A Question I Was Asked:
DOES GOD DWELL WITHIN, OR....... OUTSIDE OF TIME?
T his question would have seemed very odd if it had been asked of a minister of about a hundred years ago. At that time just about every Bible-believing minister believed – in common with the great theologians, such as Augustine – that God surely dwelt outside of, and beyond time. But during the last fifty years or so more and more theologians and ministers have challenged this. But my concern is, just what has caused this challenge? I fear that it has come from Process Theology and from its desire to domesticate God. Process Theology (which has had a great affect on many present day ministers, even some evangelical ones) says that God is ever-learning and ever-growing. According to these teachers, the future is entirely 'open' to God and nothing is certain; in short, God is very much like us! But can this approach be substantiated from the Holy Bible? No, it cannot.
Now let me say at once that this is an area where Christians may indeed disagree amicably; we should allow differences of opinion here. If you believe – in common with the Process Theologians – that God dwells within the constraints of time, that is fine, but since the Lord has so graciously called me to be a Bible teacher, I am going to respectfully show you where I think you are wrong:
Think about this for one moment: If God dwells within time, then He is subject to its restraints and He (just like you and I) must be a slave to it! You know what time is like: we are all slaves to it, it is the ultimate master of us all. We have to be in the office by 9AM, there are many things to do when we get there, then we have to be sure that we are out to lunch by midday or 1PM, then we need to finish this project, then do some more work on the other project, then we have to allow 45 minutes to check the e mail and handle any enquiries/questions which may come up. Then we hope to get home by 6PM to have some time with the children, but then there is dinner, then we have that 7.30PM appointment, and then........and on and on it goes! We sometimes think that this is only part of modern life but the truth is that ever since the Creation of this world everybody has had these restrictions: ultimately, there are only 60 minutes in an hour and only 24 hours within each day! Now surely we would all agree that God is far, far busier than all of us! Therefore, if God too dwells within space and time this would mean that God is even more enslaved by time than we are! But that is plainly nonsensical!! God is not constrained, restricted nor enslaved by anything!! Therefore, I put it to you, that God dwells outside of time and is completely free and never under any pressure in this matter.
There is another point about this: What is "time" anyway, and why do we assume it to be constant? The truth is that time varies even within our own solar system! A "year" means something different on the sun to what it means on earth! The 'black holes' are believed to be areas of intense gravity in which time ceases or becomes completely 'frozen.' If you could get inside one of the 'black holes' of outer space you would never be able to get out again; why? Because time will have ceased to exist - there would literally be 'no time' to get out again. This helps us to see that 'timelessness' is not such an odd thing and even powerful telescopes can locate it! (A good writer to read on this is the late brilliant scientist -who was also a Christian! - Dr A.E. Wilder-Smith. I believe that Calvary Chapel have published some of his books).
What do the Scriptures say? Well, if I believed that God dwelt within time (which I do not), I haven't a clue which Scriptures I would be able to quote to support that particular position, but I don't have that particular problem or view. After all, when the Scriptures say things like, 'God is from everlasting to everlasting' how much clearer can it be suggested that God is not and can never be subject to the constraints of time and space which affect people. Of course, a few might suggest that God indeed dwells within time, but He has much more of it than us! But I think that that point of view misses the point of God's transcendence and complete 'otherness'. It seems to me that there are just too many Scriptures which suggest that God can only exist beyond human time and space. Let me look at just a very few of them:
'He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.' (Isaiah 40:22-26).
What better picture could we be given of God's utter transcendence and 'otherness'? Would it make any sense at all for such an omnipotent Creator God to nevertheless be subject to the restrictions of time and space which we human beings are? No, it would make no sense at all. It would make much more sense to say that God is necessarily time-transcendent, and that is the view which I hold and which almost all of the evangelical theologians of the past have held.
'Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.' (Isaiah 46:9-10).
Of course, Process Theology would say that this is just poetry, but this is not just poetry, God is – through the inspired pen of Isaiah – telling us how completely different He is from us; this is our reality, that we are as nothing compared to God, nothing more than grasshoppers and our God also knows the end from the beginning which requires time-transcendence. Time is important for us but since He dwells in unapproachable light in eternity, time means little to God, but He uses it to order our paths (we were made on the 6th day), and to warn us to obey Him ('Now is the day of salvation'). I could quote many other Scriptures to back up my point, but I am going to quote just one more:
'But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day,' (2 Peter 3:8).
How clearer could we be told that human time has no meaning for God? Of course, God is necessarily aware of it and in fact He has ordained a time schedule for this earth, yet He Himself is not subject to any such schedule within His own existence. This verse is not saying that time just moves more slowly for God, it goes far beyond that in perhaps suggesting that God inhabits a continual present in which 'a day' and 'a thousand years' are pretty much meaningless terms! Now please do not ask me to explain what a 'continual present' might be like, because I am but a man and I have no idea! Peter is effectively saying, 'Don't be impatient because the Lord seems to be a “long time” fulfilling His promises, because whether we speak of a day or a thousand years it makes no difference to God, He exists in such a way and manner that those terms of human time are meaningless!'
Now some might say, 'But does not the fact that God created this earth within just 7 days show that He is prepared to work within space and time?'
The answer is, Yes, He is prepared to work within the time structure (which He Himself ordained for His human creation) where necessary in working out His plan for human salvation; indeed, Jesus came to earth and lived within this time and space structure for about 33 years. But this does not show that God Himself lives within - and is Himself subject to - time and space and that it is a complete reality for Him (Peter clearly shows us that it is not); many Scriptures strongly suggest that it is impossible to contain/enclose the omnipotent God in such a way. He created this world over 6 days and there is no reason to believe that this was not literal (I am personally unconvinced by the efforts of some to say that this was not really 6 days), in doing so, God was/is giving us the example that we should order and organise our lives in these 24 hour 'daily chunks' which He has given us to live within. Then He gives us the example that it is beneficial to take around one day out of every week to meditate and contemplate on the beauty of His creation and to seek communion with the Creator God Himself (but even there, Jesus reminds us that 'the sabbath is made for man...' - not necessarily a reality or requirement in heaven). By the way, legal requirement on this matter was confined to the Mosaic covenant and to Israel; even so, it has been shown that it is both physically and mentally rejuvenating for human beings to take a complete change of pace and perspective about one day in every 6-8. In God's divine and supremely creative use of those first 7 days, we are being given an example of how we may order and organise our human existences and of the joys of wise and decent industry, accomplishment and contemplation!
Okay, I have digressed just a little there but now back to our main point:
So God inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15, KJV), but what about us? Can we ever inhabit eternity? Yes, I think so; eventually the saved too (I firmly believe) will leave the constraints of time and space and will inhabit eternity with God and with His heavenly host:
'He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.' (Revelation 21:7).
'....As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
“Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”' (2 Corinthians 6:16-18).
'....Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God' (Romans 8:18-21).
'The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.' (Revelation 22:17).
(All quotes from the NIV except for Isaiah 57:15)
Robin A. Brace, 2005.
MUSELTOF COUNTERCULT AND APOLOGETICS UK