Some thoughts on time

These thoughts were made some time ago before I was Orthodox. They don’t necessarily represent the Fathers or the Tradition of the Church but they are a take on the issue that I think may be within the Tradition. Any thoughts or critiques?

I will begin by defining time as a measure of change. Things that change have a past, present and future. Things that do not change are said to be timeless because the past, present and future are indistinct and also there is no change to measure. Also, I understand that the future does not exist, expect as a potential, the present is an instant and lacks any permanence and the past also does not exist except as a memory. (Only timeless things truly exist in permanence.)

God is unchanging hence He exists without time. Creation has time because it is changing. Time began with Creation and will continue until Creation ceases to change; before Creation there was no time. We cannot think of what happened before because there was no change and we cannot say why did not God create earlier because there is no earlier. The first moment of Creation is the earliest time.

Time does not, therefore, have an eternal existence. It came into being with Creation. Like the rest of Creation it only existed in potential before the beginning of Creation. God’s existence cannot be referenced to Time; He lives beyond time and is unaffected by it. Time only has consequence to His creatures.

God being immutable cannot change with the events of time. Hence, He must know all future potentialities as if they were actual before Creation. When those potentials become present for the creature, this cannot affect God and they also do not make a change for God when they become past memories. His knowledge of things does not know any such difference.

Being omniscient God knows the future because the future potentials are knowable when they become present to the creature. If a creature knows something then so must God. Being Immutable the knowledge cannot come to God over time; He must know all things eternally.

God has given mankind free will. This means that man is free to make his own decision about things. Therefore, man is able to freely change some aspect or action of his. Because the future exists only in potential and not in actuality then the free choice of a man can make one potential actual for the man while others remain not so. Another choice will make a different potential actual for the man. This does not affect God because His knowledge is unchanged by potentials becoming actual for a man and His knowledge of potentials as actuals. Man’s free will is therefore consistent with God’s immutability and omniscience.

What about predicting the future? God is omnipotent so he can affect all things as He wills. If He determines that such an event should take place then He can make it happen; He is free. This is God’s providence in Creation. Note: all determinations of God were made before time and He does not change His mind. An apparent change of mind can occur because free choices actions of an individual can “trigger” a predetermined decision of God. Hence, a man prays for God’s mercy and then God “changes His mind” and relents from the threatened punishment. God had already determined to do so before time when the man actualised the future potential for prayer for himself and meet the “requirements” for God’s relenting. God can predict the future trials of a man because these things are brought to a man through God’s providence. However, God cannot necessarily predict a man’s salvation because the man’s free will actualises for himself salvation or damnation. It does not affect God whether a man is saved or not because He knows all future potentials including salvation of the man. The choices of men only affect themselves and those of limited knowledge. If Saints are to share the energies of God, including omniscience then they also will know the future potential of everyone being saved as if they were actually saved and they also will not be affected by the loss of sinners.

Because God’s decisions are all predetermined before time then all things He does are predetermined including the call, justification and glorification of man. He foreknows the potential salvation of all men and He has willed that all be saved. He has also determined the means for all to be saved. However, man must choose the triggers for these predetermined actions of God. If man chooses not to then God cannot and will not force them upon a man because God has given us free will.

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5 Responses to Some thoughts on time

  1. Father Patrick,

    I appreciate how you have used change as a distinguisher between what exists in time and what does not.

    I am a bit confused however about if you are saying that God knows a set of potentials or if He knows which potential will become actualized, such as which person will become actually saved. If He doesn’t know the latter, then how can He be omniscient?

    Thanks.

  2. monkpatrick says:

    Andrea,

    The ideas are an attempt at a solution regarding the foreknowledge of God and the freedom of man in time. It has as a sense that the free choices of man can only be known when they are made; there is no way of knowing them beforehand because they don’t exist. However, because of the limits of man and the omniscience of God, God can know all potential choices of man, even if they are infinite in extent. God also knows these potential choices with exactly the same depth of knowledge as if they were made. In a sense every possible choice is known by God as being made, so no choice even though free and original to man is a surprise to God; nothing new is added to God’s knowledge, so He remains omniscient. The fact that each potential is freely chosen by man to actualise it to himself, does not add or remove anything from God’s knowledge; it only affects the man.

