Does Prayer Make a Difference?

Does prayer make a difference, or would God have done whatever you prayed for (assuming he grants your prayer) anyway?

A little CSL goes a long way. In response to a similar question to the above, he says

“I suppose the solution lies in pointing out that the efficacy of prayer is, at any rate, NO MORE of a problem than the efficacy of ALL human acts. i.e. if you say “It is useless to pray because Providence already knows what is best and will certainly do it,” then why is it not equally useless (and for the same reason) to try to alter the course of events in any way whatever – to ask for the salt or book your seat in a train?”

All this ties in, for Lewis, with the fact that in creating free beings God has “self-restricted” his power in such a way where things actually depend on the action and choices of such agents. To give freedom necessarily implies giving the ability to go this way OR that way, to do good OR bad. And if God made the universe like this (which, since evil exists he apparently did, since he is all good), then evidently he has instituted certain things like prayer which really CAN make a difference in how the whole show unfolds.

That is how he set the whole game up. Evidently, then,  how we play it really does matter.


Can Prayer Change God’s Mind?

This question was put to me recently: can you pray hard enough to change God’s plan? I think this is a very probative and important question. Let me explore it.

I begin by noting that there are several SIMILAR questions to the one above which focus around the same puzzle. Here is one example – if God loves other people perfectly, say, like, the homeless person on the street, won’t he take care of them regardless of if I help them or not? Or here is another – if everything that happens is a part of God’s plan, won’t he achieve whatever means he is after regardless of what I do? If God INTENDS the homeless man to be fed, won’t he get fed anyway?

The kernel of these questions is essentially this. If God already has the game in hand, what’s the point in our playing? If he is going to arrive at checkmate NO MATTER WHAT, then how do our moves really matter?

The first thing to notice about this question is this. It assumes a kind of competitive relationship between God and the world. It assumes, for example, that we and God are existing alongside each other and that he is coming along behind us and reacting to what we do. If we fail to feed the homeless man and God still intends the man to eat, then God can influence the next passerby, perhaps irresistibly, to offer him dinner. And in the very last resort, since God can perform miracles, he could (if he wanted) simply miraculously provide the homeless man food. He could send an angel who appeared as a human or could simply create a subway sandwich out of nothing and have it lying in the homeless man’s path on his way to the park.

But if God is outside of time in some higher dimension that CONTAINS all moments of time, this picture of God and the world is misleading. Rather than there being an us-verses-God situation, or a situation in which we exist over and against God as two people do or two physical objects, we have a more difficult and mysterious situation. The reality is that God is always, everywhere, at all times working in and through all created people and things. He is not OVER and AGAINST creation, rather IN him creation “lives, moves, and has its being.” So there is really no such thing as God constantly TINKERING with what is going on in the world in order to achieve his plan. He is not sitting back and deciding moment to moment whether or not to answer a particular prayer. Rather, since he exists in all times “at once” (in some higher mode we cannot imagine), he eternally grants (or refuses) some prayer he sees at time 1 in order to bring about some good he sees at time 2.

So the question of us “changing” God’s mind really assumes that our prayers are reaching God as he is moving along the timeline with us. On this view God is sort of like a human parent who is trying to raise his children into good people. He has a particular, predetermined end in view. Say for instance he wants to teach his child bravery and independence. So too that he sends the child off to a week at camp by himself. But suppose the child, on arriving at camp, is very scared. Suppose he is so upset that he calls home and begs and cries that daddy will come get him. Now the question is, does God “change” his plan in order to accommodate for the child’s action?

Here is what I want to say. I do not think God “changes” his plan. That would imply that God’s mind changes, or that God doesn’t know what is best for us from moment to moment. In fact it would make God just as clueless as we are in how best to providentially govern the world. But even though I do not think God’s plan changes I do think God’s plan TAKES INTO ACCOUNT these very free actions that we do. God’s plan always eternally involves the child’s cries at camp and our prayers of request. Since he is outside of time he does not have to “wait and see” what we will do. He is always seeing it and always responding.

