God and Time

I ran across an interesting article by theologian Jack Cottrell: Understanding God: God and Time

The article speculates about God’s relation to time, and the nature and extent of his foreknowledge.  Is God timeless (outside of time)?  Or does God experience time in some sense (everlasting)?  Cottrell argues that God does experience time, but that he is metatemporal – God experiences his own time, and also created our time.

Relating to God’s foreknowledge of our universe, Cottrell argues for something that he calls the noetic “big bang”.  God foreknew what would happen in our universe when he decided to created it, but not before.

Just as the universe (supposedly) began at a single point of space and almost instantaneously exploded to form the massive universe we now observe, so did God’s foreknowledge of the entire history of the universe begin at a single point of time and then expand in a kind of noetic “big bang.” This noetic “big bang” or explosion of foreknowledge was an event in the life of God, an event that occupied “X” amount of time.   Before this event, God had no knowledge of this actual world; after this event he knows its entire history. Since the knowledge occurs prior to the actual creation of the world, it is true foreknowledge.

We should stress that what God foreknows is not the unfolding history of a self-contained universe, with God himself being just an observer of what created causal forces (e.g., free will) will bring about. Rather, this is the time when God makes his decisions and plans regarding his own intervention into the unfolding historical process, or else regarding his deliberate permission to allow the created causal forces to proceed unhindered. The history that unfolds in God’s mind is not just the world’s history; it is his own history too.

In this event of the noetic “big bang,” as God is determining when and how he will intervene in our history, in a sense he is thinking more new thoughts, i.e., making new decisions concerning his own actions. In another sense they are not really new, since from all eternity he has had a complete knowledge of all possible worlds and all possible contingencies, and has eternally known his own potential responses to whatever contingencies will ever arise. So during the “big bang” process God does not have to ponder or weigh possible.

So Cottrell largely agrees with the Open Theist – that God exists in time, but also with the Classical Theist – that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of the world he created.

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13 Comments

Filed under foreknowlege, Jack Cottrell

13 responses to “God and Time

  1. This approach seems to me to fly in the face of God’s aseity. I don’t believe we can relate to the how of God’s knowing, because we do not live as other than creatures.

  2. Dave

    The concept of God and time has only been on the periphery of my thoughts before.

    I don’t know if I agree with all of Dr. Cottrell’s conclusions (I think I’ll need to read it 2 or 3 more times just to grasp them…), but it is definitely mind-bending ;)

    I think he did a good job of explaining God’s self-existence (aseity) by describing time as an attribute, although I don’t know if that is warranted.

    This subject of God’s relation to time is one of the few areas where I think an appeal to mystery is ultimately legitimate.

  3. No one taking these passages seriously can embrace currently fashionable libertarian revisionism which denies God s sovereignty over the contingent events of history. Some of these effects God desired unconditionally and so wills positively that they occur but others He does not unconditionally desire but nevertheless permits due to His overriding desire to allow creaturely freedom and knowing that even these sinful acts will fit into the overall scheme of things so that God s ultimate ends in human history will be accomplished. For example if the miracles occur at a momentous time say a man s leprosy vanishing when Jesus speaks the words Be clean! and do not recur regularly in history and if the miracles are numerous and various then the chances of their being the result of some unknown natural causes are reduced.

  4. Pingback: An Explanation of Simple Foreknowledge | Wesleyan Arminian

  5. Sam Hobbs

    Wouldn’t this view of God’s foreknowledge indicate that God, since he could have chosen not to create, would have a possibly different knowledge than He does in fact have? If this is the case, how then can we say that he is in fact omniscient, or that God’s omniscience is dependent upon his will to create.

  6. ChadM

    Simple foreknowledge in no way corrects the character of God dilemma. First of all, God doesn’t just decide to create the “initial conditions” and sit back and see how it all plays out. That would make him a prisoner to man’s decisions. No, Even with simple foreknowledge there is God’s incremental interaction with every single human decision. So Cottrell calls his version of SF “incremental simple foreknowledge”. In this scheme, God foresaw the first incremental instance of time, and the human response (e.g. Choice A). Based on this, He made a decision about how to respond (He already knew the possibilities and how He would respond to choice A versus Choice B). He then thought through the next increment of time, and repeated the process. And so on and so on. So the problem remains! When God foresaw John Doe’s rejection of grace at time X, why did He choose to leave John Doe at that same (or less) level of Grace at time X+1. Surely, being omnipotent, God could have chosen to grant John a higher level of grace (or a more persuasive set of influences) at time X+1, but did not. Surely God could grant a level of grace (or a set of circumstances such as a Theophany) that overcomes John’s resistant will, such that what He would have foreseen in the next increment of time (X+1) a different (more positive) response. But He didn’t do this for John. Why? I don’t know! John could have responded to the grace God DID give him, so John is responsible. However, there is a level of grace God DID NOT choose to give John, though He could have. So John’s eternal destiny is still ultimately in God’s control. He has the final say. He is sovereign. There is something in His choice that could have changed John’s destiny. The SF models downplay God’s own choices and decisions that play a part in the future He is “seeing”.

