God and time, part one.

June 29, 2014.

Today I want to talk about a concept that might be a little hard to grasp. I am going to try to explain time in relation to God. I don’t claim to be an expert here, but I do think I might be able to shed some light on the subject. I want to make this a two part post, the first dealing with how God sees time and the second about the implications that has for us today. So just stick with me if you will as we step into some deep thought.

When we talk about the concept of time in relation to God, it is first important to look at who God is. One of my favorite passages in the bible is where God is talking to Moses about leading his people out of Egypt and Moses asks God who he would say sent him.

“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 also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”
(Exodus 3:13-15)

I AM. I AM sent you. That gives me chills sometimes. God is. That is his name. There is no beginning, there is no end. He just is. In fact, God says he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. So this is the first thing we should understand: God is outside of time. Time is defined by God, not the other way around. It is such a foreign concept to us to think about a world outside of time that I don’t think we can fully grasp it this side of eternity. But we can try. And try we shall! I envision God as a circle. Circles have no beginning or ending, but they exist outside of this point. The flaw in this symbol is that when you draw a circle, you have to start somewhere. So think of God as a circle that was never drawn (which I guess is just as hard as imagining God as having no beginning… I told you I was no expert). The point is, God is outside of time, so we cannot define Him by this demention.

The second thing we must understand about time and God is that God does not change, no matter how much time has passed. By understand the first point (God exists outside of time), it makes a lot of sense that time would not define God’s character. Another favorite passage of mine comes from a statement that God makes though the prophet Malachi:

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”
(Malachi 3:6)

God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. It is true that there was a change in the Law and the priesthood, but this was for a very specific reason (which you can read about in one of my earlier blogs: The maturation of mankind.) and does not denote a change in the character of God. He is the same. This will be an important concept for tomorrow’s post, part two of this series.

Now it is time to get deep. So, if God exists outside of time and does not change, then how is this possible:

“But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”
(Exodus 32:11-14)

This is just one of several times in the bible where it seems that God has changed his mind on behalf of some kind of human action, whether it be imploring or repentance. If God is outside of time and time has no effect on his character, how can he change his mind? Even further, how can a God who knows all and knows who will sin and forsake Him still love that person and offer repentance to he or she time and again? Would that not be a waste of time (which would be ironic, since God is outside of time, thus you could argue that there would be no way for him to waste it…)? Things are getting complication, but just hang in there, I have an analogy coming up!

C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity takes a much deeper look at this question of how God views and fits in and out of time. I quite enjoyed his book for the most part, but I do understand that some of the concepts he puts forth are on a very high level of intellectual reasoning that it is hard for many, myself included, to understand. He was a very smart man. Lewis explained God as being both in and out of time at the same time (“time” was used too many times [AHHHH, NOT AGAIN!] in that sentence). I’m going to explain how I understand it by an analogy. I don’t often make sports analogies, so mark this one down.

Let’s say you are the coach of a decent college football team and your next game is going to be televised. You have a friend video tape the game so that you can watch it later to see what could be improved on and what not (that’s how it works, right?) So, you start the game and you are managing the team well, making decisions and reacting to what happens on the field. After the game (unfortunately your team lost), you pick up the tape from your friend and both you and your friend start watching the game you just played. End scene.

Ok, so let’s make some applications from this analogy. First of all, you and your friend know the outcome of the game before you see the end of it on tape. Knowing the outcome does not imply that you had an effect on that outcome. It had simply already been determined by the players on the field (forget that you are the coach for a minute, imagine your just a fan). This is my view of predestination. Things are predetermined because God is outside of time, but this does not take away from our free will as we make the decisions that shape our path. God knows the future, but we had out part in deciding what that future is (He just already knows our decisions).

Second point, and perhaps more relevant. You (the coach) are sitting there watching the game that you already know the outcome to. This is God as He sits outside of time. You know the outcome and nothing you do while watching will change that outcome to make your team win, therefore you do not change. God does not change. However, you were also the coach on the field. So you did make changes to the game to help your team win by reacting to the things that happened on the field. While the game was in progress, you did everything you could to give your team the opportunity to succeeded while they had a chance. This is God inside of time when He is offering repentance and salvation to us. He gives us opportunity to change and obtain His grace and mercy. This is when He can “change His mind,” so to speak (but not really in the grand scheme of things) when someone repents or implores him to do otherwise. This is how we can ask Him for things and get a response.

Now, take those two visions of God, the coach during the game and afterwards, and combine them. God is both of those people at the same time. That’s how he can state the future through the prophets but still beg his people to repent so that they aren’t destroyed. This view makes the minor prophets make so much more sense. It makes the passage above make sense as well. C.S. Lewis described God as being the timeline, both living in the present time with us and living at all other points of time as well. I hope my analogy has made this a little easier to grasp. Come back tomorrow and we will discuss some applications from this concept.

Suggested Daily Reading: Exodus 4, 32, Malachi 3, Revelation 4.

The Lord grant you wisdom.

-Walter

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