God and Time: The Issue of Prayer

We pray to God. Some of us do. Some of us could be much better than we are (speaking mainly to myself here). We also pray for a reason. Whatever the reason is, we base our prayers on the assumption that it is worth our time to pray. The point is we pray because we believe it makes a difference.

As the discussion in God and Time today showed, not all views of time really allow for any sort of meaningful prayer – at least not the way many of us think about it.

The view I’m talking about, of course, is the atemporalist view (in other words the view that God is outside of time). The atemporalist view is normally taken, so it seems, in order to say certain things about God. Atemporalists call God “eternal” (read: infinite whereas we are finite) and “omniscient”. Whether they really come away with these characteristics of God is another conversation entirely.

But try and imagine something outside of time. I ask for a description here, or at the very least a mental picture I can use, because I’ve never been able to comprehend it. Nevertheless, let’s say you have a timeline ‘A’ and a God outside of time ‘B’. The atemporalist explanation for how God knows and interacts with the world (at least commonly – all of these are generalizations of course) is the “eternal present”. In the eternal present all things are present to God at once – there is no past, present, or future to God. This is desirable because the atemporalist believes we must remove God from time in order for the implications of time not to apply to Him (such as dying, beginnings and ends, etc.).

Follow me. If all things are present to God then all at once I am dead and alive. All at once I am being born and I am dying. All at once I am praying for a need and forgetting the need altogether. My point is – and this only touches on one aspect of atemporality by the way – what do we pray for if all of our prayers are going to be viewed without their temporal character? If everything we pray for is simultaneously present to God, doesn’t that change the way we pray? Shouldn’t it?

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