Out of Time

There are some things that are just too slippery for our brains to hold on to. One of them is the concept of a person existing outside of time, living eternally without beginning or end. That would make sense of the reality of the universe, solving that whole “cause and effect” dilemma, but does it actually make sense? Wouldn’t the simple progression from one thought to another require some form of time?

I have no idea.

Einstein proved that time can be affected by things like speed and gravity, which makes it very much a part of the physical universe. Can spiritual beings function beyond the borders of our reality, manipulating matter (miracles, manifestations), time (prophecy) and space (teleportation)? Or is this just a quality of a Creator over his creatures, spirit or otherwise?

I have no idea.

God calls himself Yahweh, “I am.” In various places, Scripture claims that God cannot change. He just is. But if that’s true, what do we do with instances where God seems to change his mind? What do we do with his emotional outbursts, as if he could be surprised or bothered by something he’s always known?

Time in the freedom vs. sovereignty debate:

Some Christians claim that God restricts his sense of time in order to have genuine relationships with time-locked individuals. Others claim that not even God can see the future, but his understanding of the created universe makes him seem like he does, allowing him to predict events before they happen. Or he can just make prophecies and use his power to fulfill them.

Some believe that before God created anything, he considered all possible worlds and actualized a particular one. That way, a believer could accept God’s foreknowledge without that knowledge infringing on human freedom. In a sense, God chooses the restaurant, and his creatures can pick anything they want off the menu.

Some Christians don’t mind foreknowledge infringing on human freedom. In fact, they prefer it. It puts God in absolute control. If God can see what will happen, it makes sense that he would take action based on his foreknowledge, just as the Bible seems to claim. But what do we do with a world full of violence and depravity, which God claims to hate and resist?

My suggestion? Just pick a side, arm yourself with verses, and SLAM the other guys! 🙂

The dichotomy:

In my last post I tried to demonstrate that the story of the Bible is about creation being estranged from its Creator, resulting in a power struggle of free creatures—God, the devil, humans and the natural world. In the first phase, we see a world devastated by sin, one that is ultimately wiped out. In the second phase, God makes a nation from a faithful man, but that nation is ultimately unfaithful, rejecting their God and their Messiah and are grafted out of his vine. In the current phase, we see a world of people that continue to be estranged from God, along with those that have been grafted into the vine, alive in Christ by the Spirit—the wheat and the weeds, growing together, roots intertwined, waiting for the harvest.

This is the message of Scripture, and it helps to explain our reality.

But the issue of time complicates the story. If God knew that the world would be estranged from him, why even make it? Why make the devil? Why make the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? We could go chapter by chapter asking similar questions, wondering how a God with perfect foreknowledge could complain about how things turned out.

Take this verse for example: “…this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23).

Who is responsible for the death of Jesus? Pilate, who dropped the gavel under pressure? The Jews, who insisted on his crucifixion? Judas, who betrayed him? The devil, who entered into Judas? Were they just pawns to a grand scheme that was set in motion before the world was created?

Jesus chose Judas, knowing he would betray him. Pilate told Jesus that he had the power of life and death over him, and Jesus rebuked him, claiming a higher kingdom. Jesus said that no one could take his life, but he would lay it down willingly. In fact, Scripture says that God hardened the hearts of the Jews that they might ultimately go through with their murder. Then he punished them for it . . . (preview for next week’s post about hardened hearts)

When does God act on his foreknowledge?

As we pass through the timeline of Scripture, we discover that every verse that mentions God’s foreknowledge is always in regard to his redemptive program. He is actively working in history to restore the creation to himself. Both I Peter and Ephesians confirm that God’s redemptive purposes were set in motion before the world was created. The Old Testament is peppered with stories and rituals and prophecies that advertise the ultimate redemption in Christ, using Israel to express his eternal purpose.

When does God not act on his foreknowledge?

This is an interesting question. And it is impossible to prove. But there are certain instances where we find God not acting on his foreknowledge.

In Genesis 15, God gives Abraham a prophecy about his descendants, telling him about their four hundred years of slavery, followed by the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. In verse 16 he explains that the reason for the delay is that the sin of the Amorites (Canaanites) is not yet complete.

Wait . . . if God knows that the Amorites are not going to repent, why not just skip the whole four hundred years of slavery and kill the Amorites with a plague or something? Apparently God does not amputate an arm until the gangrene has reached the shoulder.

The same thing happens with Israel. In Deuteronomy 31, God urges Israel to choose life, not death (sounds like Eden). Then he turns to Moses and tells him that Israel will ultimately forsake him and adulterate with the other nations. He says in that day I will turn my face from them. He tells Moses to teach Israel a song so that, when the day comes, they will remember that it was their sin that brought their calamity. Not God.


It seems that God acts preemptively in terms of redemption, but is patient when it comes to judgment. Love is patient. It suffers long. It forgives. God functions according to love, not foreknowledge. He uses his knowledge to prove his divinity, to warn his people, and to forecast hope.

At the same time, love is not arrogant and does not celebrate unrighteousness. When we consider the timeless activity of God, we would be foolish to attribute any evil to his actions. We need to be careful in how we “honor” him, emphasizing his power and sovereignty as if, like the devil, he is concerned about his reputation.

Did Jesus walk around bragging of his power, making predictions, or demanding worship? No. He served others. And he used his foreknowledge to warn his opponents and encourage his disciples.

11 thoughts on “Out of Time

  1. It is interesting that God doesn’t only foresee doom and judgement.

    With great emotion, the Old Testament is full of him announcing that though his people will be rebellious and do their own thing and bring on their own consequences, he will re-claim them, he will save them.