I think of it like this. God’s plan already includes all free choices. It takes into account all the actions of creatures and in doing so permits some and stops others. If I imagine all of time as a line, and God as the page on which it is drawn, then it seems reasonable to me to say that God allows certain things at earlier points in the line because of goods he will bring about at later points in the line. He allows, say, the child at camp to suffer from homesickness because he sees that after going through this experience it will make him a stronger person. Indeed he sees how it is this very experience – this apparently minor triumph of the pre-teenage life – that the child, now a man, summons up for courage later in life when he asks the woman who will be his wife to marry him.

When I say she “will be” his wife I am not, by the way, implying that the man is unfree in his asking, or that he was “pre-determined” from some outside source “beforehand” to do so. On this view the only reason it is true that he “will” ask is because, in the future (and from God’s eternal perspective) he IS asking. I know it sounds really weird to say that the future in some sense already exists in some higher dimension, but one can come up with that explanation from plain physics without invoking a theory of GOD at all.

Now of course the imagination will come up with all sorts of “what if” questions regarding God’s eternal plan and our free actions. If I had not have prayed at time 1, would it still have been the case that such and such occurred at time 2? If, for example, the granddaughter had not prayed for her sick grandmother, would she have died from cancer rather than recover? One need not here even invoke prayer. Any simple physical act will do – if I had not woke up late for work, would I have still have spilled coffee on my pants? These questions, while fun to think about, are I think ultimately helpless for us in answering any deep question about how we relate to God. For one, we are never told any answer to any “what if.” What if sin never existed, or if the elements of the universe were entirely different, or if God had become incarnate in a man born in 5000 AD? We simply don’t know and cannot ever know, aside from divine revelation. And secondly, it may well be that “what if” questions are downright meaningless. After all, what possible state of affairs could you ever point to to answer your question? Are not all such state of affairs NON-EXISTENT? There is no universe in which God has willed to prevent sin from entering (though there may be planets and galaxies and so on without sin – “universe” simply means “the whole thing God has made.”) So how could you have any true knowledge of what WOULD happen since such a place in no sense exists to be known?

Anyway, to sum up, here is what I’ll say. I believe that i) God’s eternal plan takes into account all our free acts and perfectly adapts to them; ii) God is able to do this because he is outside of time in some BIGGER mode of reality than ours and so not fully comprehensible to us; nevertheless this mode allows him to work IN and THROUGH all smaller modes (i.e. times) “at once”; and iii) “what if” questions are necessarily speculative and cannot give us any real answers.

Now all that may be wrong, but I think it is at least the beginnings of a POSSIBLE answer to the question of “Can prayer change God’s mind?”

Predestination, God, and Time

Reconciling human freedom and God’s predestination is one of the perennial tasks of Christian theology. The apparent contradiction in affirming both that we are free and that God has complete sovereignty over all that comes to pass is manifested in several puzzles which revolve around concepts of God’s foreknowledge of the future, his permitting of evils, and his overall plan in creation. In this post I want to explore some of these difficulties and offer what I think is a possible way to avoid calling them “contradictions.”

No one who has read the New Testament closely can deny that it uses strong language regarding God’s sovereignty over creation. I will not quote any passages here, but it speaks of events being “foreordained before the foundation of the world” and “foreknown according to the determinate plan of God.” In several places the word “predestination” is used as well.

Now the problem here is that such passages imply that God has pre-determined that things will go a certain way no matter what. It’s as if for each person he has created a particular groove for us to roll through throughout our life. And since he has placed us in such a grove with a certain amount of previous momentum, our trajectory is indeflectable. We can no more escape our pre-ordained path than a drop of water can escape rolling down the side of a roof a bowling ball can escape falling to the ground when it is dropped out of a window.

You will notice that in these examples of the rain drop and the bowling ball we are assuming that a certain view of God and time is true. In particular, we are assuming that God is “in” time and that he goes through a series of temporal processes in interacting with us. Hence first he “sets things up” such that “later” they will go such and such a way. He gets the ball rolling – he places us all in a particular circumstance and then hits start – and simply sits back and watches it all play out. Notice here the temporal process: the progression of things, the ordering, the first-this-then-that sequencing. All these examples assume that God is in time and that he is moving along the timeline with us.

