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Is God Getting Older?

Toward a Biblical View of the Omnitemporality of God

Posted Friday, August 05, 2005 by Sam Yeiter

For a long time, I've been intrigued by the questions surrounding time.  I even went to the length of checking out a lecture series by some BostonCollege physicist from the library.  I ended up more confused than when I started (of course), but it did raise a lot of interesting questions.  Well, in the theological world, the question that interests me is, "How does God relate to time?"  I'm still a newbie to this topic, so I welcome your thoughts along the way...

There seem to be only two major ways of looking at time.  It must be either ontological

or non-ontological.  (For those of you unfamiliar with that term, ontology has to do with our manner of existence.  If something is ontological, then it has substance, whether spirit or physical matter or whatever else there is that we may not know about or understand.  If it is non-ontological, then it exists as a concept, like truth, justice, and the american way).  Those who accept time as ontological believe that God created time and that it is as real as you or me.  They see time as something “creation bound,” that is, something that has to do with our physical and spiritual existence.  Because of this, time is something that creatures live within, like a box containing every event that will ever occur.  It began in Genesis 1 and will end in Revelation 21.  I imagine that some people believe time will go on as long as humans exist, though I think the concept of time ending after the MillennialKingdom is the most prominent. 

Those who accept time as non-ontological believe that time does not have real existence.  They would say that God did not make time, but rather, that it is a means of measuring events.  The labels used to track time (hours, minutes and seconds) are arbitrary and could be changed at our whim to fit our needs.

I was always taught that time is a real entity, though it was not always called such.  Science calls time the fourth dimension, and Hollywood sends people back and forth across time as if it were a ferry between two realities.  Along the way, lack of information, half-biblical notions and Hollywood science got blended together and has been sold to and swallowed by the Christian community.  I believe we may need to do some substantial (pun not intended) rethinking. 

I believe that time is non-ontological and thus has only conceptual existence.  So, what then is time?  What is it that we experience so constantly?

Time is a way of making sense of sequential events.  When I say “hello” to you, you then respond with a greeting and perhaps an inquiry as to my well-being.  I reply with the standard half-truth response, “fine,” and may express interest in your health as well.  At the end of the conversation we easily recognize that the events happened in a specific order and that it did not occur instantly.  It is this realization that mandates some means to make sense of it all.  This is what time is, a measure of events.  God did not need to create something called time for us to be able to have sequential action.  Rather, sequential actions call for some measurement.  God knew of this need and gave us reliable sequential events, most notably the rotations of the Sun, Moon, stars and planets (Genesis 1:14), with which we could create a time-measurement system.


God’s Relationship to Time

Understanding what time is (in a confessedly abbreviated way), we can make a positive statement of how God relates to time.  God always has and always will experience time and is completely unaffected by it.  God is not “outside” time.  Time is eternal, like God.  In the same way God’s omnipotence puts no limits on His strength and views it as beyond capability of measurement, so his omnitemporality, if you will, puts his length of existence beyond limit and measurement.  To say that God is older now than he was 1000 years ago may be as unmeaningful as suggesting that God can get stronger or more holy.  I don't want to get too distracted here, but it seems like a fun question.


Objections to This View

Objections to any idea ought to be considered.  In this case, I am going to present some arguments against my view to try to flesh it out a bit.

Objection: But God is eternal and exists outside of time, Isaiah states this in verse 15 of chapter 57.  “For thus saith the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” -KJV

Response: The phrase, the “one that inhabiteth eternity” is ambiguous, and is not a clear statement in the Hebrew text.  We do not see Isaiah chiming in on the nature of God and time here.  The author is simply saying, “God has always existed.”  The NIV and NASB render it as the one “who lives forever.”  Delitzsch, in his commentary on the book says, “this does not mean the dweller in eternity, which is a thought quite outside the biblical range of ideals; but...denotes a continuing life, a life having its root in itself, [it] must mean the eternally dwelling One, i.e. He whose life lasts for ever and is always the same.”  God is comparing Himself to humanity.  The emphasis of the “one that inhabiteth eternity” is the contrast of God’s eternality and man’s finitude.

Objection: How can time be eternal? Only God is eternal.

