A prevailing thought that has crept into christian thinking is that God is outside of time and that He observes the past, present, and future simultaneously. Since men believe they can grasp how God perceives time, they also think that they can interpret scripture from this perspective. As a result, they begin to interpret and filter everything as if all of time had already been completed and that the passage of time is only a figment of our perception. However, the writers of the Bible never intended to have man try to live this life or interpret what they wrote in anyway outside of the context of time as humans experience it. Therefore, when people begin to interpret all of time as a frozen image of the past, present, and future which God fashioned and placed on His wall to admire, they begin to fall into error and distort the intended meaning of what has been written.
Going Beyond What is Written
The concept that God dwells “outside of time” has its origins long ago perhaps being made more popular by theologians such as Augustine. However, this view has also been widely questioned among theologians and philosophers and by no means has been established as truth. The main reason people today think that God is outside of time is because they believe time is part of creation and God can't be contained by His creation. However, to say that God is “outside of time” because of such things are merely assumptions and an attempt to fit God into a box which man can logically think about.
The danger in logically attempting to elaborate on how God perceives time is that it becomes necessary to go beyond what the scripture teaches (1 Corinthians 4:6). First of all, the Bible never states that time is a part of creation. Just because God defined evening and morning as a day and began marking off days in Genesis 1 does not mean that time was not going on before this system of measurement was made. According to the scriptures there is every reason to believe that God always experienced time and that He merely made His creation experience the “time” of which He had always been conscious. The main evidence of this can be seen in passages that state that God was doing things before He made creation (John 17:24, 1 Peter 1:20). The point here really is not to say that time is or is not part of creation. It is simply to realize that we don't know and we have to read more into passages than what is stated to come to such conclusions.
God is IN Time
The conclusion that God is “outside of time” and looking at time as if it were a frozen image of everything that has and will occur is not biblical. One reason this idea is popular is because of false perceptions of biblical words and phrases. A particular word that people have false perceptions about is the word “eternal” or “eternity.” The word “eternal” is often thought to mean “without time”, but the words that get translated as “eternal” in the Bible don't really mean this. The Greek and Hebrew words for eternal mean: time as it perpetually moves on or as an ongoing series of ages. At some points, the Bible even uses these words for “eternity” to describe the ancient past as if to simply mean “long ago beyond this era”. As a result, when Isaiah 57:15 states that God inhabits eternity, it is communicating no more than that God inhabits all of time (to say He inhabits an existence “without time” or “outside of time” is going beyond what is written). No one knows exactly how God experiences time, but the writers of the Bible always talk about God in the context of time. When they write that God knows the end from the beginning they are explaining things in the context of time (because an end and beginning only exist in time) (Isaiah 45:10). Even when they write God knew us before we were formed has the implication of before (time). One can't use the word “before” without the implication that there is an “after” (to “foreknow” is no different) (Psalm 139:16). All these things imply a concept of time, not a lack thereof. As a result, to say that God is outside of time is not biblical (Certainly His capacity is not limited by time as with us, but He is very much inside of time). Since we don't know how God experiences “before and after”, it is mere speculation when we attempt to interpret scripture in anyway but in the context of time as we experience it. Those who have chosen to build their doctrinal understanding on the basis of such speculations have added to the scriptures.
People also think God is outside of time because of mysterious sounding passages in the scriptures. A classic example would be 2 Peter 3:8-9: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Peter is not teaching here that God perception of a day and a thousand years is as a single moment (being outside of time). In fact he is teaching quite the opposite. Instead of God experiencing this time as a “single moment” he writes that a “duration” of a day and a thousand years is similar. In all simplicity, Peter is merely expressing an idea from the Psalms that for an eternal God, a day or a thousand years is but a tick of a clock (Psalm 90:1-4). We must be careful not to build doctrines on mysterious passages that have very simple explanations.
