Monthly Archives: February 2013

From Everlasting to Everlasting, Thou Art God

Like “O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?” and “God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom,” this article is based on a paper that I wrote in the summer of 1984 while working on a M.A. in Humanities with California State University Dominguez Hills. However unlike them, it is substantially different from the original paper. The reason is that I’ve omitted both of the long quotations and some of the numerous footnotes that the paper contained. I’ve referred to the quotations and given or referred to some of the footnotes in square brackets.

In Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God,” Moses [Psalm 90 is traditionally ascribed to Moses] expresses his faith that God is from eternity to eternity. Traditionally theists have followed his belief that not only does God exist and, as creator, has He existed longer than created things, but also that God is eternal.

But what does it mean to say that God is eternal? Stephen Charnock, following the generally accepted view of God’s eternity, answers the question by stating that God is eternal in that He is without beginning, without end, and without succession or change [Stephen Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, “Discourse V: on the Eternity of God, I. How God is eternal or in what respects he is so]. It is on the third of his qualifying phrases, “without succession or change,” a concept originating in Greek philosophy rather than in the Bible [in my paper I supported this claim with a quotation from Ronald H. Nash, The Concept of God (Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), p. 73], that I shall focus my attention on in this article. I shall consider reasons why the view that God is timelessly (outside of time, and thus without succession or change as well as without beginning and without end) eternal is widely supported, arguments that have been set forth against it, and the suitability of the alternate view that God is temporally (within time) eternal [The terms “timelessly eternal” and “temporarily eternal” are from Stephen T. Davis, Logic and the Nature of God (William B. Eerdmans, 1983), p. 8. In this article, the two views will generally be referred to as “the doctrine of divine timelessness” and “the doctrine of divine everlastingness.”]

The best-known exposition of the doctrine of divine timelessness occurs in the The Consolation of Philosophy of the sixth-century Christian philosopher Boethius. He defines “eternity” as “the whole, perfect, and simultaneous possession of endless life” and claims that God sees all things, including things past and future, as if they were taking place in the present [Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, V, 6. In my paper I included the lengthy summary of Boethius’s exposition given by Richard Swinburne in his The Coherence of Theism (Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 216-217.] An analogy given by various writers is of a traveller on a road seeing only the neighbourhood where he is but someone in a high place above the road seeing the whole road at once. Boethius made the claim in arguing that God’s foreknowing the future and people’s having free will are compatible. However I concluded in “God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom” that God’s omniscience does not include knowledge of future things that are dependent upon the operation of human will. Thus the doctrine of divine timelessness’s supporting the general Christian tradition that God’s omniscience includes knowledge of future free human acts does not motivate me to accept the view that God is timeless.

In arguing that God is timelessly eternal, Thomas Aquinas claims that “the notion of eternity follows immutability, as the notion of time follows movement” [Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, 1, X, 2]. However I do not believe that God is totally immutable or changeless, my thinking that to describe Him as immutable is just to say that He remains fixed in His character. [In my paper I quoted from the section on God’s immutability in Richard Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism (Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 211-215.] Thus the doctrine of divine timelessness’s following from or explaining the traditional Christian belief that God is totally immutable does not motivate me to accept the view that God is timeless.

Two more reasons for a Christian’s being tempted by the doctrine of divine timelessness are that it emphasizes the transcendence of God and that it seems analogous to the doctrine of divine spacelessness, which are generally recognized by Christians. Regarding the latter I don’t understand the relationships between God and space and between time and space well enough for it to influence me at this time. And regarding the former I don’t see the need to exalt God’s transcendence in every possible way but just in the ways that the Bible does and that are essential to theism. However I don’t believe that the Bible teaches that God is timeless or feel any theological need to accept divine timelessness. [In my paper I quoted from or referred to the books by Stephen T. Davis and Ronald H. Nash that I named earlier in this article.]