Response: God is the only eternal ontological entity.  No human or angel (or any other spirit being, Brian) is eternal, nor is any material thing.  Nothing except God has always substantially existed.  However, good and evil have always existed as concepts.  In fact, everything we can think of has always existed conceptually.  If we believe God to be eternal and we believe he knows about everything, we must accept this as true.  Think of this...does an inch exist?  Can you hold an inch?  You cannot touch an inch, not because it is non-physical (like a spirit), but because an inch does not have ontology, substantial existence.  Yet we think and speak of inches nearly every day.  Measurements, such as inches, feet and yards are helpful as we make sense of and live in this physical world.  In the same way, when I say time has always existed, I am saying that a measurement device (which has no substance, or real existence) has always been, and I am not taking anything from God’s eternality.

Objection: But when we die we exit time...or at least we will at the end of the MillennialKingdom.

Response: “Aunt Betty stepped into eternity today...”  Frequently we say something similar to this when someone dies.  I do not believe we are making a correct statement.  Though it sounds comforting, I believe this circumlocution does more harm than good.  It presents us with the problem of finitude (time dwellers) and infinitude (the non-time dweller) dwelling together, as defined by those who view time as ontological.  Foundational to this statement is that God is outside of time, that He is transcendent to His creation and that something earthly (like time) cannot contain Him.  The problems with this view quickly surface when we discuss the incarnation, or any cohabitation of Creator with creature.  If the teaching is ‘because God is infinite He cannot dwell in time.’  Then when we speak of exiting time, we make ourselves to be infinite, transcendent, dwelling outside of creation.  Only God (so it would go) can be outside the box of creation.  However, it says in Revelation 22:3-5, “...The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face...and they shall reign forever and ever.”  We will live forever in the same location as God, certainly not a place restricted to infinite persons.  A positive statement of the state of believers who pass away would be, “Aunt Betty has gone to dwell with God.”  To me, this is far more comforting than the thought of stepping into eternity.

Objection: If time goes on forever in Heaven we will age forever...that certainly isn’t Heaven.

Response: God is called the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9, 13, and 22.  However, God does not show signs of aging.  This objection has wrongly associated deterioration of body with passage of time.  In our daily lives we often see time as the agent which ages us.  We assume that as long as time exists we will continue to be ravaged.  So the thinking goes, when we are taken to Heaven time will be no more and we will live forever, unchanging like the elves in Lothlorien.  However, it is not passage of time which wears on the body.  Rather, it is sin that is slowly destroying us and we often see a corresponding passage of time.  At the present in America we see that it takes approximately 72 revolutions of the Earth around the Sun for someone to be totally destroyed by sin.  There have been times and places in history when it only took 35-40 years, and there were times in the distant past that it took several hundred.  In Heaven we will age, but that ageing will be free from the effects of sin.  That will indeed be Heaven!

Objection: But there is no sequence with God, He experiences everything as present.

Response: The first problem is that this is certainly not taught clearly in Scripture.  I have met many who hold to this (and yes, I used to as well), yet I know of no firm scriptural proof.  The truth of God’s infinite nature persuades some that He must not experience time like us.  However, we may be foisting an extreme view of Creator/creature separation that is not warranted.

The second problem is that I believe we can affirm that God experiences sequence.  We see from scripture that the Trinity did not simply sit quietly, doing nothing until suddenly they created.  Jesus affirms in John 17:24 that there was interaction characterized by love within the Trinity before creation.  In Ephesians 1:3-7 we learn that there was interaction before creation between the Trinity pertaining to the decrees and choices of God.  Most important, we see sequence surrounding the incarnation and the installation of the church age.  We can speak of a time before the Son had a body.  He then came to Earth and after 33 years left it to return to the Father.  Fifty days later the Spirit began a ministry of indwelling believers, something that he was not doing just one day earlier.  I believe it is intellectually lazy or perhaps dishonest to look at these facts and merely say, “God experienced all that as present.” 


Application to Daily Life?

I believe that our study of Christology is affected by this view.  One who sees God as “outside” time has an awful time explaining the incarnation.  This view helps us make sense of how an infinite God came to finite Earth and did not cease to be God.  There were no time boundaries to cross.  The glory of the incarnation is not that infinite God entered time (wouldn’t that be a letdown), but that God dwelt among men in their own clothes and offered himself as our atoning sacrifice.

