he doesn’t however grant wishes or act on command, prayer is about being aware of God’s work in the universe
Strengths of a Timeless God
- God can be truly omniscient – he knows everything
- As he is outside of time and cannot intervene, humans have absolute free will
– This therefore accounts for the majority of evil in the world (in relation to the problem of evil) as humans have the free will to do as they please
- God can be simple
- God can be immutable – perfect and unchanging
- Boethius’ God is just – he cannot intervene, only observe. Therefore we have free will and moral responsibility, our actions can be judged fairly in the afterlife by God
- God is eternally the creator – God does not think about creating & then do it, instead it is in his nature to do so. Thomas Aquinas stated God sustains creation in existence, but doesn’t change or intervene
Weaknesses of a Timeless God
- God is not omnipotent – how can He be truly all powerful if he cannot intervene?
– Epistemic distance (John Hick) God is not easy to reach & doesn’t intervene, giving us the free will to choose to love him and therefore making our love greater and more real.
- The traditional Judaeo Christian God can intervene, as outlined in scripture
– How did a non-interventionist God send Jesus Christ? A pillar of the Christian faith? Both of these arguments overcome the one put forward by Hick above
- God cannot be personal or communicative, making prayer seem close to redundant & again contrasting scripture
– God cannot be personable as he is not a person, scriptural accounts of God acting in such a way were merely people putting their experiences into comprehensible language. Philosophers alternatively would speak of God analogically or symbolically
- How can God love his people and respond to their prayers? Love involves a two way process & the ability to respond.
– God is loving because God created the world & changelessly sustains it. Aquinas argued that prayer is about being aware of God’s activity in the world, not about making wishes to be granted.
Maurice Wiles argued that the universe is God’s ongoing created activity – there is no intervention from God, as this would lead to him being arbitrary or partisan.