Category Archives: Timelessness

Divine Mathematics: Molinism’s Three Logical Moments and Divine Timelessness

God has three “logical moments” in his knowledge according to Molinism: knowledge of what could occur, what would occur, and what will occur. Now, this last moment (God’s “free knowledge”) seems to require that God be temporal. But Molina could not have thought this, since he was a Catholic (I think timelessness was de fide in the 16th century?)

Anyway, maybe he could have said this.

The three logical moments of knowledge in God exist simultaneously, as sort of three premises that he deduces in one timeless act. If this is true, it seems God’s free knowledge of what “will” occur would more correctly be called his knowledge of what “is occurring at such and such a time.” For “will” occur imports temporal passage into God’s knowledge, which wouldn’t exist if he were timeless.

Or you could look the creation of the world like an equation. 1 + 2 = 3, where 1 is God’s natural knowledge, 2 is his middle, and 3 his free. Now, God being timelessly omniscient could know all possible permutations and equations, and he could timelessly choose to actualize whichever equation he thought best. Thus God timelessly contemplates a particular equation as actually existing, and timelessly contemplates an infinite number of other equations as not existing, but as possibly able to exist were he to will their existence.

Maybe I should buy part IV of the Concordia and see if he addresses this issue specifically.

Does God’s Contingent Action Imply He Has Accidents (and Conflict with Simplicity?)

“As in God “what is” and “whereby it is” are the same, so likewise in Him “what acts” and “whereby it acts” are the same, since everything acts, inasmuch as it is a being. Hence the Divine Nature is both that whereby God acts, and the very God Who acts.” Aquinas, ST III q. 3 a. 2

It seems to me the question of God’s knowledge of creation is similar to the question of the second person assuming a human nature. In each case, something is true of God that need not necessarily be true of him – i.e. he has this particular knowledge of creation or he assumes this particular created nature. Presumably God could have different knowledge or could have assumed a different nature.

Open theists say this means God cannot be simple, since such things appear accidental to God. And if a thing is accidental to something else, it can be added to it. But if something can be added to God, he is temporal and composed, and can at one time have “this” property and at another “that.”

But what if we think about it like this. God is the same across all possible worlds because in all possible worlds God knows his one act, which is his existing and his doing. But this means that we can only arrive at a sort of analogical predication of God, insofar as in every possible world we say that God has both a necessary existence (willing his own goodness) and a contingent existence (willing it in this way – say with a creation – rather than that way – say without one.)

Is God the same in a world that is different than this one? Yes, just like we would be the same person even if we did otherwise. For in any possible world God is still knowing his own existence and his own action. That action is different in terms of how it terminates (he actualizes this creature rather than that, or he even fails to actualize any creature at all.) But the action, in terms of the way it is performed, is the same (a necessary end attained through a contingent means.) In other words, God is the same in all possible worlds because God justin st is an instance of free act. In any world that could exist, God would be freely acting to bring it about. That is, he would always know the extent of his own free action. Therefore, God’s action would not be essentially different in any possible world even if the world was different, or if no world existed at all (God would know that he is freely actualizing his own goodness without bringing about a world, for instance.)

Interestingly in the question in the ST that asks whether God’s will is the cause of things Aquinas says “the divine being is undetermined.” And he also says in the previous question that the divine will “determines itself” to things which it has no necessary connection to. These thoughts lead me to believe that we can attribute both necessary and contingent existence, analogously, to God’s single act of being. We can consider these attributes under certain respects: God’s necessity in terms of him wiling his own goodness and his contingency in terms of the way in which he wills that goodness. This saves us from having to say that God’s knowledge (and will) are things “outside” or “extrinsic” to God himself, but still allows us to speak truly about God’s necessary existence.

Norris Clarke’s Explanation of God’s Way of Knowing

Clarke was a Thomist. As such he was committed to the idea of God as pure actuality and timeless. Yet, as most Catholics do (which separates them from Calvinists) Clarke also believed in true libertarian freedom. But then how can God know free choices, since they would seem to “actualize” God’s own knowledge? (The absolute determinist option – that God knows by determining – is not open to Clarke.)