Finally, I think that a correct understanding of God and time will give us a new awareness of the awfulness of sin.  When we see someone who has “aged poorly,” we say without thinking, “Time sure has taken its toll on him/her.”  I hope that this post has emphasized the devastating nature of sin.  It is all too easy to think of only the “big” sins as damaging.  Yet all the decay we see around and in us is the result of one small sin, eating a fruit that was off-limits.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005 7:16 AM

Brian wrote: 

            This whole discussion degenerates quickly if we remove time from the equation. If Aunt Betty "steps into eternity" (out of time), does she ever put her foot down? Heaven without time sounds more like Nirvana than heaven. Children ask all the time, “What will we do in heaven?” My answer is not, “Well, Jonny, we won’t really do anything because doing anything requires time and there just isn’t time in heaven.”
            But trying to have a meaningful discussion is difficult. You make the statement "God always has and always will experience time and is completely unaffected by it." Is this an application of God's unchangeable nature - his immutability? If so, I suggest that you are forgetting your assertion that time is a measurement – like an inch. I cannot experience an inch. I cannot experience a mile. When I say that I walk a mile, I have experienced a walk that covered a mile. I can also say that I experienced a walk that took 20 minutes.
            So does God really "experience time?" Can we say that any of us "experience time?" No. We don't experience time. Our experiences happen sequentially, but they are not really constrained by or affected by time. Time seems to be blithely unaware of me or my need for it to slow down. My own perception of time also seems to be woefully unreliable. The only thing time is good for is keeping everything from happening all at once. And don’t confuse decisions based on the perception of time with being affected by time.
            Time is a concept like justice, and we use them similarly. Does someone ever experience justice? No. "Getting justice" means experiencing just actions - usually following unjust actions. Likewise no one experiences time. Time provides context for actions. Measurements of time may be used to describe actions.
            All of this to say, “of course God is unaffected by time. No one is affected by time.” Maybe by “experience time” you meant that he is aware of time and particularly the passing of time. If that is so then I am with you, I simply prefer a different wording.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 10:21 AM

Brian wrote: 

I have been thinking about the intersection between the immutability of God and his relationship with time. If God is outside of time does it mean anything to affirm that he doesn’t change?

The concept of “change” requires the measure “time.”

If change can only be meaningful “within” time and God is outside of time then our doctrine of immutability would be unnecessary.

I believe that immutability is a crucial doctrine because it speaks of the character of God – an aspect of his personality.

And while we’re on the subject of doctrines made irrelevant by God’s timelessness, isn’t personhood dependant on of the flow of time. If God is truly active then time is required.

I can hear your complaint already, “Brian, you are speaking from your perspective and foisting it upon God who is not limited by your ability to understand him.”


I am speaking from my perspective. But you just hit me with the pole of your red flag. This complaint is an appeal to gnosticism. If I, being human, cannot understand timelessness, how on earth did we humans come up with the doctrine that God is outside of time?!! Maybe I am too much of a Protestant, but shouldn’t we be able to demonstrate it from Scripture.

I read Scripture and find that God describes himself in terms consistent with a being inside of time. Paul refers to “before the foundation of the world.” “Before” is a time based preposition. If “the foundation of the world” is synonymous with Creation then we have time before Creation, and that just can’t be if time is a part of Creation.

So where does the idea of God being outside of time come from? It is constructed systematically based on our interpretation of various passages in Scripture.

I agree with you Sam that time is not ontological. Kicking God out of time makes a huge mess of theology, and I either need someone to come in and show from Scripture how God cannot dwell within time or I will go on believing that God is within time.