In fact I am repelled by the doctrine of divine timelessness because I think that it has an inner incoherence and because I think that it is incompatible with the Biblical picture of God. The inner incoherence can be seen by considering Boethius’s claim that God is present to all times at once. According to this view God is simultaneously present at my birth, my present, and my death. This would seem to imply that my birth, my present, and my death are simultaneous times–which is false. A defender of timelessness would probably reply that I am failing to distinguish between viewing an event from the divine perspective and from the human perspective and would refer to an analogy such as the one I gave earlier. Although the defender’s claim might be true, I am stuck with my limited mind and, if I want to be rational, must reject what it judges to be incoherent. [In my paper I quoted from the book by Stephen Davis that I named earlier in this article.]

Both Davis and Nash refer to Nelson Pike’s argument in his God and Timelessness [Nelson Pike, God and Timelessness (Shocken Books, 1970). Not having access to that book when I wrote my paper, in it I quoted the summary of Pike’s argument given in Ronald H. Nash, The Concept of God  (Zondervan, 1983), pp. 79-80). Since then I’ve gotten Wipf and Stock Publishers’ 2002 republication of God and Timelessness.] It does not seem to me that a timeless being can be the creator and sustainer of the world or a personal being who acts in history, both of which the Bible pictures God as being.

What is the alternative to a timeless God? A temporal God. But can a temporal God be everything that the Christian God is supposed to be? I believe so. He can still be eternal, in the Biblical sense of being everlasting or without beginning and without end. He can still be omniscient, in the voluntarily limited sense that I argued for in “God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom.” He can still be immutable, in the sense of remaining fixed in His essential nature. And He can act in time, as creator and sustainer of the world and as a personal God involved in human history. Thus to Him I can say, as did Moses, “THOU ART GOD!” [in Psalm 90:2, quoted in full at the beginning of this article].

In my next post I’ll begin a series of posts on the advantages claimed for open theism that I identified in the first post at Open Theism, “An Introduction to Open Theism.”

Advertisements

God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom

Like “O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?”  this article is based on a paper that I wrote in the summer of 1984 while working on a M.A. in Humanities with California State University Dominguez Hills. That paper included numerous footnotes, some of which I’ve given or referred to here in square brackets. Otherwise the article is almost identical to the paper.

Most Christians believe both that God is omniscient and that human beings have a free will. But are God’s omniscience and man’s freedom consistent? I think that they are and in this article shall try to demonstrate that they are.

It is necessary to begin by defining the terms “omniscience” and “freedom.” I shall define “omniscience” as “the quality of possessing all possible knowledge” and “freedom” as “the state of being able to do something or not to do it.” But does “all possible knowledge” include knowledge of the future? Since most Christians would agree with Augustine’s claims that “to confess that God exists, and at the same time to deny that He has foreknowledge of future things, is the most manifest folly” and that “one who is not prescient of all future things is not God” [Augustine, City of God, V, 9], I shall consider first the implications of God’s omniscience including knowledge of all future things. Then I shall consider the consequences of His omniscience not including knowledge of all future things.

If God foreknows all future things, then everything has to happen in the way that it is foreknown. And if everything has to happen as foreknown, then those involved have to participate in the way in which they are foreknown to take part. And if those involved have to participate as foreknown, then they are not free not to take part. In other words, God’s foreknowledge seems logically to negate human freedom. That the Reformers recognized this can be illustrated by the following quotation from Luther: “For if we believe it to be true that God foreknows and predestines all things, that he can neither be mistaken in his foreknowledge nor hindered in his predestination, and that nothing takes place but as he wills it (as reason itself is forced to admit), then on the testimony of reason itself there cannot be any free choice in man or angel or any creature” [Martin Luther, On the Bondage of the Will, Conclusion].

