9. Charles Hartshorne (born 1897) taught at the University of Chicago, Emory University, and the University of Texas. An introduction to process theology by two of its advocates is Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition by John B. Cobb, Jr., and David R. Griffin (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976). Detailed evangelical analyses may be found in Carl F.H. Henry, "The Resurgence of Process Philosophy," in God, Revelation, and Authority 6:52-75, and Royce Gruenler, The Inexhaustible God: Biblical Faith and the Challenge of Process Theism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983).
Two excellent recent articles from an evangelical perspective have been written by Bruce A. Ware: "An Exposition and Critique of the Process Doctrines of Divine Mutability and Immutability," WTJ 47 (1985): 175-96 (a critique of process theology), and "An Evangelical Reformulation of the Doctrine of the Immutability of God," JETS 29 (1986): 431-46 (a positive restatement of an orthodox view of God's immutability).
10 10. See Ware's revealing discussion of Hartshorne's idea that we contribute value to God that he would otherwise lack: "Exposition and Critique," pp. 183-85.
11 11. See chapter 21, pp. 440-42, on the reasons for the creation of man.
In the teaching of the Bible, God is both infinite and personal: he is infinite in that he is not subject to any of the limitations of humanity, or of creation in general. He is far greater than everything he has made, far greater than anything else that exists. But he is also personal: he interacts with us as a person, and we can relate to him as persons. We can pray to him, worship him, obey him, and love him, and he can speak to us, rejoice in us, and love us.
Apart from the true religion found in the Bible, no system of religion has a God who is both infinite and personal.12 For example, the gods of ancient Greek and Roman mythology were personal (they interacted frequently with people), but they were not infinite: they had weaknesses and frequent moral failures, even petty rivalries. On the other hand, deism portrays a God who is infinite but far too removed from the world to be personally involved in it. Similarly, pantheism holds that God is infinite (since the whole universe is thought to be God), but such a God can certainly not be personal or relate to us as persons.
The error of process theology fits this general pattern. Its advocates are convinced that a God who is unchanging in his being is so different from the rest of creation—so infinite, so unlimited by the change that characterizes all of our existence—that he cannot also be personal in a way that we make a difference to him. So in order to gain a God who is personal, they think they have to give up a God who is infinite for a God who is continually in process of change. This kind of reasoning is typical of many (perhaps all) objections to the kind of God presented in the Bible. People say that if God is infinite, he cannot be personal, or they say that if God is personal, he cannot be infinite. The Bible teaches that God is both infinite and personal. We must affirm both that God is infinite (or unlimited) with respect to change that occurs in the universe (nothing will change God's being, perfections, purposes, or promises), that God is also personal, and that he relates to us personally and counts us valuable. f. The Importance of God's Unchangeableness: At first it may not seem very important to us to affirm God's unchangeableness. The idea is so abstract that we may not immediately realize its significance. But if we stop for a moment to imagine what it would be like if God could change, the importance of this doctrine becomes more clear. For example, if God could change (in his being, perfections, purposes, or promises), then any change would be either for the better or for the worse. But if God changed for the better, then he was not the best possible being when we first trusted him. And how could we be sure that he is the best possible being now? But if God could change for the worse (in his very being), then what kind of God might he become? Might he become, for instance, a little bit evil rather than wholly good? And if he could become a little bit evil, then how do we know he could not change to become largely evil—or wholly evil? And there would be not one thing we could do about it, for he is so much more powerful than we are. Thus, the idea that God could change leads to the horrible possibility that thousands of years from now we might come to live forever in a universe dominated by a wholly evil, omnipotent God. It is hard to imagine any thought more terrifying. How could we ever trust such a God who could change? How could we ever commit our lives to him?
12 12. Technically speaking we must recognize that Judaism, so far as it is based on what we call the Old Testament, also has a view of God that shows him to be both infinite and personal, although Judaism has never recognized the indications of God's trinitarian nature that are present even in the Old Testament (see chapter 14, pp. 22630).
Moreover, if God could change with regard to his purposes then even though when the Bible was written he promised that Jesus would come back to rule over a new heaven and new earth, he has perhaps abandoned that plan now, and thus our hope in Jesus' return is in vain. Or, if God could change in regard to his promises then how could we trust him completely for eternal life? Or for anything else the Bible says? Maybe when the Bible was written he promised forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those who trust in Christ, but (if God can change) perhaps he has changed his mind on those promises now—how could we be sure? Or perhaps his omnipotence will change someday, so that even though he wants to keep his promises, he will no longer be able to do so.