In previous posts I’ve laid out many of the problems in various models of a timeless God’s way of knowing free willed acts. They all break down insofar as God becomes an eternally passive receiver of information, to which he must “react.” But “reaction” (and reception) is something a timeless, changeless God cannot do. Thus, while certain models may explain how God eternally knows free acts (by eternally passively receiving knowledge of them), these models make God unable to actually respond to or act on what he knows. For that creates sequence in God’s acts, which consequently makes him temporal.

Now, Norris Clarke had an interesting take on this problem. He supposed that God knows free choices, not by unilaterally determining them, nor by passively receiving knowledge of them, but by synergistically and actively doing them with the creature itself. As he says, “God knows not by being acted upon, but through his own action in us.” (A Philosophical Approach to God.)

Now this approach deserves some attention. Can it solve the problems that the traditional divine reception model creates (where God is passively receiving knowledge, e.g. on a watchtower)? For one, if Clarke is correct here, it would follow that God’s creative act – his granting of free will – would be radically different from what is normally supposed in the classic literature. God’s bringing into being free beings would be the same thing as, or logically connected to, the opening up of himself to various determinate actions in and through these beings themselves. Thus God’s act of creating would simultaneously also be a divine self-limitation or vulnerability, insofar as God really allows his creative powers to flow through channels which may or may not be pleasing to him. This would not make God “dependent on” creatures to actualize his own nature against his will on creatures. But it would entail that God has so chosen in accordance with his will to be able to be actualized in his nature by free creatures. (There is a world of difference here.) If this makes God’s will dependent on creatures for the fulfillment of a desire it is only because he has so freely chosen to allow his desire to be dependent on something outside himself. And so again we come to a divine emptying, a divine humility, inherent in the very act of creating and relating to the world.

But perhaps this isn’t so radical a view after all. For have not theists for thousands of years believed at least in some rudimentary form that God in granting free will has also limited his own omnipotence and power in the world?

What is perhaps more interesting – at least to me – is whether or not Clarke’s view can save us from the Causal Loop objection. (You can see that objection fully laid out here: In short, the objection shows that if God receives a particular free willed act at time 1 into his knowledge by passively receiving it, then he cannot use that knowledge to interact with the creation, for that would imply a) God being temporal; and b) a causal loop, since each moment of time would already be present to a timeless God.

But if Clarke is right, then God is not passively receiving moments of time or free willed act, either one by one, or in a single divine moment of reception. Rather, God is in a single timeless act atively acting in and through free beings. This may be unimaginable – i.e. it may posit a mode of causation that we cannot form adequate mental pictures of – but does it involve a contradiction? It’s hard to see that it does. For, from God’s point of view, his one act of creation is single. Ergo, each separate thing in creation is, from this creative perspective, inseparably connected. We can get a grasp of this even a little bit by thinking about how each bit of matter must, if we could but follow out the connection of all physical objects, be affected by every other bit of matter. The idea that one star on this side of the universe is impacted by one star on another side is really only a magnified example of the fact that my skin is somewhat impacted by the space heater that is humming a few feet away from me. For each occasion in the universe has a definite affect on something else, and that, on something else, and so on, throughout the entire cosmos. In fact the word “universe” itself attests to this: for it is that thing which contains everything else and thus unites all separate and finite realities into a single causally connected plane.

Now, could something like this be the case with God and his knowledge of free events? If God is actively working at every moment of time, then every moment of time is connected in a particular way to every other. There would of course be a “forward” connection, as time moves from left to right. But there would also be a “backward” one, insofar as the providential God brings meaning to future events based on past actions.

Does this notion of God, timelessly “acting through” every free act throughout all time, avoid the Causal Loop objection? To say yes, one would have to show that no “single” free act in time is the “result” of God’s doing such and such at another point in time. For once you have the temporal stuff determining God you make God temporal.

