Is God out of time?

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Another interesting thread brought up the topic regarding how bound by time God is.

On one hand some believe that God is outside the boundaries of time and sees all time and space laid out before Him.

The other side believes that God is bound by time, but possesses all knowledge that is available at that time (all-knowing).

I’m not sure if I can see an argument for the former and still believe in free will, but the latter also strains my senses of comprehension.

It made me think about this:

If God(s) are not bound by time; and assuming as man is, God once was; Does this not mean that all potential members of godhood are existing in two forms but at the same time? i.e. Their temporal body now, and their not-contrained-by-time form also now.

47 thoughts on “Is God out of time?

  1. God is not out of time in the sense that all time frames are before him. He cannot be in the past present and future at the same time. Neither can he travel to any of them. He can see a vision of the past or future but he cannot go to themplaces as they do not exist. I loved the back to the future movies even though the logic of doing it is ridiculous.
    God is out of time as we see it, meaning, he is not going to die or age. In the millenium, time according to D&C 88:110 will be no longer. Whether this means there will be no more night and day sequences or that we will not rest in the earth when we die is what this means. We measure time according to day and night. I believe though that there will be no more night during the millenium and hence, the reference to it.
    This sort of topic came up years ago in elders quorum and someone asked if God already knew the future exactly, because of the reference to not being bound by time. I told them that logic would make God evil because he would have had to knowingly create evil (satan), which of coarse would make God evil for doing so. The other logic of it is- If all time is present with God in this way then We both exist as Gods already and have not been created yet, which of coarse is a paradox.
    There has to be sequnce to everything which makes the way that God measures his timeframe- by the sequence of events that happen in the present that cannot be changed afterwards. This also leaves the door open for God to not positively know the outcome for each one of us. It makes even God manage the universe off of faith- an eternal principle.

  2. Rob, in your remarkably confident lecture on the facts of the universe, it seems to me you’re contradicting yourself. You say, on the one hand, that God can “have a vision of” (or in simpler terms, see) past, present and future at once. If he can see them, why do you believe he has no knowledge of the future?

  3. Seeing the future does not necessarily mean it will happen. God can see the past and future- (as far as the probabilities work out) but he is independant of them just like you and I. To God and to us, the future represents a time that has not happened yet just as the past represents events that already happened.
    The future represents events that haven’t happened yet. I think that the way a vision works for these future events is the law of probability. Meaning, if everything continues on the current coarse- this certain event has a probability of happening. This vision is the sum total of all of the current knowns put against the past conclusive evidence of the party involved. It would be kind of like a train engineer that goes on the same route day after day and knowing all of the little things about the run. The engineer then takes into account future probabilities (snowstorm forecasts, fog, etc..) and weighs them with the past conclusive evidence, and is able with some assurance how long the run will take and the risk involved.
    Angels are privy to the forecast of evenys that will effect our lives from time to time, and in turn, warn us of the future probability of an event if we continue making the same decisions. These forwarnings are what saves us a lot of the time without our even knowing it.
    I don’t know if this is making any sense of how it relates to God and time. I guess that what I am getting at is that God is no more independant from time as ourselves other than he will not age, and he can see visions better.

  4. So what I think your saying is, for the universe (as far as time travel goes) the rules are more like Terminator rather than the extremely flexible Back to the Future rules or the rigid non-flexible rules in 13 Monkeys.

  5. “God can see the past and future- (as far as the probabilities work out)”

    Then God isn’t “seeing” the future at all. He’s just acting as a cosmic oddsmaker, figuring out what he thinks will MOST LIKELY be the future, giving his Prophets visions of that most-probable version, and hoping really hard he’s right.

    I still just can’t have faith in such a being.

  6. “Then God isn’t “seeing” the future at all.”

    Unless of course his definition of “seeing” is different than “yours”. I have this feeling that omniscience is far more complex than simply increasing one’s fact repository.

  7. By “more complex” you mean “less accurate”? Or something else? Either Ron’s definition of “seeing” is “knowing” or it means something more like “making really good guesses.” I thought he meant the first, but I’ve already discussed the second.

