>Reasons why God is Outside of Time (and you better believe it!)

Posted: 21/02/2009 in Foreknowledge, Open Theism

>Alexander, my good friend, posted a blog entitled “Why I am not an Open Theist” in his blog. This has forced me out of my lazy slumber.

This blog is about some of the reasons that God must be outside of time, and why I disagree with them. Note here, I am not actually arguing for Open Theism. What I am arguing for is option of Open Theism. Too often, Open Theism is considered a heresy because “God is outside of time” is not considered a good option, but the only option. This is evidenced by the Wikipedia article before I edited it I do not believe that this doctrine deserves the status of creedal dogma (which obviously not all of the “God is outside time” assert). To show why, I will list off four reasons why “God is outside of time” is believed, and then argue that none of these reasons are beyond reasonable discussion.

Here goes.

Reason 1: If God moves, that implies that God is imperfect. Any move is either a move from perfection or to imperfection. God is perfect, so God can’t move. Ergo, God is outside of time. This type of argument is simple and clear and understandable. It is hard to refute, but there is more behind it than one might expect.

First, one gets to this conclusion by reasoning like an Aristotelian, specifically like an Aristotelian scientist. I actually respect Aristotle quite a bit, but I ask Christians who reason this way if they are willing to use Aristotle’s science as a basis for dogmatic opinions about God. In the middle ages, people appealed to Aristotle because they wanted to reconcile science and faith just like we do today. But Aristotle’s science is no longer our science. So is this kind of move necessary? Was it even necessary then? There are quite a bit of implications in following Aristotle, and it is hard to separate the reason 1 from the whole package.

Secondly, the term “perfect” may be loaded on a sub-conscious level for philosophers. “Perfect” actually comes from the Latin ”Per Factum”. It meant “thoroughly made.” Notice it does not mean “thoroughly making.” The former implies “not time” while the latter implies “process.” Philosophically, the phrase “perfect” has already long been loaded with a certain meaning that most evangelicals are not even aware of when they use it. I can’t even begin to expound on it here. Suffice to say, “Perfect beings do not move” might be simply be another way of saying “beings that are unable to move do not move.” So it is not really an argument, but another way of saying the same thing.

Finally, reason 1 ignores the possibility that immobility, stasis, might not praise worthy (which perhaps we should use instead of “perfection”) in the way Christians normally think of. What kind of things do we think of when we describe something as being worthy of worship? Immobility is usually not one of the things on my list.
In summary we should ask the following when it comes to reason 1: How much do we want to follow Aristotle, as was done in the middle ages? What do we even mean when we say “perfect”? What makes immobility a praise-worthy trait?

Reason 2: (1) Time is part of God’s creation. (2) God is not in his creation. Ergo, God is outside of time. All Christians believe that God is not ‘subject’ to his creation, so if time is part of his creation, then he must be outside of it by definition. The distinction between creator and creation makes “God is outside of time” dogma.

But what if the major premise, “Time is part of God’s creation” is not true? This may seem counter-intuitive, after all everything is created by God. However, strictly speaking, this is not the case.

Consider this rule of logic: “A tree cannot exist and not exist at the same time.” God, therefore, cannot create a tree that does not exist and exists at the same time. A very small minority of Christians say that God actually created that rule of logic, but the majority of Christians say the rules of logic are part of God himself, and are thus not created. Logic exists because God exists.

The concept of time could very well be uncreated in the same sense. While the statement, “Time exists because God exists” could very well be false, it is not as self-evidently false as some may think. So again reason 2 is at least questionable.

Reason 3: God knows the future, especially in the sense of dramatic prophecies. God sees things that we don’t and that we can’t. Ergo, God is outside of time. Cleary, scripture speaks of God as knowing things about the future that we cannot possibly know. All Christians accept this, so it needs to be dogma, right?

This argument is non-sequitor because it confounds two things: the first is God’s omniscience, and the second is God’s relation to time. It is the difference between the fact that God knows and how that God knows. God does not have to be outside of time in order to predict and foretell the future. God could be determining the entire universe. God could’ve known how everything would ‘pan-out’ in this world when he created it. God might have created the universe with certain events happen of a logical necessity. Maybe best of all, how God knows the future is completely mysterious to us.

In any case, reason 3 goes like this (1) scripture clearly shows prophecies, then (2) God has omniscience, so finally (3) God is outside. But this is missing some significant steps between (2) and (3). Scripture tell us that God knows, but they never tell us how God knows.

Reason 4: God foreknows what people do, but these actions are free. Ergo, God is outside of time. This is what I call the “C.S. Lewis approach” because he was the first person I read that expounded on it. Basically, it is hard to understand how our choices are free if God knows exactly what we do. C.S. Lewis’ posited that if God is not in time, then this problem is overcome. God does not see what a free agent will do, because there is no future for God. Instead God sees what a free agent does in the present and the future in the same sense. God does not see what I will do three weeks from now, God just sees me doing it. Thus, because there is no ‘time’ in God’s perspective there is no determination. So God needs to be outside of time in order to have a free will and foreknowledge. There is no other way.

What frustrates me about this approach is that it doesn’t need to be the only option. When people invoke the free-will/foreknowledge issue to dogmatize “God is outside of time,” it is almost a deliberate ignorance of every other way that Christians have tried to reconcile the question. No, this is not the only way that people have come up with to resolve free-will/foreknowledge. There are plenty of other theories that deserve a hearing. One of them is Open Theism.

Furthermore, I don’t think that this approach actually solves the problem. In fact, I think it makes it worse. That is the subject for another blog.

So one last time…

To sum up, I have listed four arguments that assert that God is outside of time. I think none of these reasons are indubitable, logically necessary, or scriptural. Because of this, I do not think that any evangelical is justified in making “God outside of time” unquestioned dogma. Thus, this is not good reason to exclude Open Theism. The view that God is in time should be just as much on the table as Calvinism or Arminianism. Open Theism certainly does not deserve to be called a heresy.

No matter what people on Wikipedia say.

  1. alexan says:

    >Joel, great post. I certainly agree with you that all of the arguments for God being outside of time are shaky, and that God being inside of time deserves equal hearing.”how God knows the future is completely mysterious to us”I really like this, and perhaps this is what I was getting at in my post.I think a third option (in addition to God being outside or inside time) is that saying God is inside or outside of time simply isn’t a helpful way of speaking about God. Aside from suggesting a particular perspective roughly analogous to physical space from which the phenomenon of time might be perceived, are we, by saying that God is inside or outside of time, actually talking about anything real or meaningful? Or is time a ding-an-sich that one can literally be inside or outside of? Is it even helpful to talk about how God experiences (or doesn’t experience) time?Forgive (and correct) me if I’m using my philosophical jargon incorrectly. My knowledge of the subject is rather limited.

  2. Jin-roh says:

    >Did you use Kant’s German for “thing in itself.” Even if you wrote it wrong, you’re cool.

  3. >Thanks for editing the wikipedia post. James told someone at the grocery store that we just met that I was an open theist. I don’t know that he wants to talk to me ever again. I told James that open theism is a second or third conversation revelation.

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