However most Christians not only believe that God foreknows the future but also that human beings have a free will. How do they reconcile the two? They either argue that foreknowledge does not involve determination of future actions but mere knowledge of future free actions, or redefine “free” in such a way that it is compatible with being determined [in my paper I illustrated this in a footnote with a lengthy quotation from Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, First Part, Q. 83, Art. 1], or claim that how to reconcile the two is a secret of God beyond understanding [in my paper I illustrated this in a footnote with a lengthy quotation from Stephen Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Discourse VIII: on God’s Knowledge, II. What God Knows]. However, as indicated in the preceding paragraph, I think that foreknowledge of events logically implies that the events are predetermined, and thus I reject the first proposed means of reconciliation of God’s foreknowledge and human freedom as illogical. Redefining “free” in such a way that it is compatible with being determined gives it, in my opinion, something other than a natural meaning, and thus I reject the second means as well. Claiming that how to reconcile the two is a mystery might be theologically sound, but it is philosophically unsound and so I reject it too (I wrote the paper as a philosophy paper, not as a theology paper).

If, against common Christian belief, “omniscience” does not include knowledge of all future things, it would seem to follow that the future is not determined. For if the future were determined but God did not know the future, then He would be lacking some possible knowledge and, according to my initial definition of “omniscience” as “the quality of possessing all possible knowledge,” would not be omniscient. But if the future is not determined, true prophecies regarding the future, which the Bible indicates have been made, could not be made. Thus, if the Bible is true, it would seem that at least part of the future is determined and consequently that “omniscience” includes knowledge of at least part of the future.

Before proceeding, I shall summarize my conclusions thus far. God’s omniscience including knowledge of all future things would imply a determined future and thus would be inconsistent with human freedom. But true prophecies of future events imply that at least part of the future is determined and that God’s omniscience includes knowledge of at least part of the future.

What is my solution? I believe that God’s omniscience includes of the future only those parts that He actually decrees or that are necessitated by or can be predicted without chance of error from the past and the present. I do not believe that it includes knowledge of those things that are dependent upon the operation of human free will.

Thus my final verdict is that GOD IS OMNISCIENT and MAN IS FREE. The basis of God’s omniscience and man’s freedom being consistent is God’s having voluntarily limited the realm of possible knowledge when He created free creatures [in my paper I observed in a footnote that John Lucas had proposed a similar view in his The Freedom of the Will (Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 75]. THANK YOU, LORD, FOR TRUSTING US WITH THE GIFT OF FREEDOM!

My next post will be based on another paper that I wrote in my studies with California State University Dominguez Hills, “From Everlasting to Everlasting, Thou Art God.”

Saint Valentine

Saint Valentine

How did Valentine’s Day begin? Some connect it with an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia. Some connect it with one or more saints of the early Christian church named Valentine. And some connect it with an old English belief that birds choose their mates on February 14. Here I’ll share the story that has come down about one (or more) of the saints.

Valentine or Valentinus was a priest who lived in Rome during the third century.

The Roman Emperor Claudius II thought that single men made better soldiers than men with wives and families and passed a law forbidding young men to marry. Valentine maintained that marriage was part of God’s plan for the world and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. He also aided Christians who were persecuted by Claudius. He was caught and imprisoned.

Many young people visited Valentine at the jail. They threw flowers and notes through the bars of his cell window. One of the young people was his jailer’s blind daughter. Her father let her visit Valentine in his cell, where sometimes they sat and talked for hours. According to one story, Valentine laid his hands upon the girl’s eyes and her sight was restored.

Claudius took a liking for the prisoner. However when Valentine tried to convert him, Claudius refused and condemned him to death.

On the day that he was to be executed, Valentine wrote the jailor’s daughter a note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty and signing it, “Love from your Valentine.”

Valentine was beaten with clubs and stoned and, when that didn’t kill him, was beheaded. The date was February 14, 269 A.D.

In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius named February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day in honour of Valentine’s martyrdom. Although Valentine greetings became popular in the Middle Ages, written valentines didn’t begin to appear until after 1400 A.D. The oldest still in existence is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt (a battle between the English and French in France).

Now every year on February 14 people give greeting cards called valentines (and other gifts such as candy and flowers) to their sweethearts, family members, and friends.

Valentine's Day

In my next two posts I’ll share two papers that I wrote as sequels to the paper that I shared last week,”O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?”–“God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom” and “From Everlasting to Everlasting, Thou Art God.”

