I am a science fiction and fantasy fan, along with being an animé fan. In fact currently I am reading/listening (audiobook) a steampunk book set in Victorian England. Well, I should say anchored in Victorian England, but there is some travel involved, don’t you know. As a matter of fact, the heroine’s steam powered dirigible has just arrived at the “etheric” port of the Island of Malta. Know this book is a multi-genre book in that it has werewolves, vampires, metanaturals, slowly unraveling ghosts, and any of several other oddities.
One of the issues that interests me in the area of science fiction is the concept of time travel. This may surprise you, but I actually took a graduate class in the philosophical concept of time as part of my very secular Master of Arts in Philosophy. It was quite a surprise to me that Saint Augustine was one of the people that was read. It was even more surprising to find out that he was one of the first persons to seriously spend time thinking about the nature of time. In part he did this because he was interested in the nature of God. If God has foreknowledge, how does this apply to time?
How does God have foreknowledge? Does he have foreknowledge because he has decreed all that is about to happen? Some types of Calvinism argue this. That is, it is not that God has foreknowledge but that God’s sovereignty is expressed through his one decree in which al which is to come is set in motion. That one decree includes double-predestination, that is some are predestined to life and some to death. Do realize that many Calvinists do not agree with the one decree and with double-predestination.
Or does God have foreknowledge because he knows all things that will happen? In a more Armenian vein, one could argue that it is not simply that God knows the future, but rather that God knows all possible futures, which would be one expression of the thought that God is omniscient (all-knowing). In this version, God knows all potential futures. Because he does and because of his power, he can nudge events in such a way that the potential future that he desires will be the potential future that comes about. This actually allows him to only intervene in human history at key points where a nudge is needed. This also preserves human free-will in that almost all decisions are made by humans, while incredibly small nudges come from God. Think of the saying:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe the horse was lost;
For want of a horse the battle was lost;
For the failure of battle the kingdom was lost—
All for the want of a horse-shoe nail.
That saying would mean that God would only need to ensure the “want of a nail” in order to guide the course of entire kingdoms. In one sense, this is a variation of the more modern “butterfly” analogy (which uses one version of quantum theory), in which a butterfly flapping its wings on one continent may end up being the cause of a storm on another continent. Yes, I quite well realize that this analogy has been rather well torn apart, but on a bigger scale (such as the one in the saying about the nail) could still have some significant truth.
What Saint Augustine and the Greek fathers argued is that God had to be outside of time. They argued it because they argued that God is changeless and that if God were in time, then he would change from moment to moment, therefore he could not be in time. We would argue the same, but for perhaps a different reason. Space-time is a concept that requires anyone who is part of this universe to be subject to the strictures of space-time. But, since we say that God created the universe, and matter is part of space-time, then this means that God must be outside of space-time.
Yet, I do not agree with Saint Augustine’s conclusion that God sees all of our motions in time as being equally present to him. That is, if you are going to make this argument, which is actually the most common argument about time and God, then then you have to argue that somehow God cannot really fully differentiate where you are in our time experience. I have heard people explain this as saying that God sees your birth, growth, maturity, death, and resurrection, as an equally present event to him. But, I would argue that this has more to do with Saint Augustine’s conception of God’s sovereignty than it has to do with sound logical sense. Mind you, to object to Saint Augustine on this matter is a Ph.D thesis, so I will not go on at length. But …
In Jesus Christ, God subjected himself to finiteness and to space-time. If it is true that he is outside space-time, it is equally true that in Christ he has chosen to be in space-time. I am convinced that God is aware, and has always been aware, of the passage of our space-time. I also think that Saint Augustine is wrong. He does not see our birth as somehow being equally present to him as our death. Rather his “observational platform” is utterly different, and utterly alien, to the way in which we view time, and yet the future is still the future. I tend to think of God as foreknowing all that will happen because he knows all the places in which he will nudge history in order to ensure that all will take place according to his plan. We are elected because he foreknows us. He foreknows us because he knows all the nudges that will guide this history to conform to his desires. Because he nudges history, he does elect.
Finally, the Greeks and the West thought that God was impassive, without passions. They thought this because to have passions is to imply a change from one state to another. Since God is perfect, how could he possibly change from one state to another? This is a neo-Platonist conception. Any change is proof that he is imperfect because you cannot change from perfection to perfection. You can only change from perfection to imperfection. But, we do not have to agree to that. Rather, various people, such as J.I. Packer have made statements such as, “A totally impassive God would be a horror, and not the God of Calvary at all. He might belong in Islam; he has no place in Christianity.”
So, I follow J.I. Packer. Our God is not impassive in the classical sense. This means that he can be aware of the space-time stream which automatically means that his is not unchanging. I believe that we have a God who is outside our space-time stream, who can observe our space-time stream, and who is aware of in what point in our space-time stream we are existing. I do not think that he sees our whole existence as being all co-present to him. Rather, I believe that he can discern the past from the present from the future, while being outside our space-time continuum as God and in our space-time continuum as Jesus. No, I cannot explain it. It is just another mystery to me, but a mystery that fits better than the way in which the Greek neo-Platonists have explained it.