On Timelessness and the Eternal Now – A Problem for God’s Responsiveness

“By itself, the abstraction “impassible” can get us nowhere. It might even suggest something far more misleading than the most naïf Old Testament picture of a stormily emotional Jehovah. Either something inert, or something which was “Pure Act” in such a sense that it could take no account of events within the universe it had created.” CSL, Letters to Malcolm

This post will be short. My goal is to give the most devastating critique of the Eternal Now view – indeed to show why it cannot be true. Let me begin.

The Eternal Now view holds that God sees all moments in a “single glance.” Now, if this is so, we can imagine the universe and all of space time laid out like a block with God beholding all moments of it at once. Thus we have, in this modernized Watchtower Metaphor, God as an eternally passive receiver (EPR). Yet, if God is an EPR, he cannot either i) create the world; or ii) causally interact with it at particular times.

i) Cannot be true because to create the world requires him first bringing that into existence which he is now seeing. Therefore he was not always seeing it; but at one time making it. This point is more debatable than the second, because one could just say that God is “always seeing what he is making” – eternally. So I do not wish to push it. The real problem comes in point ii). To imagine God at one point “using” his eternal knowledge to causally interact with some point on the timeline posits a causal loop and is therefore self-contradictory. Let me show why.

Often those who hold to the Eternal Now view use it to explain prophecy. God can prophecy at time 1 what will happen at time 3 because he is “already seeing” time 3. Therefore he just uses what he sees in his interaction with time 1. But this cannot be true if God is eternally seeing all things in a single Now. For notice God has a single vision. What he sees at once already contains all that goes on in all of space-time. To say that he could therefore receive some data at time 3 and then go on from that or use that data to interact with time 1 is to really say that God is himself in a temporal, sequential process.

You see, on the Eternal Now view all of God’s actions really just reduce to one action; and all of his relations to creation really just reduce to one relation. His seeing of an isolated event at time 3 does not exclude his seeing of events all around time 3. But we certainly believe that God does such and such things because of the free actions of creatures in the timeline (like make a prophecy or answer a prayer.) God responds to his creation: he grieves at it, is pleased with it, and becomes man is crucified because of the evil acts that it does. God has the experiences that he has and performs some of the acts that he performs precisely because of what the creation does.

Now just try to imagine or explain how God could so respond to his creation on the Eternal Now view. Try to explain how what God sees – i.e. God’s knowledge of the creation – could ever in fact be used in the very creation itself. It cannot be done without dissolving God’s timelessness and making him sequential. Any reactionary action on God’s part creates a causal loop wherein God, receiving information at time 3, then goes on to make a determinate decision regarding creation at time 1 (think of prophecy.) But God in his moment of seeing time 3 is already seeing time 1 in that moment. He therefore either already sees himself so interacting with time 1 and giving the prophecy, which is circular because it cannot happen until he sees the event at time 3, at which all of space-time is already eternally there and eternally settled. Either that or God does not see himself already so interacting with time 1 and giving the prophecy, which makes it impossible for him to see everything in a single Eternal Now, and puts him in time.

The truth is, any sort of response between God and the World requires God to be sequential. He must experience a before and after. Otherwise, everything is a one way, top down causation and we are back to the Determinist picture again. Therefore God must in some sense be in time. He cannot be purely timeless, at least not in such a way that excludes his sequential action in time.

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