Now if this is true and if God is moving along the timeline WITH us, it would be very hard to reconcile our freedom with his foreknowledge and predestining plan. For God would ALREADY know what we are going to do and how things will go even before we do anything. And if that’s the case we would not have the freedom to make God’s knowledge false or change his plan. His knowledge and plan would be what they were BEFORE we ever exercised our freedom – indeed before we even existed. Therefore it would be incompatible to affirm, if God is in time and if he knows the future and if he has a purposeful plan for all that comes to pass, ALSO that we are truly free.

Although I will not get into this in this post, there are many Christian thinkers – some of them very bright – who, being constrained by the logic just laid out, actually affirm that God in fact does NOT know the future and does NOT have a predestined plan that takes into account and justifies all evil acts. That view of God is called Open Theism. I think it is false for reasons I won’t get into now (but will in a later post.) I want only to point out the fact that several people feel the weight of the problem of God “foreknowing” and “predestining” events that depend on the free action of human beings.

The traditional way to reconcile our freedom and God’s knowledge of and plan for the future is to say that God exists outside of time. And although this idea has a lot of mystery to it, I think it is the best way to synthesize the two supposedly antithetical truths. Here is the way I begin to think about the matter.

The first thing to avoid is imagining God’s eternity or timelessness as simply an OLDER time. The idea is not that God existed “before” the universe began and “then” one day created it. That would put God in time and make him guilty of a pre-determination of things that destroys our freedom. The idea is that God exists in a mode of being beyond or above time, in a mode that is BIGGER than our temporal mode of past, present, and future. And in this mode of being, since it lacks succession (which would again imply time) God is able to see, attend to, and interact with SMALLER modes of being at once, without “waiting” or without some of his being “passing away.” The classic way to think of it is to imagine a line drawn on a solid piece of paper. The line represents our time. As it goes from left to right it goes from past to present to future. But the page on which the entire line is drawn represents God. He is not simply the particular corner of the paper on which a part of the line is drawn. Rather, he is the whole paper, at once, without any division. He possesses the whole line all at once – there is no “space” or “distance,” either physically or temporally, between him (the paper) and us (the line itself.) He is eternally present to the entire thing.

Of course, we cannot perfectly imagine such a mode of existence. As I’ve already said it would have to possess everything “all at once,” and it could never “move” or “go from” one state of being to another such that part of its life passes away. This is because all these sort of changes would necessarily involve some temporal process involving matter and space. But we can, I think, get just a FAINT IDEA of a perfectly eternal, changeless (i.e. “immutable”) being, who sees and does things “all at once.” And that leaves room, however small, for the possibility that maybe such a mode of being IS how God exists.

So then, the corollary to God’s timelessness and the problems of predestination, free will, and foreknowledge would be this. Since God does not “go from” having not created the universe to “then” creating it, the whole picture of him setting things up BEFOREHAND or “pre-determining” would be false. In fact if we follow the logic through if God is eternal and beyond time then we cannot REALLY speak of him using words with a past or future tense at all. Strictly speaking God would not PRE-destine or FORE-know anything. He would simply eternally know and arrange all things in a single mode of being that comprehends all of OUR perspectives of past, present, and future at once. Think of the line on the paper. God may eternally intend to allow something to happen at, say, time1 (t1) on the line in order to bring about a particular effect, say, at t2. He may allow you to fail your exam because by allowing this he sees that you become even more dedicated to studying and so become a better student. Since he sees all things in his mode of being AT ONCE he does not have to “wait and see” what you will do. He does not watch them progress in front of him like we watch a movie (that again puts him in time.) All moments are simply THERE to him, eternally. And if this is so he can eternally order them – or DESTINE and KNOW them – however he wills. He does not see-then-arrange, like we do when we see a mess in the kitchen and THEN clean it up. Rather, he eternally sees-and-arranges, at once, in a mode of being beyond time.

