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Thread: One on One: AMR and JCWR on the Temporality of God

  1. #16
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    JCWR writes:
    I believe the concepts of a timeless God are incoherent.
    JCWR, I wish you had offered up some substantial support for your so-called incoherencies. In their absence, let’s examine in the next few posts how a timeless God is fully coherent. Note: My follow on posts will appear late Christmas evening or the following day.

    Some will charge that God’s timelessness is not consistent with His other attributes.

    For example, if God is timeless, it is not possible for Him to be omniscient, given that there are some things His creatures would know, and God could not know, such as what time it is. After all, these critics argue, God cannot experience moment-by-moment knowledge, God cannot know now, as in “what time is it now?” since all time is equally present for God.

    Let’s look at the logical argument itself:

    1. There are essentially tensed truths (e.g., those expressed by sentences containing the temporal indexical “now”).
    2. A timeless being cannot know essentially tensed truths.
    3. Therefore, if God is timeless, there are truths he cannot know.


    If one looks closely at this indexical argument, they will see that it is more about the formulation of truth statement than it is about knowledge itself. About the only thing that is established is that a timeless God cannot use certain word forms when reporting or formulating on His knowledge. In fact, the temporalist has simply traded the “problem” of omniscience for another problem. In fact, the temporalist is now in a parallel position. Why? If God is temporal then God cannot know types of propositions that express knowledge of the universe from the perspective of an atemporal God in timeless eternity!

    Another criticism raised by the temporalist, especially the open theist, is related to God’s simplicity and impassibility, sort of a guilt by association argument. The temporalist will claim a timeless God cannot interact or be responsive to His creatures. Most of these arguments arise from a misunderstandings of the original constructs of an eternal God. God certainly is not temporaliy-specific responsive. We know from Scripture that God answers prayers before they are asked.

    God is clearly not temporally-specific responsive. He answers prayers before they are asked, It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear (Isa 65:24). I think a person’s problem with the attributes of simplicity and impassibility is inversely proportional to that person’s view of God’s sovereignty. The more sovereign we believe God to be (more sovereign is itself a misnomer) the less a problem we have. The open theist craves a temporally responsive God, so they will trade down God’s sovereignty in favor of a temporally responsive God.

    Yet, a timeless God is required for some theological truths. For example, consider the atonement of Jesus Christ. While the open theist and the Reformed may argue about the extent of the atonement (limited verus unlimited), neither disagrees as to the quality of the penalty paid by Jesus. Clearly, both sides agree that Jesus paid the debt in full.

    I am sure, we also agree that the wages of sin is eternal death. So I ask you, How could Jesus pay a penalty that is eternal in a mere temporal three hours or three days? There is but one answer. Jesus Christ, who is God Incarnate, is a timeless being!

    Finally, we come to the aseity, i.e, God is not dependent on anything outside Himself for his being and nature, of God. This is one of the strongest arguments that supports atemporality. If God possesses life without limit, then that life is possessed fully. God’s creatures think one thought at a time. God’s creatures enjoy one pleasure at a time. No creature that experiences life sequentially can have the fullest life possible. When we devote serious time to the study of God, we will find that whatever God is, He is to the greatest possible degree. God knows maximally everything, He can do everything maximally, and He is maximally merciful. This property of maximality property can be applied to the nature of God’s life, too. Since God is a living being, if whatever is true of Him is true to the greatest degree possible, then His life must be the fullest life possible. When we say that God’s life is possessed simultaneously, we do not mean in one instant of mere mundane time, as time is measured by continual regular motions. We mean that it is possessed in one act, and that the now of eternity is not the now of time.
    Last edited by Ask Mr. Religion; December 26th, 2008 at 12:00 AM.
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  2. #17
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    JCWR writes:
    I believe the concepts of a timeless God are incoherent.
    Some will argue that God’s timelessness results in an absurdity when the simultaneity of an atemporal God is considered.