So there.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 10:43 AM

Sam wrote: 

ok, let me start with the end.  you say that you agree that time is non-ontological, but then talk about God as being within or outside of time.  if time is non-ontological, then there is no in or out. 

let me back up.  in your first comment you stated that you don't like the phrase "experiencing time."  Ok, i see your point.  how about God has always experienced sequential events.  this is certainly consistent with Jesus' request that he be glorified and that they (the Trintiy) resume the relationship of Love they had before.  All i'm really trying to say in my post is that there is no such thing as time and that it is sin that ages us, not passing years.

clearly the Bible teaches that there are sequential events (see Genesis 1:14, if you need to).  clearly the Bible teaches that God experiences sequential events (see the incarnation or pentecost, or practically any other passage involving God).  equally clear is that God's character is unchanging..if you want a proof text, see Hebrews or that prophet who said that God is not a man that he should change His mind, so someone or other wasn't killed, or Romans 9-11. even God's name "I Am," suggests unchangingness.  i could find more if i had Bible Works in front of me:)

finally, change doesn't require time.  change requires sequential events. 

you went kind of wide ranging on your last response.  let me know if i need to respond to anything else.  hey, we've got a decent dialogue going again!


Monday, August 29, 2005 12:59 PM

Brian wrote: 

OK. So much for being understandable.

I was trying to point out the difficulties with kicking God out of time (claiming time is ontological). As I thought through many of the doctrines of Theology Proper, I realized that they only matter if time is non-ontological.

Now I realize that speaking in terms of "inside" or "outside" time contradicts your world-view. This is rather mind-bending...If I say that God is "inside time," I am speaking as though time is ontological which contradicts your whole premise. I should have said that the Bible describes God as a being who lives sequentially: A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. But tomorrow is not like yesterday.

I am still uncomfortable with your statement that there is no such thing as time. Time does exist. Inches exist. They don't exist as created things, but they are valid concepts-valid measures that help us comprehend our world. What do you gain by making a distinction between "time" and "sequential events?"

Monday, August 29, 2005 1:49 PM

Sam wrote: 

the only thing i gain with my distinction between time and sequential events is a truth statement.  i come just a little closer to an accurate statement about God.  i believe every truth contributes to my foundation (ie, my view of God and reality).  accurate beliefs (however insignificant they may appear) provide strength, while every falsehood is a crack...and, as is the case with cracks, you never know what damage they may do.

i imagine there is more we gain that i'm not thinking of...perhaps the whimsical use of days and months points to the absoluteness of God's existence.  it also points to the goodness and logic of God that he gave us (fairly) consistent events.  i would entertain other reasons that it matters (or doesn't)...

Monday, August 29, 2005 2:12 PM

Brian wrote: 

I don't think you answered my question: How does substituting "sequential events" for "time" improve our discussion about said events?

When I say that "change" requires time, I am not only saying that one thing happened after another. I am also saying that how rapidly the change occured The measurement implied by "time" is also important. I may change a Rubik's Cube from chaos to solved. But unless I do it in less than 12.21 seconds, I won't set a world record.

Monday, August 29, 2005 2:21 PM

Sam wrote: 

i guess i'm not saying that there is a pragmatic benefit to talking about sequence instead of "length of seconds" in every or even most cases.  while God seems fairly event oriented (or was it just the culture he was working with?), he often does care about the lenght of time something takes...he demands obedience now...today is the day of salvation, etc.

it is meaningful to talk about minutes and days and years.  God would not have given us the reliable events (perhaps) if they weren't important.  i'm only saying that if we are going to deal with the question of God's age, or the impact of "time" on us...we need to recognize that time doesn't exist.  by the way 124 is my time on expert minesweeper...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005 2:32 PM

Brian wrote:  How does God relate to this sequence of events that includes us? Is he free to "re-live events"  that he really enjoyed? What about events that haven't yet happened? How do you interpret Psalm 139:16?

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. (Psalm 139:16 ESV)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005 5:51 PM

Josh wrote: 

Okay, I am jumping into the discussion a bit late so forgive me as I bring myself up to speed and try to cover ground that has already been trod.  Upon. 


Anyway, I concur with Sam, and I suppose with Brian too if I read the post aright, that time is non-ontological.  Although this makes talking about it really tough, I find it hard to conceive of time as a thing.  I think that poses all sorts of difficulties with regard to the incarnation, creation, etc.


So what is time?  It seems to me that at the heart of time, whatever it may be, is the idea of sequential-ness, as Sam noted.  This sequential-ness can be measured by many means varying in their specificity.  However, it does seem that all measurements must be arbitrary in the sense that there is not one essential measurement of sequence (it is hard to be specific about time without solar bodies or half-lifes of elements or something like that).


