, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 15–29 | Cite as

God and timelessness: Everlasting or Eternal?

  • Jule Gowen


Mental State Personal Agent Mental Event Temporal Duration Tensed Sentence 
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  1. 1.
    Boethius, Anselm and Aquinas characterized God as eternal, whereas Samuel Clarke and Oscar Cullman (Christ and Time) ascribed the property of everlastingness to God. St. Thomas says in theSumma Theologiae, Ia, Question 10, Article 1 that “two things characterize eternity. First, any existence in eternity isunending, that is to say, lacks both beginning and end (for both may be regarded as ends). Secondly, eternity itself exists as aninstantiated whole lacking successiveness” (Thomas Aquinas,Summa Theologiae, Vol. I, ed. by Thomas Gilby, Doubleday, Garden City, 1969). In theSumma Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas reiterates a similar view: “God, therefore, is without beginning or end, having His whole being at once. In this consists the nature of eternity” (Thomas Aquinas,SCG, ed. by Anton C. Pegis, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 1975, Bk. 1, Chap. 15, Part 3). Anselm, in theProslogion (Chps. XIX and XX) says: “Thou wast not, then, yesterday, nor wilt thou be tomorrow; but yesterday and today and tomorrow thou art, or rather neither yesterday nor today nor tomorrow thou art; but simplythou art, outside all time. For yesterday and today and tomorrow have no existence except in time, but thou, although nothing exists without thee, nevertheless does not exist in space or time, but all things exist in thee.”Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Pike, Nelson,God and Timelessness (New York: Schocken Books, 1970), p. 7.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Lucas, J.R.,A Treatise in Time and Space (London: Methuen, 1973).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Events which are temporally ordered are (also) logically ordered, but the claim here is that events can be logically ordered without being temporally ordered.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Within theism, of course, being in mental statem is also a necessary condition fors to occur.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    This same model could be used whether we are referring to an action which resulted in a publicly observable state of affairss or one which did not, e.g., God repeating “his mantra to himself”. For the sake of the discussion we don't need to be concerned with how to draw out this distinction. (For an account of how to do so, however, refer to Wm. Alston's “Can We Speak Literally of God?”) For our purposes, a carefully worked out schema, including a thorough analysis of the notion of “wanting”, as it is used in this context, is not necessary. “Wants” here covers both God's desire for an S (regardless of whether or not S is inherently attractive to God) plus God's belief that being in mental statem contributes to the realization of S.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Kant, Immanuel,Critique of Pure Reason, translated by N. K. Smith (New York: St. Martins, 1965), pp. 227–28.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Some might argue that there is another problem here—namely that an agent, e.g., God, doesn't make a genuine choice if he already knows what he is going to “choose”.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Pikeop. cit..Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Swinburne makes a related point inThe Coherence of Theism. He says: “So many things which the theist wishes to say about God, God brings about X, forgives y … are things which are true of a man at this, that, all times. Further, the doing of many of these things carries entailments of things being true at later or earlier times” (The Coherence of Theism, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1977, p. 221). Kierkegarrd, inPhilosophical Fragments (Cf. Chp. IV) is also concerned with what he refers to as the paradoxicalness of an eternal God acting in history.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Aquinas, Thomas,Summa Contra Gentiles, Vol. II, Chp. 35; Vol. II, Chp. 36.4.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Wolterstorff, Nicholas, “God Everlasting,” inGod and the Good, ed. by Clifton Orlebecke and Lewis Smedes (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    This objection in one way obviously relates to objection two. Objection two, let us recall, raises the general question, “Can an eternal being function as an agent since to function as an agent apparently leads to temporal events?”. An act of redemption of God would be a temporal event. If an eternal being cannot act so as to bring about a temporal evente then this being cannot serve as a redeemer. Even if objection two has been satisfactorily answered, that only dissolves one aspect of the problem. This objection concentrates on other aspects not yet discussed.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    A large section of Wolterstorff's article is addressed to arguing as follows: For any proposition P which is expressed by a tensed sentence S which is not fully dated, if God (qua eternal being) were to be able to know that P, P has to be expressible by some sentence S' which is wholly tense-indifferent and fully dated. (Examples of non-fully dated sentences are “Gas stations are closing on Sundays”, “I am writing a paper on timelessness”, and “Spirea are in full-bloom”. A sentence would become fully dated if we were to prefix to it a timet, e.g., May 23rd, 1982. Thus the sentence “Spirea are in full-bloom” as fully dated would read “on May 23rd, 1982 (… [spirea are in full-bloom])”.) In other words, it is the proposition expressed by sentence S', but not by S, which an eternal being could know. However, claims Wolterstorff, it is false that every proposition P which is expressed by a tensed sentence S which is not fully dated is expressible by some sentence S' which is wholly tense-indifferent and fully dated. Thus, there are certain facts which God, as eternal, can't know, and, Wolterstorff maintains, this knowledge is essential in order for God to act as a redeemer. I shall not take up the issue of whether or not Wolterstorff is right in his first claim. In fact this issue is really a red herring if it turns out, as I shall argue, that the knowledge in question isnot essential to God being able to function as a redeemer.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    A related objection might go like this: If there are some true propositions about our world that God, as eternal, can't know, then such a being is not omniscient. (Cf. Norman Kretzmann's “Omniscience and Immutability,”Journal of Philosopy, Vol. 63, No. 14, July 14, 1966). One obvious solution is to characterize God as everlasting rather than eternal. But it may also turn out that an eternal God can know everything that needs to be known in order to function as creator, providence, and as agent in other areas.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Not only is there the problem of freedom just noted, there is the problem of freedom raised in footnote 8. In addition, there are problems of reference as well. Cf. Wolterstorff,op. cit..Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer SBM B.V. 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jule Gowen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyIllinois State UniversityNormalU.S.A.

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