    Feinberg is probably the only theologian of note today who supports a temporal view of God. He argues that if every moment is simultaneously (using terminology from Boethius) present to God, then every temporal moment must be simultaneous with every other temporal moment. To the casual student of the nature of God, this seems to be a potent argument. To begin a refutation of this criticism, I first point out that simultaneous is a temporal term and God is not temporal.

    God is the covenant head, therefore He is exalted above all His people—He is transcendent. As covenant head, God is deeply involved with His people—He is immanent. These are the Scriptural views rightly defining transcendence and immanence, not the un-Scriptural views that would define God to be infinitely removed from His creation, so far removed from us that we could not make any truthful statements about Him. These false concepts of transcendence and immanence are fit together incorrectly by those who seek to escape God’s revelation, to avoid their responsibilities, and to excuse their disobedience. Yet, when transcendence is God’s covenant headship (control, authority), and immanence (personal presence) is God’s covenant involvement, we stand on solid Scriptural ground.

    God’s total transcendence and immanence can be affirmed by two examples that rely upon spatial arguments that parallel and clearly contradict the logic of the temporal arguments.

    For my first example, it is assumed that all creatures that are temporal necessarily have temporal location and temporal extension. This would be true of all being that exist in space—they have location, they occupy space (extension). A being that does not occupy space cannot affect space. Thus, by extension based upon this assumption, a being that is not in time (temporal extension) cannot interact with beings that are in time. Yet, in answer to the assumption, angels occupy no space but they affect space, for example, producing effects such as sound. Here we have Angels having location without extension.

    My second example is related to the supposed simultaneity problem Feinberg wishes to use to deny atemporality. I begin by noting…

    God is omnipresent;
    God and AMR are in the same place;
    God and JCWR are in the same place;
    Therefore,
    AMR and JCWR are in the same place and that is obviously an absurdity.

    Yet it is both true (in God’s case) and absurd (in AMR and JCWR’s case) because God does not occupy space in the same way that we occupy space, or we would be pantheists. God is spatially both locationless and extensionless. In other words, God is aspatial. Just because God is outside of space, is aspatial, does not keep God from interacting and acting in space. Then congruently, I argue that because God is atemporal, this does not prevent God from acting and interacting in time. These are the very underpinnings of God’s omnipresence and immensity.

    Yes, God’s mode of spatial and temporal interaction is a very different from that of His creatures, but that does not mean it is an impossibility for atemporal God to interact with His creatures. It seems the temporalist and especially the open theist, are attempting to construct a bridge from the finite that reaches the Infinite. These groups refuse any line between the infinite and the finite, even when such a refusal preserves the finite within the life cycle of the Infinite. This refusal sacrifices the living God of Scripture.

    Last edited by Ask Mr. Religion; December 25th, 2008 at 11:59 PM.
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  3. #18
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    JCWR writes:
    I believe the concepts of a timeless God are incoherent.
    Some have argued that a timeless person could not have performed many of the functions necessary to entail personhood.

    For example, it has been argued that an atemporal person would not be able to remember, deliberate, or anticipate, speak, produce written words on paper, make sounds, weep, smile, or even be affected, responding to overtures, needs, or antagonisms by another.

    A simple response to such a charge would be that there are humans who do meet this definition—unborn infants, mentally handicapped—yet no one would claim they are not persons.

    Yet we can still question this accusation against personhood on other grounds. The difference between man and animals is that only man was created in the image of God. The essential attributes of the personality of God are exercised on a much higher level than as man does. Man reflects God, not the other way around. Man needs memory because man forgets—God does not. Man does not know the future so anticipation is needed—God know the future and needs not anticipate it as man does. Unlike the man who must deliberate because he does not know the correct or best course of action, God does know the correct and best course of action. It is clear from Scripture that God interacts with man, but in a mode that is different than the way men interact with one another.

    No matter what view we take, temporal or atemporal, we must take a view that allows God to respond to billions of people simultaneously. To believe a temporal God univocally responds to particular persons is an absurdity. At any given moment God is responding to words, deeds, thoughts, dreams of billions of people. Does this mean God requires billions of centers personality to respond presently, correctly to each individual? This is the theological foolishness of limiting God to the characteristics of human personality.

