Alan keeps asking these fascinating questions.
If time is a feature of this creation, and souls of the dead live outside this creation, then by definition they do not experience time. So they are eternal. Perhaps they can observe creation (and therefore can observe all points in time). It’s hard to imagine how anything would be temporary in a realm where there is no time.
I think it’s clearly true that the time we experience is a feature of this creation. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no time in heaven. It’s just that time in heaven is quite independent of time on earth. Here’s a story that may illustrate the point —
I was in the hospital’s sleep lab, prepped for a sleep apnea test, and found myself doped up on sleeping pills. Sometimes the pills keep from dreaming, but sometimes they trigger the strangest dreams …
A guide led me into a gigantic room, so large I couldn’t see the walls. I didn’t know who the guide was, but he (or she?) was clearly some sort of heavenly being.
The guide showed me a row of globes — thousands (or millions?) of planet earths in a row going far beyond what I could see.
The guide urged me to look at one, and as I looked, I found I could look as closely as I liked. I could see the rivers, the trees, even houses and people. I was amazed!
Out of curiosity, I stuck a finger into a peninsula, and I saw water rush into the area once occupied by land. The guide was furious! He told me to look at the globes nearby in both directions, and I saw that, while the globes to my left were unchanged, the globes to my right now all had the same finger hole in the peninsula. As I looked more closely, I saw houses being rebuilt from tidal waves, funerals for thousands, and boats and trucks delivering water and food to starving people.
For the first time, I realized it was all real. Those were real people with real lives. I don’t know how many I killed, but it was big number!
I found myself in tears, crying to the guide. “I had no idea! I thought these globes were some kind of simulation. I didn’t mean to kill anyone! Tell me how to fix this, please!”
The guide, still very angry, explained that this was the same planet on which I lived. He was showing me earth from God’s viewpoint — outside time — and they had plainly entrusted God’s powers to an unworthy person!
He told me that I should take some time to think about what I’d done. “But,” I said, “I need to fix this problem now! People are suffering. People have died!”
The guide explained with obvious impatience, “Don’t you understand even now? Time passes here, but it’s not the same as time on earth. Take all the time you need.”
I still didn’t understand, but I took a walk, calmed down, and some hours (years?) later, I starting running past the globes to the left. I ran until I found a globe with no people living on or even near the peninsula. And I stuck my finger in it, just like before. Once again, water rushed into the hole, but no one was hurt. No one was even there to see the change.
I then ran to the globe where I first made the hole, and saw that there was no damage, no death, and no suffering. Rather, huge cities had been built on the shoreline of my fingerhole. Navies sailed the fingerhole sea. My damage had been undone!
The guide grabbed me. “That’s enough. You’re not God and you don’t know what you’re doing. You didn’t even look to see what future you were destroying! Destroying something bad today may destroy a greater good in the future. What’s the point of having the power to see the future if you don’t use it to make wise decisions?
“I’m afraid you’re not worthy. Your stay here will be but temporary. God will have to fix your mistakes, but you’ll be glad to know that he can … and will. You’re going home, back to the time from which you left.”
At that moment, a nurse woke me up. “It’s 6:00. You had about 5 hours of sleep. Do you feel rested?”
I think the problem is that we have no frame of reference from which to visualize a timeless existence. God doesn't tell us much at all related to time in heaven. What little there is can be explained as metaphor. Everything we know about heaven is in the form of static pictures and metaphors. God paints a picture of heaven in terms that are as accessible to us as possible. But we are asking questions that we cannot possibly understand the answers to.
Heavenly time seems to me to be logically necessary.
Time — events occuring one after another — is implied by Gen 1:1. If there's no time in heaven, then from God's perspective, he never made a decision to create. The earth would have always existed as there'd be no "before" in heaven.
Just so, Jesus could never have decided to leave heaven and take the form of a servant. There'd be no heavenly before.
And 1 Cor 15 teaches that Jesus' place in heaven changed after his work on earth was finished. How could that be if there's no before and after in heaven?
And Satan couldn't have rebelled in heaven, as there'd be no "before the rebellion" and no "after the rebellion."
