God and eternity
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The idea of eternity as it relates to God is an important concept in theology. Theists say that God is eternally existent. How this is understood depends on which definition of eternity is used. On one hand, God may exist in eternity, a timeless existence where categories of past, present, and future just do not apply. On the other hand, God will exist for or through eternity, or at all times, having already existed for an infinite amount of time and continuing to exist for an infinite amount of time. One other definition states that God exists outside the human concept of time, but also inside of time. The reasoning for this definition is that if God did not exist both outside time and inside time, God would not be able to interact with humans. God refers to himself as “the beginning and the ending” and “the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo wrote that time exists only within the created universe so that God exists outside time:
In the eminence of thy ever-present eternity, thou precedest all times past, and extendest beyond all future times, for they are still to come — and when they have come, they will be past. But "Thou art always the Selfsame and thy years shall have no end." Thy years neither go nor come; but ours both go and come in order that all separate moments may come to pass. All thy years stand together as one, since they are abiding. Nor do thy years past exclude the years to come because thy years do not pass away. All these years of ours shall be with thee, when all of them shall have ceased to be. Thy years are but a day, and thy day is not recurrent, but always today. Thy "today" yields not to tomorrow and does not follow yesterday. Thy "today" is eternity.— St. Augustine, Confessions, Book XI, Chapter XIII
There is ample biblical evidence that God is eternal, but the Bible is less clear on which of the two senses is true. The first sense, and perhaps the one with the longest pedigree, is that God exists independently of time. On this view, we cannot say that God has lived for a certain number of years or will live a certain number of years into the future. The second notion is to say that God is in time but everlasting. This is sometimes called sempiternity. Both conceptions agree that God's existence never ends. They disagree on whether God is in time or outside of it.
John Feinberg, in his book No One Like Him argues for God's omnitemporality over his timelessness. Although agreeing with Craig that the biblical data are compatible with both views, Feinberg believes that it is easier to make sense of the notion of omnitemporality over atemporal eternity. Feinberg finds it difficult to believe that an omniscient, supremely rational being could know everything there is to know without being temporal. He also believes that the concept of fellowship is easier to understand on the omnitemporal model. Scripture also points to God as having fellowship with and interacting with human beings at various points in their lives, which seems difficult to understand unless there is a temporal sequence in God's thought life. Regardless, Feinberg affirms that both views are fully theologically orthodox, and that divine timelessness does have the advantage of not potentially slipping into the heretical notion of process theology.
- "St. Augustine Confessions - Book Eleven". Chapter XIII.
- editor, John S. Feinberg ; John S. Feinberg, general (2006). No one like Him : the doctrine of God ([Rev. ed.]. ed.). Wheaton. Ill.: Crossway Books. pp. 255–256. ISBN 978-1581348118.
- editor, John S. Feinberg ; John S. Feinberg, general (2006). No one like Him : the doctrine of God ([Rev. ed.]. ed.). Wheaton. Ill.: Crossway Books. pp. 428–433. ISBN 978-1581348118.