    Yet, could an atemporal God respond univocally to billions simultaneously in a non-temporal manner? Intuitively, we all know this is plausible. Which is the more superior view, the more personal and responsive: a temporal God who must divide His attention among the billions of humanity, or an atemporal God who deals with people personally and fully (undividedly)?

    For the temporalist, God’s temporal responses to His people means He is simultaneously experiencing all of His emotions across their entire spectrum at any given moment of time. This would be because the collective billions of people on earth are exhibiting the full range of emotion—wrath, joy, indignation, etc.—all at the same time! There is no other possible conclusion for the temporalist to come to here. Certainly this description is not what we find in Scripture for our personal God.
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  4. #19
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    JCWR writes:
    I believe the concepts of a timeless God are incoherent.
    There have been some who would argue that divine timelessness means that the Incarnation was a docetic sham.

    I have written much within TOL on the topic of the incarnation and the two natures of Incarnate Christ and won’t repeat myself herein. This link is a good starting point for an introductory treatment.

    Instead let’s use the argument being raised against atemporality with respect to the Incarnation in its most widely applicable form:

    1. Jesus bore temporal properties
    2. No one who bears temporal properties is atemporal
    3. Jesus Christ is God the Son, a divine person
    4. God the Son is not atemporal


    If this argument is valid, then by extension we can apply it to the other human characteristics that Jesus exhibited. Jesus did not know the hour of his return for the eschaton, hence, by the reasoning above, neither would God! Or, Jesus was located in space, hence, by the reasoning above, God is precluded from being spaceless! Jesus was corporeal, the bearer of physical properties, hence by the reasoning above, God the Son is not incorporeal! And so on. The reduction to absurdity of the argument above is established.

    These sort of things are easily defeated by careful understanding of the two natures of Christ as outlined in the Chalcedonian Definition. Those who deny these concepts fall within a range of heresies:

    1. a denial that Christ was truly God (Ebionites, Elkasites, Arians);
    2. a dissimilar or different substance (anomoios) with the Father (semi-Arianism);
    3. a denial that Christ had a genuine human soul (Apollinarians);
    4. a denial of a distinct person in the Trinity (Dynamic Monarchianism);
    5. God acting merely in the forms of the Son and Spirit (Modalistic Monarchianism/Sabellianism/United Pentecostal Church);
    6. a mixture or change when the two natures were united (Eutychianism/Monophysitism);
    7. two distinct persons (Nestorianism);
    8. a denial of the true humanity of Christ (docetism);
    9. that God the Son laid aside all or some of His divine attributes (kenoticism);
    10. that there was a communication of the attributes between the divine and human natures (Lutheranism, with respect to the Lord's Supper); and
    11. that Jesus existed independently as a human before God entered His body (Adoptionism).


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  5. #20
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    JCWR writes:
    I believe the concepts of a timeless God are incoherent.
    Let me summarize my position. God is atemporal, and therefore does not experience the passage of time. God is ontologically atemporal/aspatial but actively or influentially present within the space-time universe. Atemporalists do not deny that God can manifest Himself temporally. Yet, we hold that God is just not limited by that manifestation. Atemporalists argue that God has the same relationship to time that He has to space.

    God’s knowledge of a present event is the same as his knowledge of a past event because God is equally aware of all that He knows. If I adopt a temporal view of God, then God’s past knowledge is indirect. Direct knowledge is clearly superior knowledge, but it is impossible for direct knowledge to be a temporal form of knowing. If God knows every fact by direct awareness then God must be temporal.

    Based upon my discussion in this debate, the following conclusions can be drawn:

    1. No concept of time can predate creation.
    2. A very strong case for atemporality is presented in Scripture than the temporalist will admit.
    3. Historical tradition supports atemporality.
    4. The vast majority of modern theologians support atemporality.
    5. There are no legitimate objections that can be raised to deny the timelessness of God. There are dubious presuppositions (libertarian freedom for one), however!
    6. No disadvantages can be raised against the atemporal position.