But my head hurts too much right now to try to parse this out if God is in fact by his own free choice timelessly working in and through all active free causes in time. Maybe better minds can come along behind me and do that.

God’s Timelessness, Permissive Decree, and Omnicausality

What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction…” Romans 9:22

There is a nest of problems that come with thinking of God’s causal relation to human’s free will. One of the views that I’ve been interested in lately (and that has been made popular in the blog world lately – see Eclectic Orthodoxy) is that of Hugh McCann’s. His position is not something entirely new, although he has perhaps done the best recently at most clearly articulating such a view. In short, McCann thinks that God causes absolutely all things that come to pass in time, but not in such a way that destroys free will. God “creates us willing.” He does not create “us” and then go on from there to make us will a certain way. Rather, his creation of us immediate. There is nothing between his willing that we exist in a certain way and our subsequent existing in that way. That would entail determinism – i.e. that God forces us to be something other than what we are. The way McCann sees it, and I tend to agree with him, is that God’s creating us just is his making us what we are in the first place.

Now this position is able to preserve human freedom because of God’s timeless causality. That is, because God transcends time, there is nothing out there in the world that comes “before” our free action such that since it exists therefore our free action must also exist. In other words, it’s not because at the beginning of the universe the particular atoms were arranged in just such a way that they necessarily arranged to produce our brains, and that those brains, themselves being governed by the laws of physics, had to give rise to the free choices that they did. Since God is really the ultimate cause and explanation of every movement in time whatsoever, the case is quite different. He operates on a different plane of causality altogether. The classic example is of his causal power being like that of an author to a novel. No one would accuse the author of “determining” the nature of his characters such that their freedom was violated when he makes them doing different things.

The whole question of a “violation” of freedom presupposes that there is some person already there – some creature that is just “given” – that God then acts on to make it do such and such. But again, if God is timeless, and if he is the source of all reality, there is no such character already “there” just existing by its own necessary existence. For it to exist at all God must first cause it to be. But in that case, we already have a fully created character.

One more thing that follows from saying that God is timeless is that asking whether or not he could have done otherwise becomes a meaningless question. I think it is true to say that God’s creation is contingent and that it need not exist. I also think it true to say that given God’s existence (which is necessary), the existence of the world does not necessarily follow. But, at the same time, since we know that God in fact has freely chosen to create (we do exist after all), God cannot not create. Since God is timeless there is no sequence to his acts (for sequence implies temporality and movement.) Therefore, since what he does he does changelessly, there is no sense in asking if he “could have” not created. For “could have” implies some past state of affairs when God could have actually acted differently. It’s not that God “had” to or “must” have created. Nor is it that he at one point just freely chose to do something he didn’t have to do. Both points put God in time. I would rather say that, given Gods necessary existence, a creation does not necessarily follow, but only if he freely wills to create the world does its existence follow. Putting the situation in a tenseless (and therefore timeless) conditional upholds both Gods necessity and the creation and contingency but avoids the “could have” problems.

Now, one apparent problem with McCann’s view is that it seems to fall victim to the critique against Calvinism insofar as it makes God the cause of sin and evil. It also seems to divide his will: God creates the very beings who he is wrathful with and who he commands to be otherwise, even though they have no real ability to do otherwise.

A couple things can be said here. The first is that the ability to do otherwise may not actually be necessary to secure moral responsibility. It may be that all that is required is a) a rational motive by the intellect; and b) the perception that acting on that motive is wrong. The second quick thing that can be said is that there may be nothing either logically incompatible or theologically problematic in saying that God has caused or created all sin and evil. You see, what we want to specifically avoid is making God out to be evil or of having him do or commit evil himself. But to create evil, or to make a universe in which sin exists, is not necessarily to commit an evil act. That would be a sort of fallacy of transfer: if God makes a red apple exist, he himself must be a red apple; or if God makes a man riding a bike, he himself must be riding a bike. Is it not possible that God, in creating evil and sinful actions, does not do evil insofar as all that he is causing he is doing with perfectly wise, pure, and good motives?

