CHAPTER FOUR

ETERNITY AND TEMPORAL EVENTS

Let me say that this does not mean that God does manipulate us in this way; merely that he can do so and still leave us completely free in our choices. But the fact that he knows what will happen brings up the second confusion, which is connected with trying to think of eternity in terms of time. Time, as I point out in Modes of the Finite Part 2, Section 3, Chapter 6 is a relationship between processes, and processes necessarily involve limitation (in both kind and degree). But since God has no limitation on his activity, then time-words do not apply to him; and this "timelessness" of God's activity is what has the name "eternity." Eternity, then, is to time as colorlessness is to color. "Eternity" does not mean "no time" any more than "colorlessness" means "no color," in the sense of "blackness." Nor does "eternity" mean "all time," which would be the equivalent of saying that "colorlessness" means "all colors," or "whiteness." Just as "colorless" does not mean "no color" or "all colors" or "some indefinite color" or "this color" or "that color" but that color-terms simply do not apply to what is colorless, so "eternity" does not mean "always" or "never" or "an unending 'now'" or any other term that applies to time.

Hence, with God there is no "before" or "after" or "now" or "then." Everything in time is present to God in the sense of "not absent," but not in the sense of "at the present moment." God does nothing before he does anything else; but this does not mean that he does everything simultaneously either. All these are time words which do not apply to God's activity any more than color words apply to clear glass. The effect of God's creative activity spreads out in time, and God's eternal knowledge encompasses all time; but God's own act is one single act with no relation to time, any more than the fact that he creates limited beings makes him somehow limited.

That is, God creates things with "time-tags" on them as well as "color-tags" and "location-tags"; and the created things have these characteristics. Thus, God eternally creates (we must use a tense if we use a verb) me as existing from 1933 onward until I die, at which moment I too will drop my time-characteristic and enter eternity (timelessness). This time is a characteristic I have, not a "something" I am in. It is a relation with a definite set of other beings, nothing more. Just as I am an American, meaning that I have the spatial and social relationship with other Americans, so I am a twentieth-century man, meaning that I have relationships with the Americans of my century and not with those of the nineteenth century or the twenty-second.

What all this implies, of course, is that God knows the future in the same sense as he knows the past; everything that is now happening or has ever happened or ever will happen is known by God in his one single act of knowledge. And this act of knowledge also includes what would have happened if some event(1), either in what is to us past, present, or future, had not happened. When I say past, present, and future, I am speaking from our point of view. What is future to me at the moment (your reading this), of course, is present to you; so "present" is a purely relative term. For God there is no such thing as past, present, or future.

Hence, God's knowledge of what will happen is no different from his knowledge of what already has happened; and his causal activity on what will happen is also no different from his causal activity on what has happened.

Now God not only causes the world to exist, and gives it its laws, and by his creative causality cooperates with every finite act that occurs; it is also the case that he sometimes intervenes in his world in an extraordinary way, causing events (through creatures, generally) that the creatures themselves cannot cause by their own nature. Not that such events are contradictions of their nature; they are beyond the capabilities of the nature; God supplements the creature's nature sometimes.

That is, God not only causes the universe to exist and cooperates with its activity as it acts according to the laws built into each thing, but also actively intervenes in this universe he has created and sometimes (when it is disposed properly) "lifts" it above what it is capable of merely by the laws of its own nature. Supernatural events do occur, even in the non-human world. The emergence of life (which sustains itself stably at a physically unstably high energy-level) is a case in point. The lesser cannot produce the greater; but the leap from non-life to life happened in the course of evolution; and therefore God intervened to make the otherwise impossible possible.


1. I once had a discussion in Communio with W. Norris Clarke, who held (or seemed to me to be holding) that God could not know what would have happened but did not happen, because God could only know what is real, and what would have happened is not real. I pointed out that this made prophesies (inspired by God) impossible, because frequently they say, if you do X, then Y will happen; if you do not, then Z will happen. Clearly if God could not know unrealized possibilities, then he could not predict both outcomes, since only one could be real. Anyhow, it is absurd to say that God is more ignorant than we are, since we can sometimes know (even with certainty) what would happen if some real event did not happen.

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