Is God Temporal or Timeless?

The rationalists would answer that God is timeless; the empiricists, that God is temporal. So, what is the truth?

I think we must first begin by admitting our limitations. If we are yet having difficulty understanding metaphysics, theology is even a more impossible arena, unless, of course, God intervenes to reveal Himself. However, we also know that He only reveals to us in the limits and the terms that are understandable to us. More importantly, the Bible emphasizes on knowing God personally through a loving and obedient faith. But, it doesn't mean that if a question regarding the nature of God arises, we are not required to give an answer. I wish to present some thoughts here.

For a pure rationalist, ultimately, time itself is illusory, as all experience is (as in monism and non-dualism). For a rationalist who accepts divine revelation and the validity of empirical knowledge, God is atemporal or timeless; He is beyond time; He is transcendent to time: however, at the same time, God is also temporal; He is immanent in time as the God who acts in time. Now, by the temporality of God we do not mean the temporality that the theory of relativity talks of; God is Spirit, not matter. By the temporality of God we only mean that our phenomenal talk of God’s acts in the universe are always temporal (Is there any other way to account for events? Yes, there is the tenseless theory of time which implies that God created the whole set of events which are just there—Wait! No, God and the events are all just there (for “God created” assumes the tensed-theory: evidently, the tenseless theory is theologically untenable). At the same time, we will not say that both these concepts of timelessness and temporality define the reality of God. We only say that as far as our rational and empirical understanding (and their limits) is concerned, and as far as the revelation of God is concerned, we cannot but think that God is timeless in His being and also temporal in relation to acts that He does. In that sense, to even say that God created time (conceptual, not the physical time which is relative to created things individually) assumes that He created time in time. But, is it not contradictory to think of divine timelessness and divine temporality at the same time? I think it is not impossible to find an analogy in our experience. For instance, we know that the statement “The sun rises in the east” is true and very practical: people can know where is east by looking where the sun is rising in the morning. Of course, a compass will help us to have more accurate understanding of North or South. But, nevertheless, the idea that the sun rises in the east is not also false, phenomenally speaking. However, in “reality”, the case is that the sun doesn’t rise; it is the earth that rotates on its axis; the sun is static (timeless?), though relatively. And, this knowledge is also useful. Yet, still, there are further theories to explain the earth-sun relationship and our solar system’s relation to the universe. But until this juncture, the statements “The sun rises in the east” and “The sun doesn’t move, but the earth moves” are both true in phenomenal terms. I think that talk of divine temporality is something akin to this (that is with reference to how far our rational-empirical sense is concerned).

Again, we know that God is Spirit, which also means that the laws of relativity don’t have any significance for Him and are external to His being. The empirical view cannot find the timeless view of God intelligible in any empirical terms. There is nothing in experience analogous to atemporality of being. Of course, there are the laws of logic that are considered to be atemporal; however, God is not “laws of logic” or a set of necessary-universal-immutable-atemporal a priori propositions. But, Scriptures tell us that He is Logos who existed in the beginning, the Personal-Creator Logos; thus, conjoining both the idea of personhood and the idea of necessity in Him. I think this could be a good way of talking about Him, though, I must confess, in our present experience, we are still limited in our understanding of God as Spirit. We think that we got some objectivity when we discovered that the earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun. But, we know that is only like a second-level objectivity. So, it is safe to conclude that as far as our rational understanding can accept, God is timeless, and as far as our empirical categories permit, God is temporal; yet, we know that God is beyond all this and the perfect vision is still to come; that cannot be without the resurrection.

Still, however, one must be careful to not fall prey to the lure of pragmatic theology.[See Article]. The Bible clearly speaks of God as the Eternal One. The Bible also tells us that God is unchanging and all-knowing (His knowledge of the future being perfect). However, our phenomenal talk of God’s acts in the universe are always temporal.

Pertinent Discussions
Steve Bishop, God, Time, and Eternity
William Lane Craig, God, Time, and Eternity

Last updated on March 8, 2016


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