The most exciting part of talking about God in relation to time (or any other thing for that matter) is when scripture or practical situations are taken into account. Today we read an essay today called “Incarnation, Timeless, and Leibnez’s Law Problems” by Thomas Senor. I found it very interesting – for the practical reason I already mentioned – as well as the fact that Senor lines up with many of my own beliefs; at the very least he hints at the fact.
What I would like to pay most attention to are the parts of his essay where he referenced and discussed the incarnation (that is, Christ becoming man on earth) and how we are to deal with this issue when considering the nature of time and (especially) omniscience.
As I’ve said before there are a couple of different theories regarding time; to make things simple let’s reduce these options to:
- God is temporal.
- God is atemporal.
Technically these are the only two options, but I don’t really want to get into the nitty gritty by breaking down each of these into the different possibilities under them.
When we look at the trinity (a huge Christian issue in and of itself!) we see God in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’m not going to make the claim that I understand the trinity – and anyone who says they do is lieing to you – but there are a couple of things I will affirm concerning the trinity. First, it is true (at least it seems to me to be true) that properties which parts of the trinity have must be shared by all. As three in one and one fully realized by three, it would become very messy to start giving the triune God different qualities. Not to mention running the risk of giving conflicting qualities!
No, I don’t think it’s out of line to say that the trinity shares characteristics. One of these characteristics must be the trinity’s relation to time.
In the incarnation we see and experience God (literally, we are told, God) coming to us in the form of Christ, the Son. It is important, as Senor shows, to identify the different things that Christ’s life on earth shows us. (I will be following from this point on the traditional understanding of Christ’s life on earth – that is that he lived, died, resurrected – lived a true human life. This ignores the possibility of other understandings, and I recognize that.)
Living a life, Christ existed temporally. Is there any question to have with that? He was born, He lived, He acted and reacted to reality in ways which were not simultaneous with one another, and He died. He also was resurrected, some time later. So it is nearly indisputable that Christ the Son of the triune God existed temporally.
The next question is this: Is it possible to enter into time from an atemporal state? In other words, could Christ have existed atemporally (supposedly in His natural state) and entered into the time of our world only for (excuse the term) a time, only to return to His natural state in atemporality? As far as our discussions went in class (which is hardly far enough to be considered adequate) we could not find an answer which would make this possible. In other words, the very idea of entering or exiting time is (at best) counter-intuitive and (at worst) illogical.
Therfore God is temporal.
Ah, but it isn’t that easy! There is one objection that stems from such atemporal philosophers as Stump or Kretzmann (who I wrote about) or Brian Leftow. This objection states that God exists in the eternal now (separate from our time) and that any and all actions or interactions that take place (apparently) within time are really part of one eternal act that takes place infinitely, eternally, through all of time.
Example: Dr. Woodruff loves his children. At one time he may wish to reward them by giving them something they want; another time he may want to punish them by taking the same thing away. My understanding of the eternal present states that both of these acts comprise a much larger act, one act, that is, loving his children. So these smaller acts, though actually part of an eternal act, are really only temporal because of our limited understanding.
Now I don’t know if anyone else is buying this as a viable solution, but it seems like escapism to me. Using this theory in regard to the incarnation would mean that the act of Christ being born in Bethlehem and the act of Him dying at Calvary are both part of the same act, that is, God’s love for mankind.
What’s that smell? Is that heresy? (Not that I’m all that against all forms of heresy, but I can’t resist.)
You can see where I’m going with this eternal present stuff. It may be convincing to some, but I see it as a lame attempt to avoid what (admittingly to me) is very clear: God is temporal.