Category Archives: Theology

On God, Time, and Eternity

When I was younger I was taught that there will be no time in eternity. I was also taught that God is timeless – that he experiences everything as an “eternal now.” I no longer believe this. I think those ideas came from the Greek philosophical view of deity and time. The Greeks thought that time was somehow flawed or imperfect, and that God must therefore be totally outside time; related to this were also extreme ideas about God’s absolute unchangelessness, such that God cannot experience emotion, for example.

Christian philosophers accepted these ideas and developed the idea of “divine simplicity” (“the concept that God does not exist in parts but is wholly unified, with no distinct attributes, and whose existence is synonymous with His essence”, per GotQuestions). But all these things tend to make God into an impersonal Idea, unrelated and unrelatable to His creation.

But the Jewish and Christian scriptures present a different picture of God. He is a personal being; he entered time and space, at least in the Incarnation; he loves, he hates, he has a range of emotions and responses to our obedience or rejection of him. He even changed his mind. Christian philosophers who accepted the Greek ideas said that the Biblical descriptions of God’s anger, acceptance, rejoicing, singing (Zeph. 3:17) were just anthroporphisms; he didn’t really do those things, but that’s just a human way of describing him. But I don’t think that does justice to Scripture. God is infinite and eternal, no doubt. But I think God is everlasting – that he exists through all of time – not that he is timeless.

This does not mean that God cannot see the future. God knows the end from the beginning; he can see the future and he knows all things. We can remember events that occurred in the past; some people with “photographic” memory can remember things in great detail – although interestingly, true photographic memory is apparently a myth. But God can see both the past and the future perfectly – he has perfect memory and perfect foreknowledge. Exactly how this is true, I don’t know; but we don’t have to understand how God can know the future in order to believe that he can. How can God be all powerful? How can he be omnipresent? How is it possible that God took human form and lived on earth as the man Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human at the same time? I don’t know how all that is possible…but I know it’s true.

But even if you still believe God must be timeless, that doesn’t mean we humans will be timeless in eternity. Only God is infinite; only God can be everywhere and do everything at once; only God knows everything. Humans are finite, and we will always be finite creatures. Therefore there still must be time and space in eternity. The Bible speaks of a new heavens and a new earth, in which Heaven comes down to earth and we live forever on the new earth with God. It speaks of time in heaven (there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour, Rev. 8:1); it speaks of the passage of time on the new earth in Rev. 22:1-5: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. . . . There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

I do think time had a beginning – when God created the universe. Before there was a universe, there were no events; nothing could change from moment to moment, so there could be no time. There was only God. But when God created the universe, there was time. And God said that his creation was very good. Time, therefore, is not imperfect or something to be escaped.

Here is what William Lane Craig says on time:
https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writing … -eternity/

According to the relational theory the passage of time consists in the happening of events. So the question whether time is finite or infinite may be reduced to the question whether the series of events is finite or infinite. [19]

It might be asserted that even on the relational view of time there can be time prior to the first event because one may abstract from individual events to consider the whole universe as a sort of event which occurs at its creation. There would thus be a before and an after with regard to this event: no universe/ universe. And a relation of before and after is the primitive relation of which time consists. On the other hand, this level of abstraction may be illegitimate and may presuppose a time above time. For prior to the universe’s beginning, if there was nothing at all, not even space, then it would certainly seem to be true that there was no time either. For suppose the universe never came to exist – would there still be time? But if the universe does come to exist ex nihilo, how could we say this first event has an effect on reality (but of course there was no reality!) before it ever occurred, especially when its occurrence is a contingent matter? We might want to say that time does not exist until an event occurs, but when the event does occur, there is a sort of retroactive effect causing past time to spring into being. But this seems to confuse our mental ability to think back in time with the progressive, unidirectional nature of time itself. Though we can, after creation, think of nothingness one hour before the first event, in terms of reality, there was no such moment. For there was just nothing, and Creation was only a future contingent. When the first event occurred, the first moment of time began.