  8. Time is part of G-d’s creation. Of course He is independent of it.
    The Nibley G-d bound by time or the reorganizer of existing energy/matter is a sub-contractor G-d, not the Almighty.

  9. Steve, I confess I hadn’t really thought of Time being one of God’s creations. I thought of it as something that just was. It appears, based on the nonscriptural poetry of certain Apostles, that God was once less than he is now. So I’m sympathetic to the views expressed above, wondering how God could be free from time if he has existed in time.

    However, when I say that God is free from time, I mean only that he can SEE past, present and future, not that he EXISTS in all at once.

  10. I wonder if John 8:56-59 has anything to do with this? When Jesus says, Before Abraham was, I AM, he may be saying several things at once. First, he’s saying that he existed before Abraham. Second, he’s saying that he is the great I AM who spoke to Moses and the other prophets in the Old Testament. But is there more to the expression I AM here? He doesn’t say, I WAS. He says I AM (an expression of present tense) before Abraham was (an expression of past tense). So is he saying that his own existence as God is unbounded by time and that he literally IS in the past and present simultaneously? I don’t know the answer to this but I find it intriguing.

    Is this how God can say he is everlasting and unchanging from eternity to eternity–even though apparently, he progressed from being less than he now is? In other words is his current existence one that stretches infinitely into the past as well as the future?

  11. Itbugaf,

    I believe that no-one can exist both in the past and present at the same time. You can only exist in the present. I believe that God was just stating that he is eternal.

  12. Rob, I understand your belief. I just wonder whether the theory I presented in #12 could answer Rick’s question in the original post.

    Saying “You can only exist in the present” may just be trying to impose human limitations on God–limitations of our understanding, as well as our relationship to time. Or, you may be right. I don’t know which.

  13. …You see, what I find interesting is that God doesn’t just say he’s eternal; he says he is unchanging from eternity to eternity (see D&C 76:4). But if we believe God has ever changed or progressed, then we have to reconcile that with what he says about himself. What does “from eternity to eternity” mean? In my view, it means, infinitely in both directions of time–into the infinite past and into the infinite future.

  14. Does the fact that time is not a constant (see Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity) affect your opinion on the way that God is inside or outside the boundaries of time?

    (To anyone who cares to answer)

  15. As far as I understand, Einstein still says you can pass through time in only one direction. But I believe that God is a good enough scientist that seeming impossibilities are not impossibilities to him. For example, he raises the dead, atones for the acts of others, and so forth. So even if time were a constant, I would be willing to believe that he could play with it in ways we don’t understand.

  16. … or rather, “even if our current scientific understanding led us to conclude that time was a constant…”

  17. “As far as I understand, Einstein still says you can pass through time in only one direction.”

    I think is would be more appropriately stated: As far as we can observe, cause will always be seen to come before effect.

    Any die-hard relativists can feel free to correct me as well. =)

  18. “By “more complex” you mean “less accurate”? Or something else?”

    Less accurate than what? I am not sure what you mean.

    I do not believe God’s knowledge is like our knowledge in that we simply increase our knowledge by adding more things to our fact database. I believe it is more complex than that.

    King Benjamin and Isaiah summed it up well when they said “believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend” (Mosiah 4:9) and “my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9).

  19. “I would be willing to believe that he could play with it in ways we don’t understand.”

    So you don’t think that God acts only within the laws of nature?

  20. By the way Rick, you might be interested in reading Stephen Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell.

    I especially liked the sections on time travel and the twins paradox.

    The twins paradox:

    “One of a pair of twins (a) leaves on a space journey during which he travels close to the speed of light, while his brother (b) remains on Earth.

    Because of (a)’s motion, time runs more slowly in the spacecraft as seen by the earthbound twin. So on his return the space traveller (a2) will find that his brother (b2) has aged more than himself.

    Although it seems against common sense, a number of experiments have implied that in this scenario the travelling twin would indeed be younger.”

