The Table Video

Dean Zimmerman & Thomas M. Crisp

Is God in Time? - CCT Conversations - Zimmerman/Crisp

Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University / Director of Rutgers Center for the Philosophy of Religion
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
December 13, 2013

Is God “in time”? Does he experience the moment-to-moment succession of life? Or does his eternality mean that he’s outside of the temporal order? Philosophers Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers University) and Tom Crisp (Biola University) discuss two views about God’s relationship to time.


I wanted to talk to you briefly about this question. One reads a lot in classical theology, but also popular theology. The idea that God is timeless or eternal, that he’s not like us in being in time and subject to change and the passage of time and that somehow he’s outside of it all, seeing all of history at once as it were.

And it some ways that’s a really attractive picture because it suggests a kind of impressiveness that a being who was like that would be, much higher or more impressive then we are in a way. But in other ways it’s not such an attractive picture I think because it’s difficult to make sense of the biblical portrayal of god who seems very much to be in time and changing and reacting to us.

And then I also have wondered whether it’s difficult to make sense of that kind of being in the prayer life where it seems like we have an interactive relationship with god and we feel his pleasure or his displeasure

Or displeasure [laughing]

Sometimes we feel called by God or even spoken to by God, and you might think its difficult to make sense of all of that is God is a perfectly static changeless, timeless being. So you’ve thought a lot about these things what are your views about this

Yeah, I mean of course one can say things about a timeless deity, that make it a little bit easier to understand, how such a being might be doing something like interacting with us. So if you think of the timeless perspective that god has as, nevertheless, Sort of divisible into, levels so to speak. So God timelessly knows everything but, God timelessly knows that you and I exist because, God timelessly knows that god created people, our parents and so on.

So God, part of God’s timeless knowledge and action can be depended on other bits of it. So if I pray timelessly God knows that I pray for wisdom and making some career decision or something. And timelessly God wills that, that a thought occurred to me, a solution occurs to me, an answer occurs to me about what I should do and timelessly God knows that I respond to that appropriately. So that’s a kind, you can have a kind of responsiveness in a timeless being even though, there isn’t really a series of thoughts,


And series of actions. So I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna rest to much on that. Nevertheless, I want to say I don’t see the attractive, I don’t see why putting God outside of time is such an attractive thing to so many people. And I think it can be traced back to early theological, well early philosophical influences on Christian theology.

Things are better if they don’t change, the physical world is not so good because things decay, change is always either change for the better or change for the worse. So if god was changing God would either be getting better, couldn’t do that, or getting worse.

Well that wouldn’t be good either so, when you have these thoughts about how great it is for a thing to be unchanging, you make it less and less like human beings, and more and more like just an abstract thing that’s very much apart from the world we’re familiar with including the world of time. Now was that a good idea?

That theology package which I think like you say you don’t get that, it just doesn’t jump out at you from the Hebrew scriptures certainly. Or from the Christian scriptures, “The New Testament”. So where did that come from? Well it was a kind of theological overlay. Theology is important and we can’t avoid it, but we can ask questions about where we’re getting some of the principles that are guiding it.

Tom: Yeah And I think these principles were questionable.

Yeah, now 1 of these principles that you’ve already mentioned is God is a perfect being, moreover he’s the being then which none greater can be conceived. So however we think of God we got to think of him in that way.

And maybe this is an argument from Brian Left I can’t remember where it comes from but, this did strike me as having a bit of bite. It was that, it seems like it would better for a being if it were not subject to, the loss that we’re subject to when something recedes into the past. So I think about these great experiences I had when I was a kid with my family, And now those are gone.

They’re gone yeah.

And there’s a kind of sadness to that or there’s something sort of less then perfect about that, and so the thought is wouldn’t God Be a, wouldn’t it be a better being, who didn’t have to suffer that kind of loss? And just always could have the whole spread of history immediately present to.

Yeah that’s an interesting thought, of course God would have perfect recollection. You know could sort of perfectly relive in a sense any, past, positive event or experience. A being that is outside of time couldn’t anticipate anything, there’s something good about that

That’s right. There’s also good about certain events, so good experiences I miss those, but there are bad experiences.

Dean: It would be nice to have them over. [both laughing]

Right, and I guess it would be, well a timeless God would just always have those right there.

Yeah, Yeah so it feels to me like there’s a big value judgment that’s being made here. Is it better to be, the kind of being who can, sort of dynamically interact with other persons, And respond and change. Is that a better kind of being to be? Or it better to be static and unchanging?

I’m inclined to think that, being flexible and open to others and vulnerability to others. That these are signs of strength and courage, that’s how we think about one another. Is it wrong then to think of God as, becoming vulnerable to us and interacting with us and leaving some things about the future open to us to determine.

I think that’s a kind of strength and not a kind of weakness. Where some Christians think that, God’s sovereignty requires that God brings everything about, causes everything, and that anything less then that, detracts from God’s strength and glory.

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