Another reason people view God “outside of time” is that it would give Him the ability to see everything that ever happened or will happen. It is then reasoned that this ability to see everything “outside of time” makes Him “all knowing”. However, the bible never explains that this is the means by which He obtains His “all knowing” quality. This reason for God being all knowing has been so widely taught that it is often assumed by many, but what does the Bible actually teach? Isaiah gives us some insight into how or why God knows the future: "Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it...The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass" (Isaiah 46:9-11, 48:3). The reason God can know the end from the beginning according to these passages is because He is actively working in this world and nothing can stop Him from bringing to pass His will. This same truth is expressed in Colosians 1:16-17 when Paul writes that Jesus made and sustains in existence everything created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, all thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities. Every second of the day Jesus is keeping people alive and He is turning men's hearts like a stream of water in His hand in whatever direction He desires (Proverbs 21:1, Philippians 2:13). It is God's ability to influence the desires and choices of man that allows Him to foreknow and write in a book about their future based upon how He has predetermined Himself to interact with them (Psalm 139:16, Revelation 17:8, Proverbs 16:9). Though the Bible does not teach that God is “outside of time” observing everything, it does teach that He is actively at work in time bringing to pass what He “foreknew” to be His will (Romans 8:29-30).
When people try to figure out how God determined His will or how He predestined believers, they are merely speculating about things they cannot understand. Paul marvels at how God determines His will when he writes, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?" (Romans 11:33-34). Paul clearly believes that God's ways are beyond us. As a result, such attempt to speculate as if we understand how God determines what will come to pass is like a kitten pretending to make logical deductions about calculus, it is outside of our capacity (Isaiah 55:8-9). Even when Job tried to do such things God spent several chapters rebuking him; explaining that he didn't have a clue what was really going on (Job 38:1-43:34). If we don't want to be foolish, we must not try to speculate about things outside our capacity to understand.
Our Capacity of Understanding
Though it is foolish for us to speculate about how God determines His will, there are many things that do fall in our capacity of understand. One thing that is within our capacity is to know the heart of God and what His general desires are for us. One thing on God's heart is that all men would turn to Him: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). God does not enjoy seeing people sin nor does He enjoy punishing them for their sin: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?...Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (Ezekiel 18:23, 31-32). God takes more pleasure in seeing people turn from sin than to simply see people doing right: “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). The reason God does not delight in sending people to hell is because of His love for them (Romans 5:8). It is this love for people that drove God to send His son to die and make a way for sinners to repent (John 3:16).
Distorted View of Predestination
One of the common errors that people fall into when they speculate about a timeless reality and how God predestines who will get eternal life is that they believe that no one has a free will. Such people view the past, present, and future existing as an instant in a book that God wrote and that our reality is merely the pages of the predetermined story. In this way, no one really has the ability to make choices and their fate is solely determined on what has already been destined in God's book. They get this idea from passages that state, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalms 139:15-16). When people see their existence is as merely the pages of the determined story in God's book they have removed something from this passage, “time”. God's book is not our timeless existence, it is a prediction of what God will accomplish in the future “before” it comes to be (as stated in the passage). This prediction doesn't even seem to be completely set in stone because some passage seem to indicate that God makes changes to His book as time goes on: “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels” (Revelation 3:5). When people remove “time” from the scriptures they come to the erroneous conclusion that people don't have the ability to make choices in life.
The removal of “time” from the scriptures has practical implication by affecting our perspective of unbelievers and the Gospel. When people see our existence as the pages of a predetermined story in God's book, the conclusion they often come to is that there is no reason to evangelize because God has already determined who will repent. Unfortunately, this perspective completely goes against the instructions that God has given in the scriptures to reach out to the lost (Matthew 9:37-38, Mark 16:15-16, 1 Peter 3:15) and contradicts many passages that indicate that people have a the ability to make choices (Deuteronomy 30:19-20, Joshua 24:15, Isaiah 66:3-4, Luke 13:34, John 7:17, 2 Corinthians 9:7, Revelation 3:20, Revelation 22:17). Those who have fallen into this perspective have not only distorted God's heart for the lost, but has also inappropriately made the Gospel only for a select few. In the scriptures we see that Jesus intended His teaching and the message of the Gospel to be spread to everyone (Mathew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). Jesus' heart is that all would come to repentance, but because people can make choices, not all will choose to turn (Matthew 23:37, Romans 10:21). It is not that the Gospel is only for a few, but that not everyone to whom the Gospel has been give chooses to believe its message (Romans 10:16, John 1:11-13). If we attempt to interpret our existence as timeless pages in a book, we will end up missing who the Gospel is for and even distort its message.
