Let’s shift gears into something more philosophical.
I’ve been discussing some of these issues over at a friend’s site. I’m also in the middle of a philosophy class that I’m teaching for IWU’s College of Adult and Professional Studies. So it is no surprise that I’ve been thinking about God’s relationship to time and about human freedom to make real choices.
The traditional view holds that God is outside time. This is so widely accepted that to question it appears to be flirting with heresy. Yet I feel that there is something wrong with this view as it is commonly held.
I also have the sense that the Open Theists are on to something important. But this position has some problems of its own and is labeled heretical by many Christians.
It seems to make sense that time began at creation as Augustine suggests. In the same way that God is “outside” creation, he would also be “outside” time. Of course, if the biblical account is true, then God must be able to “enter” both creation and time. Otherwise he would be reduced to the “god” of Aristotle.
It is difficult for us to imagine any existence outside time. It is not unlike the difficulty a deep-sea fish might have imagining life on “dry land.” And we must be cautious when we speculate about “how things work” outside time. But let’s see if we can make some sense out of this.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument the standard position that God is outside time and that he knows the future exhaustively.
In the standard view, God sees all of time “at once.” He sees the “past,” the “present” and the “future” in what we would call “now.” If God knows the future in every detail, then the future must be “fixed.” In other words, we cannot do anything contrary to what God already knows we will do in the future. Consequently, we are not free to make real choices.
However, we seem to have the sense that our choices are free and that they are real. Some would argue that this is only an illusion. Others say that “libertarian freewill” is an affront to the sovereignty of God. Some resort to a philosophical sleight of hand that essentially has God manipulating our wills leaving us “free” to do “what we will.”
But these explanations are not very helpful. Some are worse than the problem they try to solve. I maintain that they seem satisfying to their adherents only because they’ve repeated them so many times and gotten “comfortable” with them.
I think I may have a new angle from which to address this issue. At least it’s new to me. I haven’t seen it anywhere. However, if it is true, I am probably not the first one to think of it. If I’m the first one to formulate it, it’s probably not true.
I believe the problem is created when we collapse our view of the future and God’s view of the future.
For God, the future already exists. It is “fixed” much in the same way that the past is fixed for us. From God’s perspective the future cannot change.
However, for us the future does not yet exist and is “flexible.”
As long as we look at the future only from God’s perspective, we don’t run into any difficulties. And as long as we look at it only from our perspective, everything is fine. The problem arises when we combine these two perspectives. Then we run into paradoxes and contradictions.
We are left with, “If God knows the future exhaustively, how can we make free choices?”
The Open Theists say that God does not know the future exhaustively. They say that this is a statement about the nature of the future not about the nature of God. They say that the reason that God does not know the future is because it doesn’t exist until we make our choices in the present. Their critics argue that this reduces God to less than all-powerful and all-knowing. But if the future doesn’t exist, then God is not diminished by not knowing it.
But I don’t want to get sidetracked into a discussion about Open Theism. I just want to borrow the idea that the future doesn’t exist until it becomes the present.
We assume this as we go about our lives. We are confronted with a decision and make a choice. It could be a relatively insignificant choice about where to eat dinner. Or it could be a bigger choice about where to live or work. We agonize over many of these choices as if the future will be (partially) determined by what we decide.
The problem comes in when we insert the data about God knowing the future.
In programming language, this is a “data mismatch.”
If you told a computer to divide 25 by a ham sandwich, you would get an error. These are two different kinds of information. You can perform math on a number. You perform other operations on a ham sandwich. But they don’t belong together in the same operation.
Our view of the future and God’s view of the future do not belong together. Our view is from within time. God’s view is outside time. The future is still open to us because it does not yet exist.
Another way to get at this is by using the framework of relativity. Einstein has shown that there is no absolute “now” or “public time.” By combining our “now” and God’s “now” we are treating them as if they are the same. This is what creates the paradox.
These are just some ideas. Let me know what you think. It seems to make sense to me. But you may see a fatal flaw in the logic. Or you may raise some questions that I haven’t considered.
“Helping you become the person God created you to be”