top of page

Eternal Enigma: The Reality of God in Time

God and Time

God’s relationship to time is one of those age-old questions that have been around for centuries. Philosophers and theologians have been fascinated by it, myself included! A theology of time has implications for our understanding of God and his creation, and his relationship to history and people.

C. S. Lewis, Alan Padgett, and William Lane Craig, among others, have explored and written about God’s relationship to time. Although each of their contributions are quite different, they are insightful.

In C. S. Lewis’s famous book, Mere Christianity,[1] he has a chapter titled, Time and Beyond Time, where he argues that God does not exist in time at all. Lewis likens it to God being an author of a novel, although he acknowledges that the illustration breaks down. While the story sits within a specific time and context, the author is external to that time, and yet the author or creator has full knowledge of every single moment in the novel. We can think of God’s relationship to time in this way, he suggests. God exists outside or above time and so sees all of it at once, the whole timeline of all that has existed and will ever exist. Lewis writes, “What we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today’. All the days are ‘now’ for Him.”[2]

Thinking of this, it would make prayer quite interesting. God not only hears all the prayers you have ever prayed at once but is hearing all other prayers too. Imagine God pausing while talking to Moses on Mount Sinai, to listen to your prayers in the distant future. God need not pause to hear another’s prayers, of course, but it is an exhilarating idea that God may be listening and responding to your prayers at the same time he is doing so for all the famous biblical characters and all the great saints. In this perspective, God does not have history, according to C. S. Lewis.[3]

Another theologian, Alan Padgett, takes a quite different approach, one that is considerably more technical than C. S. Lewis’s. He argues that God created our time as measurable and finite. But this time exists in God’s own time, one that is immeasurable and infinite. But like Lewis, God who is infinite is not constrained to our finite time. And so, although God is temporal, that is, although he relates to time, he is not subject to our time, but he can change in relation to his creation.[4] This idea of change pushes back on C. S. Lewis, and any other traditional Christian theologian’s concept of God as timeless (beyond our world) which also implies that he is changeless[5] (Ps 102:27; Mal 3:6; Heb 13:8; and Jas 1:17). Alan Padgett argues that God changes in relation to this world and therefore he must be temporal and not timeless in an absolute sense. Nevertheless, in one way or another, he transcends time because he cannot be subject to the laws of nature.[6] Although God can enter into our space or measured time when he pleases, he “is not contained within it of necessity,” because “he transcends both time and space … his life is the ground of time, he is the Lord of time, and he is relatively timeless,” as Padgett explains.[7]

The contemporary Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, offers a third perspective. He disagrees with both C. S. Lewis and Alan Padgett, even though there is overlap. He argues that God is timeless without his creation, but temporal with it. In other words, God becomes subject to time at the very point that he creates objects or events in space and time. Although God is outside of things finite and created, he is nevertheless in time to relate to humanity and his creation.

William Lane Craig recognizes that most people try to solve the problem of God being transcendent and immanent (to be here with us in our world), and so they think of him being both timeless and temporal. But he argues that God cannot be both-and, in other words, he can only be timeless if he does not exist within time.[8] Yet, according to Scripture, God engages in activities anchored in time and human history; not only this, but he also has foreknowledge of the future and memory from the past. Craig shows that Scripture presents God as both everlasting and temporal (existing in time), citing Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” And Revelation 4:8b, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”[9] Scripture is not clear about God’s exact relationship to or in time, and so Craig turns to what he knows best, philosophical theology. He affirms what Scripture teaches, that “God exists beginninglessly and endlessly,” but we need to seek to understand what that implies. He believes that science and philosophy are helpful here.[10]

The evidence, Craig suggests, is that God engages in interpersonal relations and yet is also timeless. He reasons that “Once time begins at the moment of creation, either God becomes temporal in virtue of His real relation to the temporal world or else He exists just as timelessly with creation as He does without it.”[11] Therefore, at the point of creation, God changes, subjecting himself to time and relation to our universe, yet he remains eternal. In so doing he chooses freely to exist in the dimension of time at the moment of creation.[12] It must be this way, Craig argues, if God is to relate to our world.[13] He concludes that God has never had a beginning, and neither will he have an end, as in traditional Christian theology, but he is timeless without creation, as he was before he created, but exists temporally in time with creation. Yet he is omnitemporal, existing at every point in time that ever has and will exist.[14]

I find William Lane Craig’s concept of God’s relationship to time most convincing and helpful. That is not to say that it is perfectly correct; after all, how could our minds understand the infinite and transcendent? For me, it’s difficult to imagine God existing in time already past, and in the present, because it is so insignificantly short, or in the future which is yet to be realized.

Here I offer a more intuitive perspective of my own, one that gives credence to the authority of Scripture and acknowledges the significant contributions of science and philosophy already explored in this chapter. I proposed an alternative that, rather than existing in time, God fills every moment of time with his divine presence, similar in some ways to the way he filled the temple’s holy sanctuary, affording him the ability to interact with us and the affairs of our world.

This blog post is a section from a chapter titled Clockwork in my book, Embodied Afterlife: The Hope of an Immediate Resurrection. If you found this discussion interesting and would like to read the entire book, click here.

Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

[1] C. S. Lewis. 2009. Mere Christianity. New York: HarperOne. [2] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 178. [3] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 176. [4] Padgett, Alan G. 2000. God, Eternity and the Nature of Time. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2. [5] Padgett, God, Eternity and Time, 62. [6] Padgett, God, Eternity and Time, 122, 127. [7] Padgett, God, Eternity and Time, 130. [8] Craig, William Lane. 2001, Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time. Wheaton: Crossway, 18. [9] Craig, Time and Eternity, 20. [10] Craig, Time and Eternity, 37. [11] Craig, Time and Eternity, 134–35. [12] Craig, Time and Eternity, 134–35. [13] Craig, Time and Eternity, 151. [14] Craig, Time and Eternity, 352–76.


bottom of page