If God is really related to the world, then it seems most reasonable to maintain that God is in time subsequent to creation. This also removes Kierkegaard’s Absolute Paradox concerning the incarnation, for God would be in time prior to his assuming a human nature. This understanding does not involve any change in God; rather he is simply related to changing things. As Swinburne explains,

…since God coexists with the world and in the world there is change, surely there is a case for saying that God continues to exist for an endless time, rather than that he is timeless. In general that which remains the same while other things change is not said to be outside time, but to continue through time.

Thus, on a relational view of time God would exist timelessly and independently ‘prior’ to creation; at creation, which he has willed from eternity to appear temporally, time begins, and God subjects himself to time by being related to changing things. On the other hand, the Newtonian would say God exists in absolute time changelessly and independently prior to creation and that creation simply marks the first event in time.

These, then, are the alternatives. A relational view of time seems superior to a Newtonian view because (1) it is difficult to see how time could exist apart from events and (2) the Newtonian objection that every instant of time implies a prior instant is adequately answered by the relational view. Thus, the proper understanding of God, time, and eternity would be that God exists changelessly and timelessly prior to creation and in time after creation.

(bold added by me)

Very deep! I think Craig’s view not only makes sense philosophically, but matches Scripture better with the way God presents himself, as a personal God who relates to His creatures and even took on human form himself.

I hope this can make for some profitable contemplation, and perhaps greater appreciation for God’s personal nature and his desire to have a relationship with man.

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Properly understanding two-kingdom theology (from an Anabaptist perspective)

There are at least three possible versions of two-kingdom theology. Dwight Gingrich recently had a discussion thread on Facebook where he offered the following three views:

(1) Government is commanded by God to use the sword to punish evil, so that evil will be curbed in the world. By virtue of God’s command, government has both the right and the responsibility to use the sword, in much the same way that God’s servant the nation of Israel did before Christ came. God requires government officials to use the sword, and to use it with justice and mercy, and he will judge them accordingly. Government officials can be Christians while bearing the sword, provided they use it rightly and only in their role as civil servants. Therefore, Christians bear witness to government by (a) admonishing them to use the sword with justice and mercy and (b) calling individual members of government to choose to follow Jesus.

(2) Government is commanded by God to use the sword to punish evil, so that evil will be curbed in the world. By virtue of God’s command, government has both the right and the responsibility to use the sword, in much the same way that God’s servant the nation of Israel did before Christ came. God requires government officials to use the sword, and to use it with justice and mercy, and he will judge them accordingly, though as sinners. Jesus calls all who follow him to lay down the sword, so it is not fitting for a Christian to fill any government office requiring sword-bearing. Therefore, Christians bear witness to government by (a) admonishing them to use the sword with justice and mercy and (b) calling individual members of government to choose to follow Jesus, thus laying down the sword.

(3) God uses sword-bearing governments to punish evil, so that evil will be curbed in the world. All human governments since the Fall naturally use the sword, and God sovereignly sets up and deposes governments as his servants, just as he did with pagan nations before Christ came. In times past God overlooked the use of the sword, but now he calls all men everywhere to repent. Therefore, no government today can claim divine right to bear the sword, even though God establishes them for his purposes and we should not try to overthrow them. All government officials will be judged by God for using the sword, with a more severe punishment for those who have not used the sword with justice and mercy. Therefore, Christians bear witness to government by (a) admonishing them refrain from unjust and unmerciful use of the sword and (b) calling individual members of government to choose to follow Jesus, thus laying down the sword.

My position is closest to #2, with maybe a few tweaks, and with maybe a few tweaks to #1 to more clearly exclude it. I assume #1 is basically the Lutheran two-kingdom theology, which basically splits the man and says he can biblically operate by one ethic when in the government and by another ethic in the church or in his private life. #1 says, “Government officials can be Christians while bearing the sword” – Denying this could be taken as denying that any government officials (or soldiers) are Christians. I would tweak it by saying, “Government officials can biblically be Christians while bearing the sword”, or, “It is biblical for Christians to bear the sword while in government or in the military” – in which case I think it is clearer and easier to reject.

