Presently, there is no official Christian doctrine of time, other than God being described as either ‘timeless,’ or ‘everlasting.’For the sake of this article, imagine we were trying to create a doctrine for it.
We need to decide whether or not time was created at the same time as the universe, or before. Also could we come to the conclusion that time is infinite, and has eternally existed with God?
Theists would believe that God exists outside of time, but does not act based on time. This means that a God only acts once, but that action has many eternal manifestations that are carried out exactly when needed. For example, if you pray for financial healing and your God answers that prayer, he answered it when he carried out his first action, it is a manifestation an earlier command. This God would have a complete understanding of every single event to happen in the eternal expanse of time.
A more Christian understanding of how God acts relative to time would be that he acts based on a growing knowledge that is extracted from time, but still he exists outside of time, and along with our universe, not within it. This means that as you declare a need to him, he answers it, and acts on it when it arises. It is not the manifestation of one huge declaration.
Keep time in mind, but let us study the beginning of the universe so that we can compare the two. With an understanding of when our world was created, we can then soundly and knowledgeably use it in the proper context.
The popular Christian Doctrine called ‘creatio ex nihilo’ states that the universe did in fact have a beginning, meaning the universe did not exist an infinite amount of time ago. Philosophers confirm this by saying it does not make sense for a regression of events to go back in time infinitely. Could we honestly say that things have been happening on and on forever?
For Christians this would be even more difficult to believe, the Bible describes the creation of the Universe, and the empty void that preceded it?
Our Christian faith declares without a doubt that God did create the universe. But even if you do not believe in these doctrines, you have the choice of believing the Universe is existed infinitely, or it was created from nothingness.
Assuming that the universe did have a beginning, as in it was created. Does this imply a parallel beginning of time, or can time exist without a universe, or any events or form.
If we believe that time had a beginning, this is known as ‘prima facie.’
Though many believe time had a beginning, there are those who disagree. Some such as Swinburne say that every instant is preceded and succeeded by another instant. This means time is infinite and may defy our logic and understanding, similar to space. Since the same moment of time never repeats itself, it is possible to assume that time has gone on, and goes on forever.
Others such as J.R. Lucas believe similarly that time must have existed before the universe, due to the fact that time is measured in a relational manner. Supposing the universe was absolutely still before the first event occurred, the first event would signify the beginning of time. However stating a beginning of time with this philosophy is difficult, because as far as our understanding, there was never a first event. Before the first event of our universe, the stars were still moving, etc… Also from a Christian point of view again, in the empty void the Bible describes there may or may not have been some events happening, we could not understand there forms. Time according to Lucas was unaffected by the beginning of the universe, and if it had a beginning, it must have been before the creation of the universe.
Many have built upon, taken from, and analyzed these theories and many more. Some base their own theories more heavily on space-time, the theory of relativity, and also a universe of immobility preceding our current universe.
A more simple way of understanding the very basics of these theories in the context of relational theory is:
if we measure time based on events happening, then if we say that time is infinite with no beginning, then events have been happening infinitely, with no first event, or beginning.
Things get interesting when we bring God into the mix. We know that God existed before the creation of our universe, and everything that is within it. We know that even in the nothingness that preceded everything, God still existed. With this knowledge, some would argue that time must have existed as long as God did, eternally. This is untrue.
Hackett argued that a personal God would not need a measurement of time, because he is capable of comprehending an entire regression of events infinitely, the same way humans like you and I can see all areas of a circle; past, present, and future. This is how God can understand all things, and eternity.
Whether you believe that time had a beginning, or whether it always existed, God remains unchanged and unaffected by it’s bounds.
The issue is, the Christian doctrine of incarnation describes God assuming the human form. As we know, the human form is finite.
On a side note, Kierkegaard called this doctrine ‘the absolute paradox’ asking how could God enter our space-time world without ceasing to be eternal?
The response to this opinion is different for many Christians personal beliefs on the incarnation, and God’s immortal form.
God entered our space-time in human form outside of time. While time always affects us humans while we are living in this form, for God to enter our world outside of time and rather than eternally flowing through time is not hard to believe. Though he did take on human form in the life of Jesus Christ, he still eternally lives the same as he did before the creation of our universe.
After all of this, the question remains: was time created along with the universe, or has it eternally existed with our God?
The answer to the best of my knowledge is we have to realize that time as we know and describe it is all based on events passing. If time did exist with God in the nothingness before the creation of our universe, then why would it matter at all?
Since the first event relevant to us was on the first day of God’s seven days of creation (day and night or light and darkness), since this moment time has been an ever flowing list of ‘things happening.’ It waits for no one but God. Only God is capable of seeing time as an immobile force. God can see time like a circle, all sections of it at once.
Even when there is no beginning or end, God can see the beginning and the end. In fact, he IS the beginning and the end.
God IS our interpretation of time.
If I was asked by someone to describe a theologically sound and Christian description of time, it would take my entire life, death, and eternity to understand.
For more information on time, and to review some of the information I have been studying while learning more about our universe, check out the resources below.