February 13, 2016

God without Time (again)

Because I'm fairly stupid about politics, I often wish theologians would put all their cards on the table. I suppose to the properly trained eye they already do this, but I am not yet able to gather all the implications of terms like "kenosis" or "process". And when a discussion name checks John Polkinghorne, Dallas Willard, and T. F. Torrance, I realize that some people are reading between the lines. Sadly, I am not.

On facebook tonight, someone shared a year-old post of Roger E. Olson's, An Example of Unwarranted Theological Speculation: Divine Timelessness. It's very interesting. So is the comment thread. I deeply appreciate the tremendous help it provides in combating a pernicious evil, imho, which is the persistent echo of the Greek philosophers' view that God exists "outside of Time".

Again, I agree 100% with the thrust of Roger's post. And yet it's missing something. Perhaps what I'm missing would be to do with the "process" view that Olsen said he was ignoring, and I might assume that refers to something called "process theology" (which I've heard of but never looked into, assuming that, as with most theological discourse, I probably won't like it very much). But whatever is missing - whatever cards I don't see on that table - would probably be helpful in explaining to me why Roger seems to contradict himself. In a reply to a comment, he says (rather brilliantly):
Why only the incarnation? If the incarnation, why not in general (in relation to creation)? I do not say God is "limited by time." People here are putting all kinds of words in my mouth--things they think I "must mean" that I have not said. Time is not a thing or substance or whatever. Time is a framework for relationships. God is both in time with us and Lord of time.
My only problem with this comment is the last sentence must be translated in order to make any sense: "God is both in [a framework for relationships] with us and Lord of [a framework for relationships]." Obviously this is what Roger must mean because otherwise he'd be saying God is "in" and "Lord of" something that "is not a thing". But again, with this comment I entirely agree.

So why, then, does he spend the entire post discussing "Time" according to the "kenotic" view, which apparently says that God was "outside of Time" and yet chose to come "within Time" in order to interact with humanity and creation. Sounds okay, I guess, if we translate that like I translated the statement above. However, in that case the whole thing becomes tautological and effectively meaningless, because it then says God was previously "outside of a framework for relationships" and chose to come "within a framework for relationships" so that he could, um, relate, to um, people and things.

Duh. So if that's what's being said, then how is this still a conversation about time? The answer is, obviously, that Roger is discussing what everyone else has said about Time, and attempting (valiantly, I say; and again I say, quite valliantly) to set the record straight against this abominable notion that God is frozen and immobile and entirely removed from our chaotic existence. But... there's a much easier way to combat this, at least, if anyone cares simply to argue the point, rather than to keep on arguing about the history of the arguments.

To that end, I left this comment there:
Time is a concept. Lackoff & Johnson called it one of the "metaphors we live by". It's an idea. Time is no more real than the earth's flatness or horizon. It's an illusion. Time is only a thing like "fashion" or "sports" or "calculus" or "aerobics" are things. Time is not part of space. Time is your collected perceptions from observing the motion of objects in space, and from your own experience of moving through space. In sum, "Time" is merely our collective description for the fact that things change and move around a lot. 
In other words, there is no such thing as Time for God to be either inside or outside of. If God can act and move, then God is dynamic, and so to say "God changes not" must be a poetic expression rather than a physical description. If God makes promises (including predictions), then God must feel confident in God's ability to deliver. (Full disclosure: I've not studied open theism, but this gets me accused of promoting that view. My primary interest in all this is to speak accurately about what Time is or is not.) 
My point is this. I do not understand why the "kenotic" category is necessary or helpful... unless you just really need to humor the people who don't understand why Time doesn't actually exist.

The only thing left to say is that I really don't know why anyone argues about God - who, being so far beyond us, seems quite inscrutable to the level of nuanced nit-picking that theologians often pursue. God is a mystery. God is amazing. God is holy and awesome. God became incarnate in Jesus. Let's argue about Jesus instead. That I can get behind. I can also get into arguments about things that human beings do actually have enough power to comprehend, such as Time. 

Indeed, we need to argue a lot more about time.

Anon, then..

UPDATE: Roger E Olson responded to my comment:
You pontificate here. Nobody is saying that "time" is ontologically real in the way you seem to assume. But it exists--in the "flow" of the past into the future and the future into the past. You could also say "darkness does not exist." Well, it does, even though it is not "real" in the same sense as light. Your last point is unhelpful and if all you want to do here is ridicule, don't bother. Future posts that contain comments like that will be discarded immediately, not posted here. Augustine rightly said "When you don't ask me what time is I know very well, but when you ask me what time is I have no idea" (paraphrase).
And to that I replied:

How astonishing. No, ridicule is not my intent, but please pardon my genuine exasperation.  I don't understand how you can say the classical view isn't ontological. The entire discussion is framed as if God needs to be more than just the prime mover, and as if "Time itself" is a natural force 'greater than which' God must necessarily be. Your 'kenotic' solution only seems useful if those terms (and that sense of a problem) cannot be abandoned. To me, it seems much simpler to point out that "Time" was never a problem in this way at all.  If that's not correct, then where do you disagree? Honestly, what am I missing?
I am presently waiting for that comment to be approved... 

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