Many have wondered if praying to God is in any way productive. After all, there are billions of people and surely God can’t hear all of our prayers at one time? How might one pray to God from his or her home while across the world he busies himself elsewhere? Well, if God existed solely within time, much like we do, then maybe this would be a cause for concern. However, what if God isn’t bound by time?
It is clear that many people value time, given their mortality and time’s limited nature, though they don’t actually know what it is. According to Sir Isaac Newton, the father of physics, time was something that occurred, or flowed, even if the world was completely empty and in which nothing occurred. But on such a view what you would have is just a timeless state. In such a state using words like “later,” “earlier,” “after,” “before” would be meaningless as in the absence of any events there is nothing to measure time by. Thus, perhaps a better definition of time would then be the sequence of events that occur in the succession from the past through the present to the future.
This view is consistent with A-Theory that says that there really is a present, past, and future. For example, in the past Caesar really did cross the Rubicon with his army, and Jesus really was crucified on a cross. Time is therefore objective, it really exists over and above being a mere figment of one’s imagination, as a B theorist would say. Though we don’t really want to get into a debate over the merits of the two theories (a weighty debate itself), one of the alleged weaknesses of B-Theory is that it, unlike A-Theory, simply does not gel with our experience of time. B-Theory seems to say that our experience of time is an illusion of human consciousness, though one might respond that there is no reason to suppose that this is the case. Our experience seems to tell us that events occur in time, and that over time those events regress into the past. However, one should also make mention that the majority of physicists and philosophers hold to a B-theory of time, often citing the A-theory’s incompatibly with Einstein’s Special and General Theory of Relativity as a central reason, which has led many to adopt eternalism over presentism. On A-Theory, presentism is the view that only the present time is real (1). The future does not exist and neither does the past, which itself has already gone. What exists is what presently exists in terms of time, a view that I currently find appealing.
One might also hold to a relational view of time. By this one means that time itself is a created thing that came into being when the universe was created. Time thus began with the first event or creative act, a view that has some interesting interpretations. Philosopher William Lane Craig, who holds to a relational view himself, sees God as being timeless without the universe and temporal with the universe (2). God is timeless without it because an infinite regress of events is impossible. On this view God is not bound by time, rather, he exists outside of time and has no temporal location and duration. God is temporal through his creation of the universe because he brings himself into a new relation, namely, that he now co-exists with his created universe. Thus, on this relational view of time God is timeless without the universe and temporal with the universe.
This brings to memory C.S. Lewis who I think is worth mentioning here. In his book, Mere Christianity, Lewis attempts to show the difference in how God experiences time to how we experience time. Lewis said that we, as space-bound creatures, live in a “time-series” which is an “arrangement of past, present, and future—is not simply the way life comes to us but the way all things really exist” (3). Time, in our experience, then “comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along.” However, God, the Creator of the universe and time itself, “does not live in a Time-series at all. His life is not dribbled out moment by moment like ours.”
I wouldn’t want to speculate too much at a risk of making a hash of Lewis’ views, but it would seem quite obvious that on his view we exist within a time-series, which is suggestive that he held to an A-theory concept of time. After all, he believed that time “comes to us moment by moment” suggesting that the past, present, and future objectively exist. It also seems that Lewis saw God’s relation to time as both atemporal (God transcends time and exists in a timeless state), and temporal (he exists within time too) which, though some philosophers have argued are mutually exclusive, has been argued to be logically coherent, as Craig attempts on his relational view of God and time.
This led Lewis to deduce that God is in all places within time; God can see “tomorrow’ in the same way that he can see “today.” All days are “now” for him (4). If so, God then does not remember you doing something yesterday; rather, he simply sees you doing it. In the same way, God doesn’t foresee one doing something tomorrow, he simply sees you doing it. Thus, explains Lewis, “If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty-and every other moment from the beginning of the world-is always the Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames… You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created.”
1. Markosian, N. 2014. Time. Available.
2. Craig, W. 2007. God and Time. Available.
3. Lewis, C. 1952. Mere Christianity. p.146
4. Lewis, C. 1952. Ibid. p. 170-171.