Wednesday, September 19, 2007

God and Time

A couple of days ago I heard a visiting speaker proclaim that God was outside of time. More than this, he said, God is present everywhere in time concurrently (which I suppose is the logical conclusion). He also proclaimed eternity as a state, rather than as a long time (which, unfortunately, is probably also a logical conclusion).

This view strikes me as problematic. For a start, in scripture salvation-history is portrayed as the work of a God who is deeply involved in time. Secondly, if the above is true, how is the Reformed doctrine of pre-destination meaningful? And, without time, what meaning does the worship of angels possess? Without time, are actions such as worship possible? But, perhaps even more importantly, God has taken to himself a human nature, including a physical body. Outside of time, how is this meaningful? A body created for existance in 3-dimensions and acting through time is defined by this very structure. If God is outside of time, how can Jesus still be human? At the Dogmatics conference Henri Blocher articulated a view which for me seems to have alot going for it. God is outside of the created time of the universe, but he operates in his own time. Donald Macleod also spoke of God being within time, but possessing omni-temporality (which is a different position to that expressed at the top). These two views are very close in practical terms. Macleod also raised interesting questions: the cross is an event in time with an impact upon God; so, if God is omni-temporal, has he been propitiated from the beginning? The key question is: is there in God a consciousness of succession of moments?

These issues are not just the preserve of the philosophical theologians - they turn up in our pulpits. Does it matter? Yes it does; for at least two reasons. First, intelligent seekers rightly baulk at such dogmatic statements, often immediately seeing the problems. Second, these views disconnect the scriptural story of God's purposes for the world in Christ from reality. The risen Christ ate breakfast on the beach; he didn't 'exist in a timeless state of eternity' on a beach while his disciples ate breakfast. I am looking forward to the former; the latter means nothing to me. One of the huge problems in some Reformed preaching is the ethereal view of heaven that is preached, rather than the biblical story of an earth renewed. That has huge repercussions for faith, hope and mission. So, we need to see Jesus Christ in time, a time that he has come to redeem. And let us do likewise.