One of my readers, Amy, asked the following question, and I thought my response would make a concise yet informative article:
We often hear preachers say God doesn’t use time or something along those lines but yet the bible speaks of time throughout. Even the first paragraphs it talks about in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and that is a reference to time and in 6 days He created and on the 7th He rested. We know a day with the Lord is a 1,000 years and a 1,000 years is one day. So in reality, God does use time or God is time……I’m just thinking it out through words here. #1 God doesn’t need to rest, #2 does that mean He created all these things in 6,000 years? If one day is a 1,000 years? Maybe God is the maker of time and time is only a reference for us or to us. I’m interested in your thoughts on this subject. I had a thought on the song “I’ll meet you in the morning.” What exactly does that mean? Never put that much thought into that. We can sing those words but do we really know what that means?
Thanks so much! This is a huge topic. I’ll try my best to give a simple explanation, and link you to a video that may help.
Pastors often make statements like, “God is timeless. He sees past time, present time, and future time, at the same time!”, etc. These kinds of statements may not necessarily be theologically precise, but they are used because they tend to convey what the pastor wants to get across. Any person who has never really studied God’s relationship to time probably thinks this way.
So, God is not time, but he does use time. You are correct in saying that God is the maker of time. Note that time can exist only where space and matter do. After all, if you had space and matter, when would you put them if there was no time?
However, God is a Spirit; that is, he is not a physical being. It is not necessary for time to exist in order for God to exist. God can exist timelessly. To that end, there are two overarching theories of time: A Theory, and B Theory.
“A” Theory basically says that time is linear; in other words, the past happened, and is now gone. The future has not happened yet, and we legitimately experience the passage of time. This is the way most humans tend to think of time, intuitively.
“B” Theory, on the other hand, teaches that time is static; in other words, time exists as a sort of “4th dimension.” On this view, for the people living in 1845, 1845 is right now. For those in the year 2050, 2050 is right now. We usually think of God relating to time this way, but most of us never think about how contradictory this notion is to our own experience! See, on this view, time for us is just some illusion. It is merely a psychological state.
Now, it’s really not helpful to say that God’s “plane” operates on B Theory while ours operates on A Theory (for some very technical reasons), so while some have claimed that both theories must be true, this is really not plausible. Therefore, we must find some other solution.
Remember, above, we noted that God can exist timelessly, and indeed, the Bible seems to teach that (Revelation 22:13, etc.). Now to Genesis 1:1: In the beginning [TIME], God created the heavens [SPACE] and the earth [MATTER]. So we see God creating time, but God can exist timelessly! So Christian philosophers are pretty much agreed that the best explanation is that God existed timelessly before he created the universe, and upon his choosing to create, exists in time.
That is not to say that God cannot know the future. God certainly can know what will happen and even what things would happen under different circumstances. However, that does not mean that God is in the future right now, as well as in the present, as well as in the past. In fact, time must be this way for God to be considered omniscient.
If God were not in time, he could not know that, as I type this, it is 1:07pm. But for God to not know something would mean God is not all-knowing! Also, even though God is changeless within his nature, there is a sense in which God changes in relation to things. For example, the Second Person of the Trinity (Jesus) took on human form at the time of the incarnation. This is a change, and things that change must be considered “in time.”
So basically, it looks like this:
- God exists timelessly in “eternity past”;
- God creates the world, and becomes “in time” himself; this is evidenced by God’s changing relationship to things which are in time, and by God’s knowledge of “tensed facts” (such as, that it is now 1:07pm).
- God is able to know the future and even cause events to take place such that they affect the future in the way he decrees.
There is no contradiction in any of the above, and it preserves our natural sense of the way time works while not undermining the omniscience of God.
One important thing is the “1,000 years as one day” statements (there are two in Scripture) are not speaking of some literal representation of God and time. The point of those passages is simply to convey the idea that God can exist timelessly, and God is not bound by time, but is the Maker of it! Pretty cool stuff.
As to the “meet you in the morning” song, this is just an example of music that sounds good and may have a hint of truth, but is not necessarily biblically supported, and is meant to stimulate a hopeful state of mind rather than to communicate theological truth. For example, the “morning” speaks of a “new” time (the good) when the darkness of night (the bad) has passed, etc.
The same is true of “I’ll Fly Away”; it’s a good song, but the notion of “flying away” is not what the Bible teaches of the rapture. We should be careful not to use music—however good or traditional—to interpret theology.
Well, I hope this wasn’t too confusing for you. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig spent about 13 years (and four books!) working on this issue, so, my 1,000-word response only scratches the proverbial surface.
Here is a video of Dr. Craig explaining all of this. Note that he does mention the Big Bang (Craig believes the Big Bang happened), which I obviously disagree with him on, but he is nevertheless brilliant and does a great job of teaching this concept in the video.
Hope this helps you!!!
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