It’s time we talked about time; about how we understand the past, the present and the future. And fundamentally, how we believe that God perceives these.
Because most Christians have been taught, or have simply come to accept, that God is somehow ‘outside of time’. But rarely do believers pause to consider what this means or what it implies. And on what basis we have come to adopt this assumption.
There are some verses in Scripture that are presumed to support of this view, and the bible as a whole is then viewed through this lens, almost without question. But it could well be argued that the concept of ‘God-outside-of-time’ is something that was largely imported from pagan philosophies. Because this concept seems to fit very awkwardly within the unfolding narrative of Scripture, requiring some very strained & unnatural readings of the text, and demanding numerous theological and philosophical contortions.
But is this merely an academic issue for theologians in ivory towers? Does it really matter to us as followers of Jesus?
I would answer emphatically yes. For it seems to me that if we truly adopt this view then it fundamentally undermines the whole concept of God having any dynamic and meaningful relationship of love with people. Or we with him. And the fact that for most of us it does not appear to undermine this relationship is simply because in practice we live our daily lives, and relate with our Father in heaven, in denial of this doctrine that we claim to believe. This alone should make us pause.
The idea of God as ‘outside of time’ is typically visualised as a sort of timeline running from ‘eternity past’, through the present and on to ‘eternity future’, with God observing from a separate vantage point, and able to view the entire timeline from start to finish. Understood in this way, from God’s perspective the future is therefore seen in fundamentally the same way as he sees the past; as the realm of entirely settled events. There can be no surprises for him, for he knows the future exhaustively and therefore it must be exhaustively fixed in accordance with his knowledge.
But this effectively reduces God to the role of passive observer. Every individual thought, word and action is essentially predetermined, because from God’s ‘outside-of-time’ perspective, these thoughts, words and actions can only ever unfold exactly as he has always known that they would.
But surely this is a world away from the dynamic relationship between God and mankind that that the Scriptures describe, and that Jesus embodied. What sort of relationship can you truly have with someone whose every response, in every situation and on every occasion, you already know with total certainty; and have always known? It is like the ‘relationship’ that the writer of software has with their own program; utterly predictable. They merely observe the software operating, and responding to the expected inputs, precisely as pre-programmed.
For a God who is ‘outside of time’ – and therefore knows the future completely – there can be no true relationship with another.
Any conversation is essentially a dialogue with himself.