So how might we describe this sequentiality (trying to fulfill my New Word Quota)?  How about describing time as a relationship?  That is, it is a relationship between two (or more) objects, events, persons, etc.  That is how we can say "before" and "after" and other such language.


So, I would suggest that time is most accurately described as a relationship between different objects that is characterized by the aspects of precedence and subsequence.


What this adds to our conception of reality – I don't know.  At the bare minimum, I feel that we become more consistent or accurate in our language.  I think it clears up some problems, or apparent problems, regarding God re: time.  Time, in this sense, is not ontological, but still exists.  You can post and identify what problems it fails to resolve or, may it not sequentially come to pass, what problems it creates.


Time seems more an adjunct of existence rather than a consequence.  The main difficulty I am having right now is trying to describe how we are able to use "time-language."  When we say event B happened after event A, what is our basis for adducing that?  Is there some schema that allows us to establish precedence and subsequence and if so, is that time?


I suppose it is best to remember what Barth always said to his students, "never send the runners on an 0-2 count."



Tuesday, August 30, 2005 9:47 PM

Charlie wrote:  Just to jump in with a random comment, it seems that the relationship idea for time is a good way to describe it. It is just like the other measurments. How do we tell if a road is long or short? We compare it to something else. Being in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv seemed really far away, even though it was only a forty minute drive, which is what I drive to school everyday here in the States. But the other roads in Israel were all short, so even the short roads seemed long. We can have absolute measurements for length, like miles or inches, but they are fundamentally worthless unless we use them as tools to compare two lengths to each other. So maybe time is the same concept. We can measure absolute sections of time in seconds and hourse, but these measurements are worthless unless we use them as a shorthand method to compare two times. I'm not really sure, like everyone else that has commented on this thread, that I have advanced the discussion at all, but those are my two shekels.

Thursday, September 01, 2005 7:08 PM

Josh wrote: 

I also believe that describing time as a relationship allows us to continue to understand time (or sequentiality or sequence or whatever you prefer) as...I hesitate to say "existing" since that seems to imply being/ontology..."real".  I am not sure I am comfortable saying that "time does not exist" though I think Sam means by that something like "there is no such thing as time" which is his clever way of agitating for a non-ontological understanding.  Correct me if I misconstrue, Sam.  If we define time in a more accurate or consistent fashion then acknowledging time as real is less of a problem.

In response to one of Brian's comments (#8) regarding "re-living" or "pre-living" events, I think we might distinguish between experiencing and ...for lack of a better term...knowing events.  I don't like separating the two so much, but there is obviously a distinction between God's knowledge of an event and His experience of that event.  It seems clear that God has knowledge of events prior to their occurence but I don't think we want to say that He experiences them prior to their occurence.  It seems that an atemporal view of time (which I think must conceive of time as ontological) cannot seperate God's knowledge and experience of an event for they both occupy the entire expanse of His existence.

Thursday, September 01, 2005 7:42 PM

Sam wrote: 

Well, i will go down to the grave saying, "Time...does not......exist..."  But, yes, you do interpret me correctly.  I don't terribly mind talking about time as a relationship...and the only thing that really bothers me about it is that i didn't think of it first.

Because of my views regarding time, decrees, and truth, i tend to think that God cannot relive fun events.  I tend to think of events as truth statements (x did happen, or y did not happen), and that once events are executed they cannot be undone or relived, that would be falsifying the historical record.  But don't worry, history is cyclical enough, that if God really enjoyed something, he probably decreed something similar to happen more than once.

Finally...i also don't separate knowledge and experience too far apart, and less so, i imagine for God.  However, we often explain Jesus having "learned obedience through the things which he suffered," as Jesus experiencing in a different way his submission to the Father.  Crikey...that wasn't pandora's box that i just opened, was it?

Saturday, June 16, 2007 11:05 AM

Anonymous wrote:  is anyone interested in opening the time discussion back up?

Sunday, June 17, 2007 8:48 AM

Charlie wrote:  That sounds like fun! I think I missed most of this discussion the first time around, so I wouldn't mind going through it again. Do you have a specific comment to start it?

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