What time is it for God?
“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8).
“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know” (St. Augustine).
The language of the Bible, like all languages, is time-bound with verb tenses (times) that describe our temporal experience. But time is a creature, that is, it is one of God’s creations. Genesis tells us that “in the beginning” God created the heavens and the earth. This raises the question of what God was doing before creation. Augustine reminds us that this is a wrong kind of nonsensical question. God, explains Augustine, exists separately from time. There is no “before” or “after” for God. God created time but is not subject to it (unless as in the case of Jesus, God chooses to subject Godself to time). Since there is no time before the creation of time, it is nonsensical to ask what God was doing “then” because there was no “then”! There is no past that God has left behind and is powerless to change, and no future where God as yet has no influence. God precedes time but does not proceed in time. Rather, it is in the divine eternity, “which is supreme over time because it is in a never-ending present” that God exists. In other words, God is literally timeless. Our concepts of past-present-future are all included in God’s always present.
Unlike God, we humans are time-bound creatures, meaning we are literally bound or tied to time. It is almost impossible for us to conceive of a time-less world. Like the early Christians we are eager to know the time of Jesus’ return, and like them we think that the fulfillment of the promise of Christ’s return seems an awfully long time coming. St. Peter realized that God does not experience time as we do and so he warns us to be careful not to bind God to our concept of existence. As time-bound creatures we should accept our creaturely limitations and serve God, our fellow humans and creation as best we can within the framework of time to which we are subject.
God’s timelessness should caution us to make sure we don’t get all caught up in controversial doctrines that try to explain God in terms of our human experience of time. Such doctrines will always fail to adequately account for God’s mysterious, timeless way of being and will usually result in mind-numbing, nonsense. For example, debates about predestination versus free will, or about when creation began are fruitless and should be avoided. As a result, there would be far fewer meaningless theological arguments between Christians, and we could more confidently live our lives before the face of our gracious, timeless God, as the responsible, time-bound creatures that we are.