Now, this leads me to the last point of this post, which is about God’s permission of sin and evil. It’s easy to think that if God causes all that comes to pass, he is delighted or gleeful whenever sin occurs. After all, if people sin, they only do so because he has willed that they sin. And since God’s will is always fulfilled – since, indeed, according to this scheme all things that happen do so by God’s decree – how could he ever be upset about anything? Furthermore, how could he even “permit” a thing in the first place? If he is omnicausing all, just what could he be permitting, besides his own causal power?

This is where I think the question of God’s timeless relation to creation becomes really interesting. Sam Storms has suggested that God “is pleased to ordain his own displeasure” and John Piper has talked about the “complex emotional life” of God. Could it be that in willing sinners, God is revealing that which is in himself analogous to our experience of “permission” and “longsuffering”?

Think about it like this. What if God’s very causal, timeless relation is to the reprobate just such a species of permissiveness? What we mean by permission automatically presupposes some resistant object over and against which we exert a sort of causal allowance. What if God’s causal relation between sinners is this same sort of thing, just taken up timelessly?

On the Problem with a Temporal God

“Further, why should there always be becoming, and what is the cause of becoming?-this no one tells us.” Aristotle Metaphysics Book 12

It seems to me the ultimate objection to a temporal God is that it reduces God himself to a process – one more species of becoming. But becoming as such is conditioned. The process is a particular process that does this rather than that. As such it demands an explanation for why it goes the way it does. If God’s being is essentially becoming it cannot be such an explanation. Thus the process as a whole – just like Aquinas’ argument for an infinite series of contingent causes – exists inexplicably. Therefore there is no reason why it should exist rather than not. But it does exist. Therefore there must needs be some further back reality that itself is not one more species of becoming, but rather grounds it – an ultimate conditioner that gives rise to all conditioned processes. Thus we come to actus purus, etc.

I suppose one could ask if God’s “relation”to the world, or his conscious states, or his experiences, could themselves be species of becoming which he has determined so to be. Like saying “God is naturally actus purus, but wills to subject himself to a process of becoming.” But this to me is impossible. For what a thing essentially is, it must be, or else it is not itself but something else. Thus if we are led by argument to say that there must be a being who is itself Being and not just a process of becoming, it could not become other than Being, or else it would cease being itself. What one could say I think is that the particular relations in the created things come to be and pass away in a process of becoming. This is what led Aquinas to say things like the change (i.e. becoming) is not in God but only in the creature, and therefore God is “logically” related to the creature rather than “really” related to it as if the two existed in some common medium.

God cannot “become” a process because he is essentially not a process. Were he to undergo such becoming he would cease to be God – in fact he never would have been God, since in order to become anything one must first be able to be moved in some sense. And this implies some lack of being somewhere. It is not that movement or change are necessarily good or bad. This is the error of Process theology, which thinks that Classical theology believes that God is actus purus because it holds that all change must be either for the better or the worse. No. The insight of Classical theology is not that all change must be for the better or worse, but that all change implies a state of incompletion or lack of fullness. A thing takes on some new reality which it did not in the past have. But then the thing must have been in some way incomplete and able to be more and other than it was. It must have had some limitation such that it could not “be” unless it were subject to some process of sequential becoming. But who or what imposed such a metaphysical law? As Aristotle asked, “what is the cause of such becoming?” In short, change implies not necessarily good or bad (though it may). Rather, it implies a limit, which in the change is either now assumed, or now done away with, which the changing thing conforms to and is conditioned by. But then God would have some existing metaphysical limit or law imposed on him from outside himself, and where would that come from? So in either case we come up against some purely unmoved mover, some unconditioned conditioner, itself changeless which gives rise to changing things.