    • Good thoughts Chad. A couple of things I would disagree with though regarding your representation of Simple Foreknowledge.

      First, God gives the grace necessary for a person to respond, but he doesn’t work in ways that require a predetermined response. “Making” someone believe is off the table, because God isn’t coercive. He wants us to freely respond in a relational way.

      Second, you’re more describing Molinism more than Simple Foreknowledge. In SF there are no limitless number of incremental alternate realities for God to ponder over what might happen if he did one thing instead of another. He knows what will happen because it will eventually happen, not because he caused it to happen. So it’s meaningless to speak of God knowing with certainty what person x will in a situation that is never actualized. Since the situation never existed, there is nothing for God to know about it.

      For more on this see the post I did on SF here: https://wesleyanarminian.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/an-explanation-of-simple-foreknowledge/

  7. ChadM

    Kevin,

    Hi there… It’s been a while! I though I’d respond to this a couple years later. LOL!

    Would you not agree that God, in His infinite power, wisdom, love, and providence, can grant an illumination, a set of circumstances, or even a theophanic experience that makes the probability of a positive, free-will response extremely high, if not inevitable? Do you believe it is a level playing field, where all people have equal revelatory grace – both the person born on a remote island, and the child of a loving Christian household? Can’t God make Ba’laam speak a blessing when he intended to speak a curse over Israel? Can’t God very quickly influence a Saul to become a Paul after one Damascus road encounter? If God could do it for one, He could do it for any. So back to my example: When God foresaw John Doe’s rejection of grace at time X, He chose to leave John Doe at the same (or less) level of grace at time X+1. He God could have chosen to grant John a higher level of grace at time X+1, such as a Damascus road encounter, He but did not choose to do this for John Doe (as He did for Saul). He’s sovereign and has purposes we can’t fathom.

    As for the notion that I’m speaking of Molinism. I can assure you that I’m not. I’m describing Cottrell’s noetic “big bang”, which is a chronological set of decisions (“Free Knowledge”) in God’s foreknowledge, each made on the basis of man’s sequential choices and His own responses (pre-conceived possibilities – “Natural Knowledge”). I’m not addressing “Middle Knowledge”. My point is that God could have sovereignly decided at point X+1 to give an overwhelming amount of wooing grace resulting in a high probability of a positive response (regardless of the middle knowledge of its effectiveness of not). He’s the master chess player, master romancer, master wooer, etc… He doesn’t need middle knowledge to know that He could have wooed someone to Heaven who is now in Hell. Could you at least agree that if God granted a Damascus road experience to John Doe (totally undeservedly), there is a “high” probability that John Doe’s negative sentiments would have switched to positive ones?

    • Thanks for the comment Chad. I think God is primarily relational. His grace is drawing and wooing, and generally not coercive. It can be heavy handed (as with Paul), but even then, it is not coercive to the extent of forcing one outcome.

      Different people respond differently to God’s “heavy handed” grace. It will soften one person and lead him to repentance. It will harden another and cause a recalcitrant attitude. There is no guarantee that it will bring a person to repentance (Matt 23:37).

      I think God’s grace is a gift given generously to all, and is sufficient to bring everyone to repentance (John 1:9, Romans 8:32, TItus 2:11). Those who respond to God’s drawing are enabled to be reconciled and in relationship with God. He rewards those who seek him (Heb 11:6-7). I think of grace in terms of reconciliation and relationship. Not in terms of X+1 mathematics.

      Thomas Oden wrote the following about the nature of grace, and I find it helpful.

      “Sufficient grace is provided to all categories of recipients, the just, the unjust, and those who have never had the opportunity to hear of God’s justice and mercy. It is given not only to those justified by grace through faith, but also to unresponsive and obdurate sinners, those lacking opportunity to hear clear testimony of the divine mercy, those who earnestly seek God, and unbaptized infants. The sufficiency is offered with the gift; the deficiency follows only from it’s inadequate acceptance.”

      Hope that helps, God bless,
      Kevin

  8. ChadM

    Kevin, thanks for the response. I totally agree that God has given sufficient grace to all, and that he pursues (at varying levels) relationships with people both the saved and the unsaved, both the seeking (e.g. Cornelius, Lydia) and the non-seeking (e.g. Saul). Those who reject His initiated relationship reject His grace and needlessly carve their own path to a godless eternity. The only difference in our thinking is that you insist that the result of any intensity of relational pursuit by God could be a 50/50 crap shoot, and that God could not have had any more of the people of this world in Heaven no matter what He did different or how He decided to frame the world. I disagree.

    • Well, I do believe scripture teaches that God’s grace can ultimately be rejected. To call it a 50/50 crap shoot misses the picture I think, but whatever.

      I do believe that the optimal number of people that could be in heaven will be there. Or put differently, God is not holding anything back. If God could “simply turn up the intensity” in an X+1 grace formula to always get his preferred outcome, then everyone would be saved. But not everyone will be.

      Thanks for the interaction.

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