The way that the Gospel ends up getting distorted when people view God “outside of time” is that it appears that God doesn't love all sinners. Such people who don't believe that God experiences time usually think that God sees a person as the sum of their whole completed life. Therefore, those who hold this perspective believe that God has always loved those who have been predestined for salvation and has always hated the rest. If God only sees people as the sum of their whole completed life then the scriptures should describe that God's perspective of people doesn't change with time and that He has always viewed some people as His beloved friends and the rest as His enemies under His wrath. However, the Bible actually teaches that everyone starts out as an enemy of God under His wrath. In this state of being an enemy, the Gospel describes that God loves these enemies and that over the course of time their relationship with Him can change:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-7).
The bible describes that in the past some people were objects of God's wrath like everyone else who is going to Hell, but were reconciled to God through Jesus. In addition, it also states that these people are presently in a relationship with God awaiting a time in the future when the full riches of His grace will be expressed. (Colosians 1:21-23, Titus 3:3-5, Romans 8:16-18, Hebrews 9:28). As a result, the past, present and future are intrinsically intertwined in the message of the Bible and a person's relationship with God can change with time. Since time is deeply intertwined in the message of the Gospel, attempting to interpret the Gospel outside of the concept of time only leads to error.
The change in a person's relationship with God in “time” is further described in Romans 5:9-10, “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more will we be saved from God's wrath through Him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved through His life!” The bible teaches that everyone starts out an enemy of God under His wrath and that with regard to their sinful acts, He hates them (Psalm 5:5). Nevertheless, even while God has hate for His enemies, He also loves them (Matthew 5:44-45, Romans 11:28). Its is because this love is constantly being extended toward those living on the earth that all have had the opportunity to choose to stop being His enemy and be reconciled to Him (1 John 2:2, Revelation 3:20, Revelation 22:17, John 7:17). Most people do not receive God's love and therefore, never experience the benefits it brings in reconciliation and salvation (Matthew 7:13-14). However, to those who do receive it, this message of love forms the central heart of the Gospel in their Christian faith.
When people strip God's love for sinner from the Gospel, they greatly distorts its message. Paul summarized the message of the Gospel when he wrote, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5). In Paul's boiled down description of the Gospel, He places Christs death as a central element. Since Christ's death is central in the Gospel and we are to understand Christ death as an expression of love for sinners (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:7-12, John 3:16), the message of the Gospel is distorted when we strip God's love sinners from it.
If the message of God's love's for sinners is removed, then the Gospel's power to change sinners has also been stripped away. When sinners come to Christ they are changed from loving the earthly things (James 4:4, 1 John 2:15-16) to wanting to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). This change takes place when they love God (1 John 5:2-3). The reason why those who repent start loving God is because He loved them first: “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The way that people come to know God's love is the message of what Jesus did in the Gospel: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16). When God's love for people is removed from the Gospel it therefore removes the reason why people start pleasing Him. As a result, “Christians” who never understand God's love aren't empowered by the Gospel, but live in bondage to fear, intimidation, and condemnation (1 John 4:18).
Avoid the Damage
Though many people don't realize how distorted and devastating a view of God being outside of time can become, we must realize the dangers and not add to the scriptures as many others already have. Their additions to the scriptures has turned God into a tyrant, stripped the free will of people, and removed the power of the Gospel. Despite how much damage has been done, we must not attack those who believe in a timeless existence, but warn them about its dangers. As we pursue to grow in Christ together and bring others into God's kingdom let us be very careful how we consider time and God's will.