I will end by mentioning briefly in passing the straw man – or rather the misunderstanding – that often attends the idea that God is outside of time and becoming. I mean the idea that if he is so he is “frozen” or “inert.” Such words are merely abstractions from our sensual experience of what a “still” or “motionless” thing is like. But if God is actus purus, then in fact nothing can be further from the truth. Far from being lifeless or stagnant, God is literally pure act, supremely active and dynamic. He literally could not be more intimately involved, more connected, more careful about the world he has made. So let us not be misled by a mere metaphor when we are wondering about if God is outside of time.

On the Eternal I AM

“The simplest experience of ABC as a succession demands a soul which is not itself a mere succession of states, but rather a permanent bed along which these different portions of the stream of sensation roll, and which recognizes itself as the same beneath them all.” CSL, The Problem Of Pain

I keep coming back to the idea that a temporal God – or a God that undergoes unending sequence – is not fully satisfactory. There are two reasons why: i) aesthetically, my heart yearns for and even demands the eternal, the changeless, the absolute; and ii) philosophically, a state of mere successiveness cannot adequately meet the demands required of the First and Ultimate Cause. My first point you either feel and therefore agree with or you don’t. If you don’t, I don’t wish to convince you. Indeed it seems incoherent to try to compel a desire. You either long for the realm of Eternal Day and feel empty without it of you do not. But if you do not see the second point – that is the philosophical and metaphysical difficulty in supposing that God is in an infinite state (process?) of sheer succession – I would like to show why I think it is problematic.

Picture God as in time “going from” from one state of conscious experience to the next. He knows, for instance, that now you are reading this sentence. He also knows now that you were earlier making your coffee as you pulled up this blog site. And finally, he knows that you will eventually exit this page (and hopefully not think the author had a brain as full of holes as Swiss cheese.)

Now you will notice that in this thought experiment each of God’s “nows” exclude one another. That is, each of his conscious experiences – such as his knowing such and such at a particular time – exists in isolation. And not only that, but each one passes away as soon as the next comes to him (but where does it come from?) This to me, however, presents a problem. For just what is it that allows you to attribute all these changing conscious experiences to a single subject, God? If you say God simply just is his changing experiences, then far from positing a single, unified subject to which the different experiences apply you have split God up into trillions of ephemeral experiences existing in insolation. On the other hand if you say that God is not just his various conscious experiences, but is, deep down and further back, something more that unites them all, in what sense can you say God is in this way temporally changing?

Picture it like this. All who think that God is temporal or experiences becoming suppose it makes sense to imagine that God at some point existed “alone” or “without the world.” If God has no becoming – if in fact he is Pure Being itself – then there never was such a state with him, for “was” is a temporal word implying passage. But to those who think that God in himself changes, nevertheless there is such a state of him existing by himself, alone, without the world.

Now here you have God experiencing two conscious states: him existing alone, and him existing in relation to the world. In one state he knows that he exists alone; and in the next he knows that he exists along with the world. But here comes the difficulty: just what is the subject behind both of these experiences that stays the same throughout the transition? Again, if absolutely everything has changed from the one scenario to the next, then the two subjects cannot be the same. If God is purely temporal, just what is changeless? God’s will has changed, for he went from not willing a creation to willing one; as has God’s knowledge, for at one moment he did not have knowledge of an existing creation, and the next moment he did. God’s experience of his own being must also have changed. For in the first moment he was not a creator and experienced his own fullness, unrelated to any creation. But then he created and thus took on a new conscious experience. So again, I ask, just what “essential” aspect of God has not changed?

Do we want to say his Love? At first this seems plausible. God has remained changelessly loving, both when he existed alone as a Trinity, and then as he existed as a Trinity in relation to the creation. But does the creation itself add any new dimension to his Love? It would seem to, for without creation there can be no sin, and without sin there can be no forgiveness, or self-sacrificial cross. Therefore apart from creation God cannot be forgiving or self-sacrificial. Are we then to think that creation drew forth new dimensions of Love from a being who is the foundation and source of all Love whatsoever? If so, then Love itself has changed, from existing alone in the Trinity without creation, in a pure delight which knew no suffering, sin, forgiveness, endurance or difficulty. It has changed from this sort of Love (which seems more akin to our intuitions of Bliss rather than Love) to a sort of Love which now contends with the creation – which now grieves, has empathy, endures rebellion, suffers and dies on a cross.