That is difficult to take in and think about, I know. (But should we EXPECT God to be easy to understand? If Calculus and Physics can get as weird and complicated as they do, why can’t God be tough to understand?)

As I said, the idea of a timeless God is nothing new – I certainly did not just make it up. (As a rule, be suspicious of any theological point I make that IS something I just made up or something you’ve never heard before.) However, as you can probably imagine, many people feel forced to reject the idea for consequences that seem untenable. I will briefly go over some of these, and try to offer some answers.

The first problem with a timeless God is that it seems to require the very thing it is brought forward to deny: namely, human freedom. How, the objection goes, can we be free if the future is already real or “out there” for God to see? A timeless view of God implies what is called “four-dimensionalism” or the view that the universe as it exists in ultimate reality is a singularity in which the past, present, and future are all REAL (i.e. in a four-dimensional block). But if this is so, isn’t our future ALREADY set?

The answer to this is that the whole problem is due to a mistake caused by the imagination. The future is only set insofar as we are doing whatever we will be doing IN THE FUTURE. It is not “already” set, because that would imply that the present and the future occur at the same time. Think again about the line drawn on the paper. One point of the line is not “already” at another point. Each point is equally real. The truth is simply that in God’s ultimate reality the future is occurring as well as all other points in time: he sees the whole line at once, but the whole line AS A LINE does not exist at once. And this is compatible with saying that each moment, as WE experience it as present, is open to our own free determining power. Again the future is not “already” set: it is simply set “in the future” or at that particular point on the timeline.

Another objection is that if God “receives” information or does things “because” we do things in time, then he cannot be timeless. If for instance God answers a prayer because you prayed, then God would have to be in time to hear your prayer and “gain” his knowledge in order to react.

This, however, does not follow. It is true that if God is outside of time he cannot change. He must be eternally and unchangeably involved and related to all points of time. But that does not mean he cannot “receive” or “respond” to what goes on in time. It simply means that he doesn’t move like a temporal object moves. He does not “go from” doing this to doing that.

In one sense God is certainly MOVED by what we do. Scripture attests to this and since God is responsive to and knowledgeable of his creation we must be able to “affect” him. But in saying God is immutable the idea is that we do not DISPLACE him or cause him to “pass into” or “go from” a certain state of being like a physical object where his experiences are broken up into a fragmentary series of past, present, and future. Our imagination here will constantly deceive us and constantly draw up pictures of God as moving in time. We must always remember that if the timeless view of God is true then he is at EVERY point of time and space upholding all that exists. We do not arrive at places “before” God, nor does he “flow” into a non-existent future. He is eternally in all times and all places. Even our free actions are what they are only because God is eternally working IN and THROUGH our very beings. In fact it is primarily God who is acting instrumentally THROUGH our free agency at every point in time. You could say that this is where he “gets” his knowledge of our free actions: not as someone standing OVER and AGAINST a parallel reality, but as someone working IN and THROUGH every atom and every moment of a created reality.

All this is no doubt very mysterious. God is in some mode of being where he can be both “active” and “passive” at once (though not in the same respect). He can “hear” a prayer at t1 and “respond” to it at t3. These moments are separate to US, but in God, if he is timeless, they must somehow be united into a singular mode of being. This is similar to the mystery of how God can be both justice and love or human and divine. Again these are qualities or attributes which seem to reflect different properties from OUR perspective but which nevertheless are somehow UNITED in God himself. I want to suggest that that is because God exists in a bigger metaphysical reality than we do. Our time, I believe, is INSIDE God’s eternal, fullness of life. We swim in him like the fish does the sea. The fish cannot out-swim the sea. No matter how far and how long it swims, it will still be always surrounded by it. So, too, does God’s being SUBSUME or totally ENCOMPASS all of time. As St. Paul says, “in him we live, move, and have our being.” A mystery certainly, but a contradiction? I am not so sure.


How often does your thought turn to how you look or how you appear to others? How often do you imagine yourself as looking a certain way or coming across with a certain air or as having a certain style? How often, in a day, do you posture to yourself?