A little reflection like this shows how absolutely important the doctrine of God's unchangeableness is. If God is not unchanging, then the whole basis of our faith begins to fall apart, and our understanding of the universe begins to unravel. This is because our faith and hope and knowledge all ultimately depend on a person who is infinitely worthy of trust—because he is absolutely and eternally unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises.
3. Eternity. God's eternity may be defined as follows: God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.
Sometimes this doctrine is called the doctrine of God's infinity with respect to time. To be "infinite" is to be unlimited, and this doctrine teaches that time does not limit God.
This doctrine is also related to God's unchangeableness. If it is true that God does not change, then we must say that time does not change God: it has no effect on his being, perfections, purposes, or promises. But that means that time has no effect on God's knowledge, for instance. God never learns new things or forgets things, for that would mean a change in his perfect knowledge. This implies also that the passing of time does not add to or detract from God's knowledge: he knows all things past, present, and future, and knows them all equally vividly.
a. God Is Timeless in His Own Being: The fact that God has no beginning or end is seen in Psalm 90:2: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." Similarly, in Job 36:26, Elihu says of God, "the number of his years is unsearchable."
God's eternity is also suggested by passages that talk about the fact that God always is or always exists. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev. 1:8; cf. 4:8).13
It is also indicated in Jesus' bold use of a present tense verb that implies continuing present existence when he replied to his Jewish adversaries, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). This statement is itself an explicit claiming of the name of God, "I AM WHO I AM," from Exodus 3:14, a name that also suggests a continual present existence: God is the eternal "I AM," the one who eternally exists.
The fact that God never began to exist can also be concluded from the fact that God created all things, and that he himself is an immaterial spirit. Before God made the universe, there was no matter, but then he created all things (Gen. 1:1; John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). The study of physics tells us that matter and time and
13 13. Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, so when God says that he is the Alpha and the Omega he implies that he is before everything else and he is after everything else; he is the beginning of everything and will always be the end (or goal) of everything.
space must all occur together: if there is no matter, there can be no space or time either. Thus, before God created the universe, there was no "time," at least not in the sense of a succession of moments one after another. Therefore, when God created the universe, he also created time. When God began to create the universe, time began, and there began to be a succession of moments and events one after another.14 But before there was a universe, and before there was time, God always existed, without beginning, and without being influenced by time. And time, therefore, does not have existence in itself, but, like the rest of creation, depends on God's eternal being and power to keep it existing.
The foregoing Scripture passages and the fact that God always existed before there was any time combine to indicate to us that God's own being does not have a succession of moments or any progress from one state of existence to another. To God himself, all of his existence is always somehow "present,"15 though admittedly that idea is difficult for us to understand, for it is a kind of existence different from that which we experience.
b. God Sees All Time Equally Vividly: It is somewhat easier for us to understand that God sees all time equally vividly. We read in Psalm 90:4, "For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night." It is sometimes difficult for us to remember events that occurred several weeks ago, or several months ago, or several years ago. We remember recent events more vividly, and the clarity of our memory fades with the passing of time. Even if it were possible for us to live "a thousand years," we would remember very few events from hundreds of years earlier, and the clarity of that memory would be very low. But here Scripture tells us that God views a thousand years "as yesterday." He can remember all the detailed events of a thousand years at least as clearly as we can remember the events of "yesterday." In fact, to him a thousand years is "as a watch in the night," a three- or four-hour period during which a guard would stand watch. Such a short period of time would pass quickly and all the events would be easily recalled. Yet this is how a thousand years seems to God.
When we realize that the phrase "a thousand years" does not imply that God forgets things after 1,100 or 1,200 years, but rather expresses as long a time as one might imagine, it becomes evident that all of past history is viewed by God with great clarity and vividness: all of time since the creation is to God as if it just happened. And it will always remain just that clear in his consciousness, throughout millions of years of eternity future.