And here again we come to a cross roads. Either we say that Love essentially is (that is Timelessly) these very things which it has in relation to creation. That is, we say Love is timelessly all of God’s experiences in relation to creation, such as his grieving, his forgiving, his triumphing, his enduring, his enjoying. Or we say it is not essentially this; and we say that it is rather God’s pure “bliss” that he had alone or before creation. Which one is essentially Love? Which one could still be Love itself, while lacking the other experience?

To take the first path is to conclude that Love really is Timelessly changeless and comprehensive or “containing” all God’s different temporal conscious states. God does not “become” more lovely in creating and then stooping in Human form to suffer with and for us. Rather, that just IS what God’s eternal love looks like. It is, as it were, a timeless diagram of essential Love. We describe this Timeless state imperfectly or incompletely: God is grieved at this time, delighted at this time, suffering at this time, and angry at this time. Yet somehow all these varying descriptions must really be describing what in itself is a single, unified Event or Experience: God’s Timeless I AM. As Lewis said somewhere else, “He came down from Heaven” can almost be transposed into “Heaven drew earth up into it,” and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt and death, are, from before all worlds, known by God from within.

On the other hand, to take the second path is to say that Love as such – Love qua Love – can change; can become more or other than what it is. Yet this seems absurd. For if God is all Good, and if, indeed, he is The Ultimate Good, it must be good for Love to change. It must be good for God to exist first, alone, loving only himself, and then to exist along with creation, loving himself and it. Yet here we can come back to precisely the same problem. If there are different states or experiences of God – him existing alone and also him existing with a creation – then you must give some unifying principle which makes both of these states “Good.” Indeed, if we can call these two different states both good, that presupposes that Good is bigger than both states individually. Each state would somehow share in or take part of the bigger reality of Goodness itself. Neither one, however, would be the full, absolute Good itself. The same point can be ran using the word “love” instead of “good.” If both God’s state of existing alone without a creation and his state of existing now with one are “loving,” then Love as such must be something further back than either state that God exists in. For both states participate, as it were, in the bigger reality of Love as Love, which itself is Eternal and Changeless. In which case we are led right back around to what I said in the previous paragraph: such a Principle or State of Being must be a) singular and unchanging; and b) comprehensive of all our descriptions of it which are different and refractory.

In other words, it seems we are led even by pure reason to a being who at its core is simply I AM – a being (a reality? a supra-person? a trinity?) who just IS his own act of being, which gets nothing from anything outside himself, and never passes away in any respect. Tolkien says in a letter I cannot now find that the revelation given to Moses on Mt. Sinai is enough to convince a rational person that it was given by, if not God, some super human intelligence. For how extraordinarily odd it is that the Supreme Being, whose existence was reached only after hundreds of years of Greek philosophy, was actually already revealed in the same profundity on a desert mountain when It told Moses his name: “I AM.” No primitive people could make up something so abstract and also so metaphysically and explanitorily powerful. The I AM is so radical that the Hebrews barely even reflect on it. Their Scriptures are not Platonic commentaries on God’s essence being equivalent to His existence; they are not deeply metaphysical speculations about how God is not one more thing that comes into being and passes out if it but is Pure Being, Pure I AM eternally. And yet, there it is: the I Am, recorded by a people who may not have been able to read, a people who were mere years before slaves in Egypt, a people who worshiped a calf made of gold. There, however many hundreds or thousands of years ago, from a people totally unconnected to philosophy, came the same revelation reached, imperfectly and only after much struggle, by the Plato’s and the Scorates’ and Aristotle’s – by some such great minds who gave their lives searching for Truth:

God is He Who Is: His name is “I Am Who Am.”