God’s Omniscience

In this post I’ll consider the fifth point in John Sanders’ summary of openness theology at Open Theism Information Site:

Finally, the omniscient God knows all that can be known given the sort of world he created. The content of divine omniscience has been debated in the Christian tradition; between Thomism and Molinism for example. In the openness debate the focus is on the nature of the future: is it fully knowable, fully unknowable or partially knowable and partially unknowable? We believe that God could have known every event of the future had God decided to create a fully determined universe. However, in our view God decided to create beings with indeterministic freedom which implies that God chose to create a universe in which the future is not entirely knowable, even for God. For many open theists the “future” is not a present reality–it does not exist–and God knows reality as it is.

This view may be called dynamic omniscience (it corresponds to the dynamic theory of time rather than the stasis theory). According to this view God knows the past and present with exhaustive definite knowledge and knows the future as partly definite (closed) and partly indefinite (open). God’s knowledge of the future contains knowledge of that which is determinate or settled as well as knowledge of possibilities (that which is indeterminate). The determined future includes the things that God has unilaterally decided to do and physically determined events (such as an asteroid hitting our moon). Hence, the future is partly open or indefinite and partly closed or definite and God knows it as such. God is not caught off-guard–he has foresight and anticipates what we will do.

Our rejection of divine timelessness and our affirmation of dynamic omniscience are the main controversial elements in our proposal and the view of foreknowledge receives the most attention. However, the watershed issue in the debate is not whether God has exhaustive definite knowledge (EDK) but whether God is ever affected by and responds to what we do. This is the same watershed that divides Calvinism from Arminianism.

For now I’m just going to explain a few of the terms that Sanders uses in the above quotation. In my next two regular posts I’ll share two papers that I wrote as sequels to “O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?” affirming “dynamic omniscience” and rejecting “divine timelessness”–“God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom” and “From Everlasting to Everlasting, Thou Art God.”

“Omniscient” means having complete knowledge of all things. Sanders observes that Christian thinkers disagree on what that knowledge includes and explains that open theists hold that it doesn’t include the parts of the future brought above by our free actions because they haven’t yet been determined and thus aren’t knowable.

“Thomism” is the theological and philosophical system of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). In his Summa Theologica Aquinas argues that God knows future contingent things, including parts of the future brought about by our free will, because He knows them in eternity, which Aquinas believed is outside of time (First Part Question 14 Article 13). Further on Aquinas also argues that everything is under God’s providence even though that providence doesn’t impose necessity on some things, such as things brought about by our free will (Question 22 Article 4); this suggests to me that Aquinas believed that another reason that God knows future contingent things is that they are under His providence. [Summa Theologica is included in Great Books of the Western World (volumes 19-20), which I have.]

“Molinism” is the theory of Luis de Molina (1535-1600) that God not only knows what will happen in the future but also knows what would happen if circumstances were different from what they are. Although Molinists believe that because of His having given us free will God can’t control what we do in any set of circumstances, they hold that God can control certain aspects of the circumstances themselves and thus can affect what we do. Molina called God’s knowledge of what would happen if circumstances were different from what they are “middle knowledge” and the theory is sometimes referred to by that name. [Not having any of Molina’s writings, I derived the foregoing from Bruce A. Ware’s excursus on Molinism in his God’s Lesser Glory (pages 38-40).]

“The dynamic theory of time” is the theory that God is not timeless and relates to the world within the bounds of time (past, present, and future). See “divine timelessness” below.

“The stasis theory [of time]” is the theory that God is timeless, experiencing time as an eternal present. See “divine timelessness” below.

“Divine timelessness” refers to God’s being outside of time, time’s existing for Him as one eternal present. Those rejecting divine timelessness interpret God’s being “eternal” as His being everlasting, having no beginning nor end, and view Him as having a past, present, and future.

Please let me know in an e-mail or in a comment on this post of any other terms used by Sanders in the quotation that you think should be explained, and I’ll try to explain them.

My next post will be a tribute to Valentine’s Day. In the two posts after it I’ll share the two papers referred to above.