In light of Einstein’s conclusion that time is relative, how can you believe that God is not above time?

Relatively Theory basically stipulates that whether an event is viewed as being in the past, present or future depends on where one is in relation to the event in question as well as how fast one is moving. Some people conclude from this that Relativity Theory lends support to the classical view of God in which God views all events of history as “an eternal now.” Since the open view of the future says that God faces a future partly comprised of possibilities, these people think Relativity Theory refutes the open view.

While this argument is commonly recited in books critical of the open view, it actually is based on a misunderstanding of Relativity Theory. Relativity Theory (both special and general relativity) apply only to finite points of reference within the space-time universe. An event “x” is past to one person, for example, present to another, and future to a third only because each of these people is a finite point of reference who is separated from the other two and who is (perhaps) traveling at a different velocity than the other two. Moreover, being separated from each other and the event in question, each must rely on light, traveling at a finite speed (186,000 miles per second) to convey information about the event. It is because of these conditions — and only because of these conditions — that each person experiences the time of the event in question differently.

But God, obviously, is not limited to any of these conditions. God is not finite, situated in one location over and against other locations or moving at a particular velocity. God is omnipresent—which means there is no distance between him and anything or any event in the universe. God is thus contemporary with every event. And so the timing of an event is not relative to God.

In other words, God knows when “now” is — in contrast to the past and future. God’s omnipresent “now” encompasses all the “nows” of every event and every point of reference. There is, therefore, a real past, a real future, and a real “now” for God. No finite point of reference — like a human being, for example — can have access to this “now.” For us, “when” an event happens is relative. But it is not for God.

An important aspect of the common misunderstanding of Relativity Theory is the mistaken idea that Relativity Theory applies to the future as well as to the present and past. It’s true that an event may lie in my future that is already present or past from other perspectives. Indeed, all events that a person experiences, other than those they themselves originate, are already past by the time they experience them, for it took light, traveling at a finite speed, to convey information about the event to them. But there is no perspective in which the events a person originates lie in the future for that person. Relativity theory actually rules out this possibility. In this sense Relativity Theory actually presupposes, rather than undermines, the reality of time.

So, there is nothing in Relativity Theory that argues against the Open View’s understanding that God faces a real future that is partly comprised of possibilities.

Further Reading
Perhaps the best book I’ve read that proves that Relativity Theory doesn’t undermine the reality of time is William Craig’s Time and Eternity. There’s also an excellent (but rather technical) discussion of Relativity Theory, arguing that it actually presupposes the reality of time rather than arguing against it, in Milic Capek’s, The Philosophical Impact of Contemporary Physics.

Related Reading

What is the significance of 2 Chronicles 7:12–14?

The Lord says to Solomon, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will…

Topics:

Was Jesus Fully Human and Fully God?

The New Testament is very clear that Jesus was a full human being. He had to grow in wisdom (Lk 2:52) and learn obedience by going through trials, just like every other human being (Heb. 5:8). He grew hungry and tired, like the rest of us. He experienced the same range of emotions as the…

Greg on the Open View of the Future

Greg was featured today on the Pangea blog. (Thanks Kurt!) The blog references a series of lectures Greg presented at the Open Theology and Science Conference at Azusa Pacific University, April 11, 2008 entitled “A Flexible Sovereignty: A Biblical Understanding of Providence and the Nature of the Future” . If you’re looking for a comprehensive video series on…

Ask Greg Anything on Reddit!

Greg is going to be featured on Reddit! Yes that’s right. You can ask Greg anything. Your questions might be serious like: Why is there so much evil in the world? Why can we trust the Bible? What caused you to be a pacifist? Or they might be less so: Why do you preach without…

Tags: ,

Warfare Worldview: A Basic Definition

The warfare worldview is based on the conviction that our world is engaged in a cosmic war between a myriad of agents, both human and angelic, that have aligned themselves with either God or Satan. We believe this worldview best reflects the response to evil depicted throughout the Bible. For example, Jesus unequivocally opposed evils…

Who Rules Governments? God or Satan? Part 2

In the previous post, I raised the question of how we reconcile the fact that the Bible depicts both God and Satan as the ruler of nations, and I discussed some classical ways this has been understood. In this post I want to offer a cross-centered approach to this classical conundrum that provides us with…