    JCWR, when we started this debate I asked you:

    JCWR-2: Do you agree that if I am able to demonstrate without appeal to the attributes of omniscience, immutability, and impassibility that God is eternally timeless, then open theism has failed in all formulations of God?

    You agreed that this was a fair determining point on the outcome of this debate. A thorough review of my posts will show that I made no appeals to these attributes to make my case. Therefore, views of God, such as the temporal open theist, that seek to redefine these attributes are themselves invalid.

    I await your response.
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    AMR,

    I apologize for my lack of response to your posts. Your thoughts are very deep for me as I am not a native English speaker. I had to ask some of my old seminary teachers to help me understand your words. I used to think my English written comprehension was quite good, but your posts have humbled me now. haha!

    Frankly, after reading your materials I am finding so little I can disagree with. My original thinking about God being in time has been strongly challenged by you. It seems as if there is no real reason to challenge the timelessness of God other than from the libertarian free will view. I am not sure that view is sufficient a motivation to alter the traditional view of God and time.

    I agree that you have made your case as we agreed and that means I have to concede this debate to you. I don't mind "losing" a debate because it means I have "won" some new knowledge from my opponent, so I appreciate that.

    Before we close off our debate I wonder if you would mind telling me exactly what your definition of time would be?

    Thank you, JCWR
    JCWR
    Romans 6:23; 8:1; 10:9; 10:13

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    Quote Originally Posted by JCWR
    Before we close off our debate I wonder if you would mind telling me exactly what your definition of time would be?
    It is difficult for finite humans to discuss time when applied to God. We end up using temporal terms struggling to capture atemporal concepts. Often we read that God was before time, yet the very word before is a temporal word. Without time there was no before or after. But using before time is convenient for the atemporalist to use when referring to the eternal nature of God as being apart from creation, a creation which included the creation of time. Probably a better way, albeit metaphorical, is to think of the spatial use of the word before, as in “stand before me”, then we can say that God is standing before time.

    Scripture never gives us a definition of time. I prefer start with God’s infinity. Infinity applied to time is eternity and infinity applied to space is omnipresence (some would use immensity). By infinity I do not mean mathematical concepts, which are unhelpful in discussing the nature of God. Instead by infinity I mean that no creature can impose limits on God, and/or God’s attributes are supremely (maximally) perfect, without any flaw whatsoever.

    It was the Socinians believed that God’s eternity meant that He has no beginning nor end, which is more accurately a description of everlasting—persisting through time rather that transcending time. The Socinians and their modern day ideological progeny deny exhaustive divine foreknowledge, and from this starting point, necessarily believe that God is not above or outside of time.

    The definition of time runs the gamut from “succession of moments” to “motion”. I do not believe any of these definitions capture the essence of time. Unfortunately, nouns are just not always amenable to the description of their essence! We have no problem using the word time quite naturally, until someone asks us to define it or its essence. Then everyone runs to the philosophers. I am of the opinion that if we have the ability to use the word time in its everyday settings, we have a sufficient understanding of it and there is no need to define it. I question whether any definition would be possible to capture the essence of time as they all derive from our creaturely existence within time. Probably a good workable definition of time is that it is a means created by God by which His creatures can measure the flow of events.

    As I have argued earlier, God knows perfectly what to us is the past, present, and future. God, from a lofty height, sees them all laid out before Him equally vividly. This does not mean all times are indistinguishable to God. He certainly knows that an event happened in His creation on 9-11-2001 or that some other event happened on Tuesday. This is because God understands the process by which one event flows into the next event. Nevertheless, God does not sense one moment of His own transcendent consciousness flowing into another. But God fully understands the process by which time flows in the creaturely world He created. Since God can do this, it means God’s experience of time is very different than ours—His relationship to time in ontologically unique.


    JCWR: I appreciated your willingness to have this discussion. I am sorry that there was not more "clash" between us for the entertainment of the readers. Good luck, sir, in your ongoing studies!

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