    He created freedom on purpose, knowing that much chaos and calamity would come with it. People, satan would run rampant with that “gift.” Others, choose, in this freedom, to be bound to his original design, unity in love, with him, with each other.

    But it is clear that, he WILL restore all things as they were designed in the first place.


  2. The question is asked: did God know He was going to destroy Sodom? Did God negotiate with Abraham knowing that that there were not even 10 righteous people in Sodom?

    Nineveh did repent and was spared against the protest of Jonah. Did God know that this would happen in order to teach Jonah a lesson?


    • These are important questions. We often assume that God’s foreknowledge turns these questions into tests, but perhaps the freedom of men is genuinely free, in which case the repentance of Ninevah was sincere.


  3. I’m probably over simplifying somehow but I understand God as existing in an eternal present. Past and future are how we experience our existence but all if those moments are present to God. And I think it was Lewis who said that it is in the present moment where we meet God. That is where our relationship takes place (I think he said that the present is where we touch eternity). And so God acts and interacts with us in this present moment, responding to our free choices even though He is also living in what we call the future, knowing what we will do “later”. His goal is relationship, though He does obviously use knowledge of “future” events to warn and guide. Like you said, it’s all about Love because that is who He is and what He made us for. Love this post!


    • That’s an interesting idea. Certainly none of us can live in any other place than the present moment, though we are haunted by the reality of our pasts and the concerns of an unseen future.


  4. I think there is a lot of weight (and this coming from someone raised in the Ole Baptist Church) to the idea that most things are foreknew and planned/accounted for. In some way, we want to stay away from the extremes, because it fringes on Deist terrorist to say God created the world, decided the actions of all, and pressed play.

    In the right balance of it, and the Bible points in the direction of an omnipotent being with his hands in the business of all. We get all up in a tizzy because we think sovereignty infringes on freedom. But it seems more likely, that God has allowed our freedom to infringe on his sovereignty. Which is why we’re asked to die to ourselves, be filled with the Spirit, and live under the Spirit’s control.

    Another thought is this: It’s easy to find the whole thing “unfair.” This idea that life has been decided. We get mad at God because, how dare he! Right? But didn’t God subject himself to his own sovereignty?

    Last thought, something we can talk about more in depth. But is the life we live today Plan B, or Plan A?


    • Great points. True. God asks his creation to submit willfully to his sovereign plan, trusting that, like a parent, he has our best in mind.


  5. I find the topic of time and eternity very interesting, but funny in a way. Speaking from my own mind, and without Biblical reference, it seems to me that God exists as much in time as out of it. He created the heavens and the earth, made the earth to spin on it’s axis and revolve around the sun, thus time as we understand it came into being. He exists in His creation as much as out of it. In this way, we are limited in our human perspective.

    We, humans, also exist as much outside of time as in it, because we were created with eternal souls and we will exist in eternity with or without our Creator once the current heavens and earth pass away.

    My question is, was the Lambs Book of Life written at the beginning of time, and Jesus died to save ALL knowing only those would be saved, OR is the Lambs Book of Life being written as each one comes to Him to be saved? Aside from each individual and communal act of obedience and God’s response to those, it seems to me the relevance of time comes down to that. Is his saving act reactive or proactive? Doesn’t evidence support the latter?


    • Great point about being in and out of time simultaneously. I didn’t think of that. Stop showing me up on my own darn blog!

      The Lamb’s Book of Life comment is obviously blog worthy . . . if I want to stir up a hornet’s nest.

      This is my quick take: I was just lecturing this morning on how Jesus is presented in the NT as both the creator of the world and also its judge. It specifically says that the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son. That’s why it’s the Lamb’s book, and also why it’s called the Judgment Seat of Christ.

      Thankfully, when it comes to choosing people, we have a few examples from when he was on earth, and it seems that there is a reason why Calvinists and Arminians both have ammunition.

      Jesus prayed all night before choosing the 12, and in each case, they dropped their nets and followed him. That sounds a lot like pre-selection and irresistible grace. Though, I wonder why Jesus would pray all night if the 12 were selected before all time?

      However, when it comes to the rich young ruler, the man sought out Jesus, was presented with a challenge, and turned away. Jesus was disappointed, which either means he actually hoped the rich man would abandon his wealth and follow him, or disappointed that he didn’t choose him before the world began. Same would hold true for the man that had to bury his father (take care of his family obligations) before following Jesus.

      There are all sorts of comments that Jesus makes about what it costs to follow him, and counting those costs. If those things are all pre-determined, what’s the point? It seems like Jesus is seeking after people in his preaching and healing ministry, and people (like Zacchaeus and Nicodemus) are seeking after him as well.

      Like any real relationship. Though . . . it’s not exactly that simple.


    • Ha! Well, I am working on a fiction novel that explores this territory, which is why I’m forcing myself to post about it. Each post is a personal challenge.

      It reminds me of the Einstein biography I recently read, and Hawking’s “Brief History of Time.” They were (are) both looking for a universal theory that could unite the macro (movements of planets, etc) with the micro (quantum physics). To this point, they are not sure if such a thing exists, but the effort took up the last years of Einstein’s life and dominates Hawking’s efforts now.

      In the same way, I feel that Calvinists and Arminians go in circles because there is at least some evidence for both in Scripture, and each tends to block the other out, which is not good theology (or science). To be raised in a denomination is to be raised with a theological framework within which you read the Bible. I feel that a lack of denominational background has helped me to try to see what the Bible says without bias. At least I hope so. Clearly, absolute Truth is beyond our grasp, but the seeking of Truth is a lifelong pleasure, and yields many exciting discoveries.


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