But as I tried to illustrate, the necessity for a before and an after in heaven does not mean that God is inside or bound by earth time. Rather, heaven has its own time frame which is quite independent of ours.
Now, perhaps things are so radically different in heaven that we can't even imagine how time works or doesn't work there. Who knows? But the scripture plainly indicate a before and an after in heaven, and so that's how we're taught to think of it.
(Sorry for the lack of specific scripture citations. I'm posting from the beach today.)
I think that's an accomodation to our experience — in other words, a metaphor used to communicate something we can't really comprehend directly.
There certainly are some logical paradoxes surrounding time in the various descriptions of the afterlife in scripture. That suggests to me that we don't have the complete picture.
Hmmm… I guess I’d be interested in your doing some sort of study about heavenly time. I always pictured God as being outside of time. You seem to argue that he is within time, just not within earthly time. How do you sustain that from Scripture? [More curiosity than challenge; I don’t know that I can back up my view]
Reading this article made me think of a question my friends and I have debated for quite some time. That is whether or not God knows at this moment who will ultimately wind up in heaven. I realize if He came today He'd know but say he's coming in 100 years – does He know now who will be saved? My opinion (and I stress that word) is that He does not. I believe when He gave mankind the right of self determination, He limited Himself in this knowledge.
I'll cite 3 passages to support this. In Genesis 6:6 it says it "grieved God that He created man." So if God was sorry that He did it why didn't He know up front that it was going to grieve Him? Now I admit this one is kind of weak. When I decided to have kids I knew at some point it would cause me grief – it goes with the terrotory so that may be all that happening here.
Then in 2 Samuel 24:10 David has numbered the people against God's command. God gives David 3 choices. 3 years famine, 3 month of destruciton by his enemies, or 3 days of destruction by God. David chose the 3 days of destruction by God. However, about half way thru, God reconsidered and haulted the destruction early. Didn't He know already that He was going to do that? Again perhaps He was just trying to make a point with David.
Finally in Exodus 32: 5-14 God and Moses are coming down from Mt. Sinai and see the people worshipping the gold calf. God is angry and uses some interesting verbage with Moses. He says – "Get thee down for THY people"….Notice God here refers to them as "Moses people" – not His people. I think God was truly angered and had every intention of killing all of them and starting over with Moses. Moses quickly responds "why doest thy wrath wax hot against THY people" (reminding God that they are indeed His people.) Again, if God knows everything didn't He know how this all would play out and never threaten to kill them in the first place?
A feeble analogy of my understanding is that time is a ruler and God is looking at the ruler from an outside vantage point. He chooses to intersect it at different points, but he himself lives outside of it. That is how he can speak of past, present and future, yet still give men free will.
Eternity isn't measured in time. It just is.
Grace and peace,
It's an interesting question. Patrick Mead recently wrote a post on this topic. Your view is called Open Theism, and Mead agrees with you, putting you in excellent company .http://patrickmead.net/tentpegs/?p=349
I'm re-studying the issue myself, because any time I find myself disagreeing with Patrick Mead, I have to question my decision. Nonetheless, my view is that God can and does see the future, as he exists outside this universe's time.
But God can and does intervene in this universe in ways that change the future. The future is not fixed.
I'm by no means a Calvinist. God's seeing the future does not take away free will.
I discuss these views in the series Searching for the Third Way at /index-under-construction/s…
Ultimately, in light of what we know of physics and the fact that time is a part of this universe, I have trouble seeing how God could be outside time and yet bound by time.
But, like I said, some very smart, very Godly people disagree.
I'm not sure Open Theism necessarily posits God as bound by time. Rather, God has given to possibility its own ontology in that scheme. It makes a sort of sense considering that, at the quantum level, possibility truly does seem to have its own ontology (nearly everything at that level seems to be an odds game, at least in my *very limited* understanding of it). I'm not sure I'm convinced, and your model of two timelines makes a lot of sense, as well.
"Possibility truly does seem to have its own ontology." Serious stuff. Philosophy major?