I think God has a lot of grace for human misunderstanding if the Christian is sincerely seeking and trying to follow Christ, so while a Christian who is in government and bearing the sword is doing something outside the perfect will of Christ for his life, I wouldn’t say he is living in sin by doing so. But it is inconsistent with the ethics of the New Testament that Christians are called to follow, and a Christian who comes to the correct nonresistant understanding of the Scriptures through the guidance of the Holy Spirit should not violate his conscience by bearing the sword – in that case it would be sin (whatsoever is not of faith is sin).

I believe government has both the right and the responsibility to use the sword. But I would hesitate to say “in much the same way that God’s servant the nation of Israel did before Christ came” until I know exactly what I am saying by that. I don’t believe the civil penalties of OT law are for government to use today, nor do I think government should persecute people who don’t worship God. In the NT era, where church and state ought to be separate, government should not bind people’s consciences to follow a specific religion, and should allow people to freely choose to follow Christ and worship Him. With those caveats in mind, government should operate according to God’s moral law, which is in general what Israel did. God instituted his moral law to provide order for society and to convict unbelievers of sin; while Christians are not under the law, the New Testament still indicates that the moral law is useful for unbelievers. And I would add that in the NT era, government should not only follow the OT moral law, but it should also respect the natural rights of its citizens, which are based on the fact that all men are created equal and have value in God’s sight. So rights like the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, etc., should all be upheld by a just and moral government in the NT era.

I don’t think unsaved members of government will be judged positively for using the sword with justice – they will be lost, and all of their “righteous” deeds will be like filthy rags, and will have no relevance. However, they may experience more severe punishment if they used the sword cruelly and unjustly.

I mostly agree with the following statement from #2: “Christians bear witness to government by (a) admonishing them to use the sword with justice and mercy and (b) calling individual members of government to choose to follow Jesus, thus laying down the sword.” In (a), they admonish the government as an institution; in (b), they witness to individuals, whether in or out of government. But I would add that (b) should be the focus; (a) should be secondary. And if a Christian institution, like a local church or a denomination, speaks out in admonition of government, they should generally do so by pointing out areas for government to exercise mercy, without speaking directly to other areas where the use of the sword comes into play. I think it’s okay for individual Christians to support/approve of the use of the sword in justice, but this should be done without excessive enthusiasm or a gung-ho cowboy attitude, if you know what I mean.

For example: I think Christians, including churches, can call for the government to help alleviate the refugee crisis, including by welcoming refugees to America. This should be done circumspectly, with respect for government’s legitimate role of protecting national security, and so carefully screening refugees is fine; but I don’t believe it is good for Christians to react with fear to refugees and hunker down in Fortress America either. Or for another example: I think it was probably good and right for the United States to exercise the sword justly in the strike on Osama bin Laden in 2011. It was legitimate and it was just. But I don’t think Christians should metaphorically celebrate in the streets about it, nor should churches put out a statement expressing approval of it.

The view taken in position #3, or perhaps even more radical positions where the government is illegitimate or inherently evil because of its use of force, and where it might be merely used by God but not ordained by God, runs into problems with Paul in Romans 13. His comments on government as appointed by God for good, not bearing the sword in vain, go well beyond the mere idea that God can use evil men for his purposes, in my opinion. And the underlying view that God himself is nonviolent and merely overlooked OT violence – and that the judgment represented by the sword of government goes against God’s character – runs into problems with the Old Testament evidence that God commanded war on Israel’s enemies and judgment on evildoers both in and outside of Israel, and various verses that speak of God’s wrath and his character as a “man of war” – not to mention the future return of Christ at the head of the heavenly armies to judge evil men and rule the world with a rod of iron.