There is a telling and powerful scene in Milton’s Paradise Lost where Eve discovers her own beauty as she looks into a river. Seeing herself reflected she nearly falls in love with herself. Considering that she is seeing such a form of womanhood – an innocent and primal womanhood coming forth fresh from God’s hand at the radiant dawn of creation – one can hardly blame her for being so infatuated. But the scene is so penetrating because Eve does not fall in love with her own reflection simply because what she sees is beautiful. She falls in love because the beautiful thing she sees is HERSELF.

We are vain and sadly humorous creatures. We make ourselves the center of the universe and then become self-conscious and anxious and insecure about that fact. When we are around others we stifle our deepest curiosities by asking questions that we do not care about: how are you… do you like the weather… what did you do today? Then we complain about feeling alone and being disconnected from people.

Does fear drive us into this crabbed, self-obsessed, guarded behavior? Are we afraid to just BE because we think that if we do, we will be looked at funny, or that people will take us too seriously, or that we will be seen as “odd”? How infinitely small in courage we must be if the reason we do not act like our true selves is because we are afraid of what another person will think.

I am convinced that many people live in a state of intellectual and emotional isolation from those they care for the most. We have become professionals at stifling and strangling what we are REALLY interested in and what we REALLY care about. Imagine being in a room with the people you love more than anyone else in the world and feeling that not a single one of them truly knows you… Scary thought.

How can we fix this situation? How can we get out of this claustrophobia of self into the air of freedom? Well here is my suggestion. Let us quit posturing to ourselves. Let us quit thinking with a “what does the mirror say I look like right now” mentality. Let us stop THINKING about ourselves so we can go on and just BE ourselves. Would it not be nice to get rid of that nagging shadow of self-awareness? Would it not be nice to be so turned outward that the idea of yourself just sort of blends in to everything else?

To anyone reading this: try to see how many times today you posture to yourself. Try to watch your mind and see how much work you are doing and what sort of show you are putting on for others. The sad truth is you are probably acting for a crowd of one; and the sooner you give up the gig the better. For true freedom, I think, lies more in looking “out there” than “in here.”

Making Sense of The Atonement

It is a central tenet of the Christian faith that Christ died for the sins of the world. The idea is that somehow, Christ’s death and sufferings have “made us right” with God and that this event bridged the unbridgeable gulf between finite, sinful humanity and infinite, pure God.

But what are the actual mechanisms of this event? That is, what is going on that makes it so that “now” that Christ died or “because” of his crucifixion, humanity has become reoriented for the better in its relation to God?

There are several theories of the atonement that I simply cannot square with the notion of a perfectly good God. One is the idea that Christ was punished – in the sense of becoming a guilty party – instead of humanity itself. No matter how you spin such a picture, in the end you have a God who chooses to deem an innocent person guilty, and who punishes an innocent person in the place of those who are guilty. Now this is exactly the opposite of justice and goodness. That is, to punish the innocent instead of the guilty is precisely the definition of injustice. To imagine God pronouncing an innocent person as guilty is simply to imagine him making a misjudgment, which is not possible if he is perfectly wise and just.

Besides the problem just described – that is the problem of attributing an immoral act to the most perfectly moral being in existence – there is an additional problem in thinking that Jesus stood in our place as a substitution. It is this. If Jesus bore all the consequences of our sin in our place, if, that is, God’s wrath was fully satisfied by Christ’s death, why do any consequences of sin still remain? In other words, if death and suffering were the consequences of the sins of humanity, and Jesus took away these consequences by bearing their full punishment, why do people still suffer and die? It would seem that either i) Christ’s death was not fully satisfactory to God; or ii) death and suffering were not the punishment for sin. But if i) is false then the whole penal substitution theory of the atonement itself collapses. And if ii) is false then just what were the consequences of sin that Christ alone bore for us?

