Our lives are defined by time. We talk about five years ago, yesterday, today, tomorrow, two weeks from now. We regret or long for the past, and we fear or anticipate the future.
However, God doesn’t operate that way. Unlike us, God does not trek irreversibly forward on the timeline. He doesn’t grow old. He doesn’t wonder what will happen tomorrow.
So, what is God’s relationship to time?
What Is Time?
We are governed by time. We wish we had more of it, or we wish it would move faster. But what is time?
This has been a question scientists, philosophers, theologians, and everyday people have wrestled with for millennia. There is no simple answer, but perhaps the easiest is that time is the progression of events from the past, to the present, to the future.
In science, time is usually only used as a measurement. With ultra-precise atomic clocks, time can be measured to a degree of accuracy with only one second of error in about 30 million years. However, physics takes time further. Time is considered one element of four-dimensional space-time.
Most physicists agree that time had a beginning, although whether there will be an end of time is up for debate. As far as we have experienced, time only moves in one direction, forward toward the future, which is known as the arrow of time.
This refers to the asymmetry of time, in which time moves from a fixed, unchangeable past to an unknown, unfixed future… or at least, as far as we know, judging from experience and from the second law of thermodynamics’ principle of increasing entropy.
What Does the Bible Say about God’s Relationship with Time?
As is evident from the above section, we don’t fully understand time. Even more, we don’t comprehend the future. None of us can truly predict tomorrow.
However, according to the Bible, God knows exactly what is going to happen (Psalm 139:16). Thus, His relationship with time must be different than ours.
In Psalm 90:2, Moses says, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” He continues in Psalm 90:4, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”
This same sentiment is expressed in several places in the Bible, as in 2 Peter 3:8, which states, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” In this case, Peter seems to imply that not only does God exist for so long that a thousand years feel like nothing, but He also has such a unique relationship to time that a day can be like a thousand years; God somehow experiences a single one of our days in much greater depth than we do.
The Bible also repeats over and over that God is “from all eternity” (Psalm 93:2). God is everlasting, eternal.
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end (Psalm 102:25-27).
Did God Have a Beginning?
God is eternal. Eternity has no end. So, we know He won’t end. But did He ever begin? This is a place where we must do a bit of deduction.
John 1:3 says, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
So, then, all things were created by God, including eternity. And if all things were made by God, nothing could have made God, since God would not have made that thing. So, He could not have begun.
Furthermore, if something had created God, by the very idea that God is the highest possible being, that being would instead be God, leading us to a paradox of an infinite series of creators. We are instead led to what Aristotle called the “unmoved mover,” the supreme uncaused cause of all things, that is, God.
Thus, it stands to reason that God had no beginning, just as He will have no end.
Did God Create Time?
We must harken once again to John 1:3: “Through him all things were made.”
“All things” would include time.
As we discussed earlier, most physicists agree that time had a beginning, and the Bible records that God was there. “In the beginning,” states Genesis 1:1, the first verse in the Bible, “God created the heavens and the earth.”
As time is so closely tied to matter, being one of four physical dimensions, even if it was not stated that God created all things, it would stand to reason that time was also something He created “in the beginning” with the heavens and the earth.
Does God Transcend Time?
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4).
God existed before time, He created time, and He will exist even when “the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire” (2 Peter 3:10).
It’s helpful to revisit 2 Peter 3:8, in which not only is a thousand years like a day to the Lord, but a day is like a thousand years. God is not constrained by time and its marching progression.
John 4:24 reminds us that “God is spirit,” existing outside of and having created matter. The whole of the universe is not as great as God, who sustains it all. He is simultaneously in the past, present, and future. When He tells what is to come, He isn’t making a prediction; He is already there.
Revelation 1:8 sums this up well: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”
What Does God’s Transcendence Mean for Us?
God’s promises aren’t like human promises; we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but God does. He has seen it. When God says, “for I know the plans I have for you” (Jeremiah 29:11), His plans are certain. He has no doubt that His plans will come to fruition, for He has seen the end.
We can take comfort in this. When God says that one day, every tear shall be wiped away (Revelation 21:4), we can know this with the same certainty that we know what has happened in the past or what is happening currently.
God, the one who unimaginably loves us, who was willing to die for us, holds all of time and the universe in His hand. How can we possibly worry about anything?
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Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. She is the co-author of Dear Hero and has 200+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.