In the New Testament, Peter tells us, "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). The second half of this statement had already been made in Psalm 90, but the first half introduces an additional consideration, "One day is as a thousand years"; that is, any one day from God's perspective seems to last for "a thousand years": it is as if that day never ends, but is always being experienced. Again, since "a thousand years" is a figurative
14 14. In fact, the alternative to saying that time began when God created the universe is to say that time never began, but there has always been a succession of moments one after another, extending infinitely far back into the past, but never having a starting point. But to have time without a beginning seems to many people to be absurd and is probably impossible. Bavinck says, "Eternal time in the sense of time without beginning is inconceivable" (The Doctrine of God p. 157).
15 15. As we shall see below, this does not mean that all events of history look to God as if they were present, for God sees events in time and acts in time.
expression for "as long a time as we can imagine," or "all history," we can say from this verse that any one day seems to God to be present to his consciousness forever.
Taking these two considerations together, we can say the following: in God's perspective, any extremely long period of time is as if it just happened. And any very short period of time (such as one day) seems to God to last forever: it never ceases to be "present" in his consciousness. Thus, God sees and knows all events past, present, and future with equal vividness. This should never cause us to think that God does not see events in time and act in time (see below), but just the opposite: God is the eternal Lord and Sovereign over history, and he sees it more clearly and acts in it more decisively than any other. But, once we have said that, we still must affirm that these verses speak of God's relationship to time in a way that we do not and cannot experience: God's experience of time is not just a patient endurance through eons of endless duration, but he has a qualitatively different experience of time than we do. This is consistent with the idea that in his own being, God is timeless; he does not experience a succession of moments. This has been the dominant view of Christian orthodoxy throughout the history of the church, though it has been frequently challenged, and even today many theologians deny it.16
We can picture God's relationship to time as in figure 11.1. This diagram is meant to show that God created time and is Lord over time. Therefore he can see all events in time equally vividly, yet he also can see events in time and act in time.
igure 11.1: The Relationship of God to Time
The diagram also anticipates the following discussion, since it indicates that God knows events in the future, even the infinitely long eternal future. With regard to the future, God frequently claims through the Old Testament prophets that he alone is the one who knows and can declare future events. "Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me" (Isa. 45:21). Similarly, we read: For I am God, and there is no other;
16 16. Carl F.H. Henry argues for God's timeless eternity as the historic position of Christian orthodoxy in God, Revelation and Authority (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1982), 5:235-67, and gives a detailed analysis of current challenges from both nonevangelical and evangelical theologians. A thorough recent philosophical defense of God's timeless eternity is Paul Helm, Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988).
I am God, and there is none like me declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done saying, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose." (Isa. 46:9-10)
Thus God somehow stands above time and is able to see it all as present in his consciousness. Although the analogy is not perfect, we might think of the moment we finish reading a long novel. Before putting it back on the shelf we might flip quickly through the pages once more, calling to mind the many events that had occurred in that novel. For a brief moment, things that transpired over a long period of time all seem to be "present" to our minds. Perhaps this is faintly analogous to God's experience of seeing all of history as equally present in his consciousness. c. God Sees Events in Time and Acts in Time: Yet once all this has been said it is necessary to guard against misunderstanding by completing the definition of God's eternity: "yet God sees events in time and acts in time." Paul writes, "when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law" (Gal. 4:4-5). God observed clearly and knew exactly what was happening with events in his creation as they occurred over time. We might say that God watched the progress of time as various events occurred within his creation. Then at the right time, "when the time had fully come," God sent forth his Son into the world.
It is evident throughout Scripture that God acts within time and acts differently at different points in time. For example, Paul tells the men of Athens, "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed..." (Acts 17:30-31). This statement includes a description of a previous way in which God acted, God's present way of acting, and a future activity that he will carry out, all in time.
Indeed, the repeated emphasis on God's ability to predict the future in the Old Testament prophets requires us to realize that God predicts his actions at one point in time and then carries out his actions at a later point in time. And on a larger scale, the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation is God's own record of the way he has acted over time to bring redemption to his people.
We must therefore affirm both that God has no succession of moments in his own being and sees all history equally vividly, and that in his creation he sees the progress of events over time and acts differently at different points in time; in short, he is the Lord who created time and who rules over it and uses it for his own purposes. God can act in time because he is Lord of time.17 He uses it to display his glory. In fact, it
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