  21. Jeff asked, “So you don’t think that God acts only within the laws of nature?”

    I think that when God performs a miracle, he is really acting within the laws of the universe, in ways that we don’t yet understand. But since there is a vast amount we don’t know yet about the universe, it’s quite probable that many of our current beliefs about what is “impossible” or what “violates” the laws of the universe, are false beliefs. He knows better, because he knows everything. He has all knowledge and all power, and can do things we don’t understand. He can even do things we CAN’T understand, as Kim pointed out in #20.

    Kim, regarding #20, let me see if I can come up with a better way to phrase the question: In #9 I was discussing #s 3, 7 and 8. Rob seemed to say that God sees the future but that he doesn’t know what it contains. I said that if what he’s seeing isn’t an absolutely reliable picture of the future–the actual, real future–then he isn’t seeing it at all, but only coming up with a conjecture of the future based on probabilities. In reply, you said that seeing the future might mean something other than seeing the real future, and that omniscience is “more complex” than just having more facts. So what I was trying to ask in reply was, do you mean that omniscience consists of conjecture rather than fact? I think to be omniscient, you have to actually KNOW the REAL future, not just have a darn good guess about what it will probably be.

    If God doesn’t really KNOW the future but only the probabilities, then I worry about what will happen if he finds out he was wrong in one of his very well-educated guesses. What if it turns out Christ won’t really return? What if the Atonement doesn’t end up actually taking care of all sins? What if the New Jerusalem doesn’t get built on the American continent after all? This is what I’m getting at when I say I can’t have faith in a God who doesn’t truly KNOW the future. I hope that makes it clearer.

    Jeff, Re: the Twins Paradox. Both twins are getting older, moving only forward in time, never backward. As far as I can see, Einstein still sees forward motion through time as an absolute, even if the rate at which it passes is relative. But since God knows much more than Einstein, maybe there really is a way–either not yet understood by man or perhaps not even understandable by mortal man–to move through time in reverse. The phrase “from eternity to eternity” is most intriguing in connection with this question.

  22. “I worry about what will happen if he finds out he was wrong in one of his very well-educated guesses.”

    Then I guess he wouldn’t be that omniscient after all.

  23. Kim, that’s my whole point! If God doesn’t know the future then he could be wrong about the future, in which case his prophecies could fail. Knowing everything tht’s true NOW, and being able to calculate the probabilities of what may or may not happen in the future leaves him vulnerable to error. But God’s prophecies DON’T fail. That’s why I find it impossible to believe in a God who doesn’t know the future. Geoff asked me why this matters, as long as God is able to bring to pass his purposes. But if he can’t know the future, then he doesn’t really know that he can bring to pass his purposes. He only knows there’s a good probability that he can bring them to pass. And if he doesn’t now, then we can’t rely on what he reveals to his prophets. Lack of knowledge of the gfuture makes him fallible, and there’s no way to have perfect faith in him.

  24. “being able to calculate the probabilities of what may or may not happen in the future leaves him vulnerable to error.”

    Unless of course is understanding of and ability to make precisitions is more advanced than yours or mine.

  25. Either his predictions are absolutely infallible or they aren’t. If they are, then he KNOWS what’s going to happen and the future is fixed. If they aren’t, he’s vulnerable to error.

    Either he knows what’s going to happen and can’t be wrong about it, or he’s just predicting what’s going to happen and is vulnerable to error.

    Which is it? Does he know, or is he only predicting?

  26. Do you mean only humans think there’s a difference between knowing something and only guessing at it? Do you mean only humans think there’s a difference between being absolutely infallible and not being absolutely infallible?

  27. No, what I am saying, is you are basing His comprehension on human comprehension. You can’t possibly know what and how He knows things, because you don’t have His level of knowledge and comprehension.

  28. If we can’t possibly know what he knows and what he doesn’t know, then why do the Prophets in the scriptures tell us that he knows everything from the beginning, that he has foreknowledge of future events? If those Prophets, as fallible humans, are incapable of knowing whether God knows the future or doesn’t, then why are they telling us he does?

    If humans can’t possibly know what God knows and what he doesn’t know, then why am I the one who’s judging incorrectly? Kim and Geoff apparently say God can’t know the future. Isn’t that judging what God knows? Who is limiting God’s knowledge to human comprehension–the one who says he knows all, or the one who says “God can’t know X because no one can know X”?

