God and Time: My View – Infinite Sequential Moments

Derek Ouellette —  September 20, 2011 — 5 Comments

This post follows the last (and in temporal order at that!).

God and Time: Four Views” is very helpful in working out this subject by reading back-and-forth essays by professional Christian philosophers. What made this book exceptional – and why I gave it four stars – was the discussion that followed each essay. Not only were each other allowed to respond and critique each essay, but the essayist was allowed an opportunity to respond to their critique and clarify themselves. This back-and-forth made the book indispensable.

My own view falls somewhere between Alan and Nick. Both of these philosophers believe that God is temporal in relation to creation. Where they disagree is on the nature of God in relation to pre-creation (notice the temporal designation there). Alan believes that God is temporal before creation, but he believes that God’s temporality was something he called “pure duration”. Nick claims to be agnostic on the question of God’s pre-creation existence, but it seems that he sees scripture as promoting God’s temporality pre-creation, and thus he sees a distinction between God experiencing duration and the creation of cyclical time itself.

But what’s the problem? It seems that one of the dilemmas each writer faces is the question of measured duration in an infinite universe. This is why Alan advocates “immeasurable pure-duration“, why Craig advocates God’s “timelessness without creation”, and why Nick remains agnostic on the idea. The dilemma is thus: how can you measure, say, c to d to e, or c to e and so on in an infinite universe? Such measurements presupposes an “alpha“. That is, if we are talking about the sequential moments from b to c to d to e and so on, then that presupposes an “a“, a beginning, which is incompatible with infinity.

But I reject this philosophical dilemma on the grounds that the same argument can be used against the existence of God himself. It boils down to our inability to comprehend the existence of an infinite God. But this philosophical dilemma does not prevent any of the authors of this book from affirming an infinite God. On those same grounds I argue that our inability to comprehend infinite measurable time (or we could call it “infinite sequential duration”) should not prevent us from affirming it. I would then argue that we have good reason for affirming ISD (infinite sequential duration) rooted in our affirmation of the existence of God himself.

P1: If we believe in the existence of God as an infinite Trinitarian Being

P2: If we accept that although we cannot comprehend it, it must be true

P3: If we believe that to “live” and to “exist” requires sequential moments (temporality)

C: Temporality must be infinite as well

To put it another way. Since God is infinite and Trinitarian (that is, in communion within the Godhead) he must experience sequential moments for as long as he exists – infinity. Thus I have no problem affirming infinite sequential moments on the same grounds for affirming the existence of an infinite Trinitarian Being.

Derek Ouellette

Posts Twitter Facebook Google+

a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Aaron

    This stuff makes my head spin :)

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Me too! I have to be in the mood. Lately I’ve been in that mood. :)

  • Jon Sellers

    Good stuff, Derek. I have no problem with infinite sequential duration. I was thinking also that in consideration of the inner relations within the Trinity, if we accept that there is something like sequential communication as we know it, then that would lead to sequential temporality. However, does God indeed communicate within Himself in terms of temporality?

    The big objection would come from a consideration of God’s aseity, immutability and oneness. In considering the being of God in three persons it is easy to think of persons as we experience them in terms of separateness, but we know that God is not three separated persons, but three persons in perichoretic relations so that there is not a necessity for sequential speaking as we know it among ourselves. Rather God knows Himself in all His persons exhaustively and eternally. His knowledge of Himself is omniscient therefore it is not like the Father needs to speak to the Son to communicate new information to Him or likewise to the Spirit. So God exists in relationality in his ontology. Being three persons in one substance we have to be very careful to not read back into God what is human and finite. Our knowledge of God is analogical and often anthropomorphilogical. Here we have to recognize our limitation in our knowledge of the true nature of God as He is in Himself.

    Scripture says Jesus was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. If this refers to an event or a decision by God before the creation of the world, then we have a reference to what seems to us to be temporal decisioning. Some might argue that it means instead a logical order as opposed to temporal order. I don’t see Paul talking that way. We could also postulate that before the actual act of creating there was the decision to create and in that was planning, etc. Does God have to plan? Again we have to be careful of anthropomophisms.

    I think there is wisdom in Wolterstorff’s agnosticism, but I can support a tentative speculation of God’s relationship to time before creation. But I would never make it a dogma.

  • ella

    everything is temporal in relation to creation :)

  • http://StandOutPublishing.com/Blog/ djr

    Thank you for a very good review.

    I’ve always thought of the philosophers as the ones who are out there in the thick of the wilderness, cutting the first, barely perceptible, and meandering paths of understanding through the weeds of the unknown territory. As such, I’m aware that I’m completely outside of my qualifications here. Forgive if this sounds dumb.

    The notion I get as I read your explanations is that talking about time, duration, and sequence, without talking about “events” in time, is a lot like talking about gravity without talking about mass.

    We have invented a specific, very restrictive, type of time measurement that works because so many events in the creation are cyclic. That is, many events occur at “regular” and repetitive intervals (earth orbits sun, earth rotates on its axis relative to the sun). Our abstract concept of time, which is based on these cyclic events, seems to completely abstract out, and make us forget that creation is not about time, but about EVENTS in time. The duration is not possible without the start and end events that define the duration.

    Is it possible that there is another type of time measurement based on events? When I read of our Savior telling of “when” the end times will come, he doesn’t necessarily speak in terms of the cyclic (calendar) time, but in terms of events that must occur…

    Oh well… Like I said. WAY over my head here. :-)

    -djr