God Is Not Eternal

Writing a book on the atonement is like peeling the layers of an onion. Everything theological dilemma you solve only brings up two more dilemmas. So it was that I needed to write a section in the book on God’s relationship to time, because it seemed to make no sense to talk about God’s relationship to Jesus’ crucifixion unless I could explain God’s relationship to time.

So a couple weeks back, I write a post arguing that God is not outside of time. When he read that, Keith DeRose sent me Nicholas Wolterstorff‘s classic essay, “God Everlasting” (in Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, New York: Oxford, 1982).

In that essay, Wolterstorff argues that God is not eternal, God is everlasting.

His argument proceeds thusly:

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Which Side of the Cross Are You On?

Scot McKnight made an interesting observation this week:

But the Abelardian and Girardian have an oft-missed sinister side, even if you may object to my saying so. In these theories we side with Christ and God and not those who put him to death. We end up being the good guys, the victims, while the bad guys — Roman and Jewish leaders, the gutless disciples, the whole damned human race — are the ones who put him there. We, on the other hand, know better. We’re innocent, they’re guilty.

Being that I’m writing a book on the atonement, this caught my eye. I’ve got chapters in the book on both the moral exemplar theory (Abelard) and the last scapegoat theory (Girard).

Scot is right, and wrong.

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God Is Not Outside of Time

One of the things I hear assumed by Christians all the time is that God is outside of time. It’s odd, I think, to make this assumption, because it’s not biblical, it’s Platonic. There’s a verse in 2 Peter that often gets cited — “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” — but that is a reflection on God’s experience of time, not God’s independence from time.

As human beings, we are hedged in on all sides by time, completely circumscribed by it. Our impending deaths remind us daily of this reality. Try as we might, we simply cannot conceive of being free from time.

That’s not to say that time isn’t fluid. In the 20th century, we became aware that time can be slightly bent, and in the 21st century, we’re starting to hear that maybe time can take place more complexly than we’ve previously known.

Nevertheless, time is a condition of our existence, and it’s inescapable.

In the book I’m currently writing, the questions I’m trying to answer have to do with where was God on Good Friday? What is God’s relationship to the cross? And what is God’s culpability in the death of Jesus? God’s relationship to time is implicated in all of these questions. And I’m coming to rest with the idea that God is voluntarily bound to time, that part of God’s longstanding story of humility and self-limitation is that God abdicated timelessness in order to have an authentic relationship with timebound beings. Because if God were outside of time, relationship with those of us inside of time would be impossible.

Arguing with Atheists

There’s a very big difference between, on the one hand, making a theological, philosophical, or scientific argument for the existence of God and, on the other hand, making a personal statement about why you still believe in God despite your doubts. Those are two very different types of communication.

I am keenly aware of the difference. I’ve written many posts here that are the former, and I’ve got an entire chapter already written for a forthcoming book that is along those lines, arguing with Aquinas’s famous “Five Ways.”

Yesterday’s post was surely not that. Yesterday’s post was the latter, an honest accounting of one of the several reasons that I continue to profess faith in God, in spite of the fact that I am beset with doubt.

But the biggest atheist blogger in the world picked it up, mocked it, told his readers that I had made the worst argument for the existence of God that he’d ever read, and pointed them here. They came, they told me I’m an idiot, and they left. (It’s shocking — shocking, I tell you! — that atheists don’t find one of my reasons for belief compelling.) I don’t imagine they’ll be back anytime soon.

So it goes in the blogosphere these days.

For those of you still reading, I was simply trying to say this: One of the reasons that I continue to have faith is that so many in the world do; so many — the vast majority, by anyone’s reckoning — that I cannot help but pay attention to that. I don’t think that all those people who believe in the divine, and all the billions who’ve preceded us on this plant who have believed similarly, are stupid lemmings. I think their belief deserves enough respect that I cannot shuck it off so very easily.

Take it or leave it. But I stand by it.


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