  29. Kim isn’t saying he can’t know the future. You didn’t read his posts properly. I also didn’t see Geoff saying that either.

    What *I* am saying is *you* are judging Heavenly Father’s knowledge and comprehension by human comprehension and knowledge.

    Ok, that’s the last I am saying this. Maybe you will comprehend it now.

  30. Geoff says that (1) God knows all that is knowable and (2) God doesn’t know the future because if he did know it, there would be no free will. So obviously Geoff IS saying that God can’t know the future because the future isn’t knowable.

    Kim says that if God knows the future then we have no free will. So I’ve been trying to get him to tell me which he believes–that there’s no free will, or that God doesn’t know the future. So far he still hasn’t given a direct answer.

  31. Here is an interesting speculation.

    If God or any highly advanced scientist for that matter, could travel at the speed of light, then theoretically time for everyone else would stop.

    Since we know that mass increases as an object approaches the speed of light, it doesn’t seem possible that a physical object (as we know them) could reach that speed.

    For the philisophical at heart, potentially if spirits are made up of energy and not matter as we know it, then maybe they can travel at the speed of light. And if that’s the case, then for all intents and purposes it would appear to mortals as if they are travelling instantly everywhere.

    But what if they could increase their speed past the speed of light, maybe in doing so they could actually reverse time! :)

    But the wrench in the gears, from the Mormon perspective anyway, is that God has a physical body (God not including the Holy Ghost).

    Since most of the speculation in this thread isn’t based on any physical evidence anyway, does anyone care to speculate on anything I’ve just said?

  32. Oops, I just realized I made a couple mistakes in that last post.

    I don’t think reaching the speed of light would make time stop for others, it would only appear from the perspective of the traveller to slow down a great deal for those not travelling.

    And continuing that thought, if something were travelling at the speed of light, it wouldn’t appear to travel instantly, only very fast (at the speed of light).

  33. Jeff, maybe “very fast” is good enough.

    Interesting that although God’s body is tangible, we don’t know much about the nature of the matter it’s made of. Joseph Smith said the spirit is made of a purer kind of matter. Maybe the glorified body is yet another kind. Maybe it can convert from material to energy form and back. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

  34. “Kim says that if God knows the future then we have no free will.”

    No, I said if the future is fixed, we have no free will.

    “Either he knows what’s going to happen and can’t be wrong about it, or he’s just predicting what’s going to happen and is vulnerable to error.”

    I don’t think there’s a dichotomy. I think there is a possibility for other scenarios. For example, God’s omniscience could be so advanced and complete as to include the ability to predict the future to a degree far more accurate than any human could ever do; even perhaps to the point that he is always right.

  35. Kim, be reasonable. You also said that if God knows the future, the future is fixed. So connect the statements. God knows the future = the future is fixed = we have no free will.

    You suggest that God’s predictive power could be absolutely perfect, so that he is always right about what’s really going to happen. Is there any real distinction between this and knowing the future? If he really knows exactly what’s going to happen, then he knows the future, and according to you, the future is fixed.

    So as I said before, his knowledge of the future is either infallible or fallible. If it’s infallible, the future is fixed.

    I, on the other hand, can’t accept the statement that if the future is fixed, we have no free will. That’s because, unlike you and Geoff, I’m willing to look at the course of causes and effects independently from the course of time. Is the future fixed? Sure it is. What fixes it? Free choices made by people with true free will and agency. What causes God to know the future? Seeing the free choices that people make.

  36. Steve EM: “…the reorganizer of existing energy/matter is a sub-contractor G-d, not the Almighty.”

    Not according to Joseph Smith. He says that matter is co-eternal with God. So are you. Joseph rejected the teaching that “creation” meant creation ex nihilo.

  37. “Is there any real distinction between this and knowing the future?”

    Semantically, yes. But I wonder whether past prophets thought there was a distinction.

    “Is the future fixed? Sure it is. What fixes it? Free choices made by people with true free will and agency.”

    If people really do make choices based on complete freedom to choose, then the future cannot be fixed; it is undetermined until those choices are made. If it is determined beforehand, then choices cannot be made to change it. If someone can make a choice that would change the fixed future, than it cannot be fixed.