    God is complete in himself, in Trinity. There is nothing added to God with Creation or man. The only thing affected by Creation is creation itself. This does not mean that God does not love Creation and each individual completely in himself but He is also beyond any sentimental love for a particular individual; He loves all equally and He gives freely and truly altruistically because He does not gain anything but we gain everything, if we are willing. He freely chose to share His life with others without any need to do so. All people are capable of sharing this life but unfortunately few choose to do so. In a sense God took a risk but I believe that He created man in the hope that all would be saved; He did not “know” which men would choose or not their life in Him; He wills all to be saved. He fore-knew the potential of all choosing not to do so but also that of all doing so. He created because He wanted those who were willing to share in His life. I find it difficult to accept that He created anyone knowing the they would perish; there had to be the sense of unknowing. Also, knowing who actually would be saved even if knowing above time the free choices of man, makes God’s knowledge depend on Creation and makes Creation “eternal” because if He knows what will actually happen rather than what could potentially happen means that Creation must be eternally actual. There is no eternal guarantee that He would create. He made His decision beginning time and it cannot be said that He eternally knew that He would do so otherwise His decision becomes a necessity. Creation involves God with time without subjecting Him to time; He does not change with Creation but the potential becomes actual for Creation.

    Anyway, these are my poor thoughts on the matter. I submit all to the Fathers even if I find something impossible to understand because I cannot expect to do so. All to the glory of God.

  3. Father Patrick,

    I like the idea of God taking a risk when He created us, as it seems like bet hedging if He knew exactly which potentials would become actualized.

    On the other hand, His reacting in surprise, sorrow, relief, or exaltation at any of our choices would make Him too capable of change and dependent on creation.

    But still, He is relational and desires us to move closer to Him, so wouldn’t He react positively to that? But like you say, His love is not conditional or dependent on our reception. Christ while on this earth seemed affected by people’s acceptance or rejection of Him. – I’m going back and forth. It seems we use different terms when speaking of the Father and the Son who became human like us.

    One way to reconcile this is to believe all will be recapitulated in Him, then everyone will reach their intended potential. I believe George MacDonald and some of the earlier Fathers thought this would happen.

  4. Visibilium says:

    Fr. Patrick,

    Your definition of time is the same as mine, and your posting is only the second time that I have seen that particular definition in print. That’s not to say that others aren’t as smart as you and me, but rather, is a sad commentary on my lack of erudition.

    I think that you may have touched on a problem on which I’ve been chewing: the nature of randomness and determinism. By determinism I mean both causality involving non-human objects and man’s teleology. By randomness, I mean coincidences and and other things that happen seemingly out of nowhere. How does God’s providence relate to randomness?

    Interestingly, your view of how God operates through foreseeing potentialities accounts for the role of saints, angels, and perhaps more ordinary departed folks in our lives in directing us to actualize particular potentialities.

    I’d like to see more of your thoughts on these topics. Thanks.

  5. monkpatrick says:

    Visibilium,

    I am of the opinion that there is no real randomness other than from free will. God being all knowing has no difficulty with the complexities of chaos and can trace any and every cause and effect, even though they appear random and chaotic to us. He manages all these things in relation to the world and our lives working them with our free wills as He determines best in His love for us. His providence, in case of the randomness of our free will, is in potential and determined in “response” to any choice that we may make from the moment of Creation. Thus God is not subject to time in acting in response to our choices after we make them, He has already determined His response before our choice, and neither are we bound to choose a particular choice; we are free to choose as we will.

    God works things to His purpose; man is not left to randomly live out His life. This purpose is worked dynamically with our free wills and God, although maybe having one end/purpose, may have a multitude of paths and timings for this end depending on the choices of men without being subjected to them.

    I hope this answers your question.

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