  38. No, it’s not unknowable to God. We already know this, because we already have ample scriptural proof which I’ve already presented to you several times. The scriptures also show us just as clearly that we really do have free will. You and Geoff, however, have decided that one of these scriptural statements has to be untrue. You base this not on the scriptures, but on human logic propounded by certain philosphers, whom you seem to trust more than prophets. Forcing yourselves to choose between free will and God’s foreknowledge, you seem to favor free will,though I don’t know why.

    However, taking your own previous statements at face value, if God can predict the future with absolute infallibility, then the future is known to him. If that means the future is fixed, then the future is, according to you and not me, fixed. You’ve kept repeating the nonsequitur mantra that if the future is fixed then we have no freedom.

    Since you believe that we DO have freedom (I think) then according to the false dichotomy between foreknowledge and freedom that you’ve embraced, you can’t believe that God is able to predict everything with infallible accuracy.

    If you don’t believe that God is absolutely infallible about the future, then you believe in a God who is fallible. I don’t.

    However, you could easily free yourself from this box by simply recognizing that God’s knowledge of the future, or the conditions or abilities that make his knowledge thereof possible, do nothing to limit or compromise or limit the agency of man. In other words, God can know the future, perfectly and absolutely, and we can still have true freedom.

    I believe the Prophets when they tell me we have freedom of will, and I also believe them when they tell me that God knows the end from the beginning. If some philosophers and logicians have a problem with that, too bad. I’m not willing to let them impose human limitations on God.

  39. “it’s not unknowable to God. We already know this, because we already have ample scriptural proof which I’ve already presented to you several times.”

    Do we? Or are the scriptures you previously cited using language familiar to the speakers and not necessarily literal?

    For example, does Nephi—in 1 Nephi 22:4—in his usage of the phrase “the isles of the sea (and not “some isles of the sea”) mean that every island in the world was inhabited by the tribes of Israel? Did Mormon in Helaman 3:8 really mean that the entire planet was inhabited by Nephites? Did Moses really mean in Genesis 6:18-22 that Noah took two (or more) of every animal in the world on the ark; did Noah travel to Australia to get the kangaroo and the North Pole to get the polar bear? Does Isaiah in Isaiah 5:28 really saying that the future will see horses that have wheels?

    In the scriptures you cited, are they really describing knowledge as we know it or are they using words that describe the process/quality better than any other word can?

    “if God can predict the future with absolute infallibility, then the future is known to him.”

    No, it is not. It is not absolute. If he cannot see it, it cannot be known, at least not known in the sense of the word as you are using it.

    Interestingly enough, I came across the definition of know today:

    • To perceive directly; grasp in the mind with clarity or certainty.
    • To regard as true beyond doubt.
    • To have a practical understanding of, as through experience; be skilled in.
    • To have fixed in the mind.
    • To have experience of.
    • To perceive as familiar; recognize.
    • To be acquainted with.
    • To be able to distinguish; recognize as distinct
    • To discern the character or nature of.

    It seems that “to know” can be used in more than the way you are interpreting the aforementioned scriptures.

    “However, you could easily free yourself from this box”

    That’s just it; I don’t think God’s knowledge (of the future, or otherwise) has to have the confinements you are placing on it. I am open to the possibility, as previously stated, that God’s knowledge may be more than simply an accumulation of numberless facts. I think your box analogy is misdirected.

    “I’m not willing to let them impose human limitations on God.”

    And yet you are letting yourself do just that. You are defining his knowledge by human limitations (i.e. his knowledge is linear, limited in two directions; backwards and forwards).

  40. Kim, I think each of us is asking the other to look outside the range of possibilities he can presently see. For now, I suppose we have to leave it at that.

    I still don’t understand why you and Geoff both accept the statement, “If the future is fixed then we have no real free will” as if it were self-proving.

    But I don’t think we’re getting anywhere. Interesting discussion. I hope the continuation of the “Does God know/not know the future?” discussion on this thread hasn’t derailed it from its original inquiry, which I find very interesting (as you can see above).

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