Now it is undeniable to any reader of the Bible that Christ certainly died because of our sins. Verses abound which say that his death has healed us and reconciled us to God; that his death atoned for our sins; that he was a propitiation for our sins and that he even “became” sin for us even though he did not know sin in himself. So I certainly believe that Christ’s death has caused some real metaphysical re-orientation between fallen mankind and God. The question is, again, how do we understand the mechanism by which this occurs? If it really happened it must have some real inner working that is coherent. That does not mean we will necessarily understand what is going on but it at least means that such a thing is possible.

I want to suggest the following model of what I think to be a possible theory of the atonement that avoids the problems in the penal substitution model. But before I do this I want to make a point about how our theories of the atonement should be guided in the first place. Even if my particular suggestion is not really in the end a workable theory, it is built on an assumption that I think is non-negotiable about the atonement in general. That assumption is this: no theory of the atonement can be true if it presents a picture of Christ and God the father as having different concerns or agendas regarding us as human sinners. In other words, all theories which posit Jesus as saving us from God – where God simply hates us and fervently wishes vent his full wrath upon us until Jesus steps in and coaxes him into changing his mind – all these theories I think are fundamentally flawed. The main reason for this is because they posit a fundamental disconnect between the essence of the Father and the essence of the Son.

Christ says “if you have seen me you have seen the Father,” and the New Testament speaks of Jesus being “the imagine of the invisible God.” Even if you disbelieve in the Trinity, I’m not sure how you could still be a Christian if you thought that Jesus did not manifest in an exemplary way the character and nature of God. As soon as you believe that, however, you have to conclude that whatever Jesus did in terms of his life and the sacrificing of himself for sinners, these same acts must somehow be present in the Father’s heart as well. That is, anything good that Christ did on earth must have an appropriate analogue in the Father’s nature too. To deny this is not only to deny that Christ was a unique manifestation of God – what the New Testament calls “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” – it is also to deny that God is perfect love. In fact it is to suggest that a mere human being could be more loving, more merciful, more giving than God himself. Do we think the man Jesus – or even a very good human person who has sacrificed his life for an enemy – can be more loving or merciful than God?

So, with all that said, how am I suggesting we understand the atonement? I want to suggest we look at it in the following way.

Imagine a time when someone has done you wrong. Perhaps someone has lied to you or treated you unfairly or stole from you or made fun of you. Imagine, further, that whatever this person did, it was something truly inexcusable. You had not first lied to them or treated them unfairly. There was no “just retribution” they were fairly repaying against you. They were not “getting even.” They had simply, inexcusably, done you wrong; and because of this you had all the reason in the world to be angry with them and to hold them accountable.

Now, how do you forgive such a person? How do you psychologically get over what they did to you? You cannot make up an excuse for their behavior, for there was no excuse. Their meanness came from their deliberate, freely chosen act of will towards you. Strictly speaking such a person does not deserve to be forgiven. For to be forgiven is to be given something that is not by right earned.  How then, if you are committed to doing what is purely right and fair, can you forgive such a person? As far as pure morality goes, you are in the right in being upset with them and they are in the wrong for what they did to you.

Well it seems to me that if you are in this situation there is only one way to forgive the person who offended you. You must die to your own self, your own desires, your own just complaint that you are holding against whoever has wrong you.

All forgiveness – if it is true forgiveness, often we simply “cool off” and only pretend we are forgiving – involves a sort of death to self, a suicide of the ego. You must in a sense just let go of whatever wrong has been done to you. The voice that immediately retorts “but they are at fault; they have done you wrong!” has to simply be killed. It cannot be rationally argued with: indeed, rationally speaking it is often correct. It has to be simply murdered, suffocated… crucified.

I want to suggest that that is how we at least begin to think about the atonement. Since Christ is the manifestation of God, we can understand God through the acts of Christ. Therefore Christ’s sufferings and death, I believe, can be seen through the lens of a God sacrificing his own ego, his own natural being of holy, lawful, lovely perfection, in order not to hold sin against those who have freely and inexcusably offended him. To put it in an analogy: the crucifixion is the pattern and manifestation of God killing that voice in his head that is saying that there is no excuse for sin – which is also part of his rational and pure self and which has a certain correct “case” being made in its favor. So in forgiving us God is letting his self and his ego go – crucifying it – for the sake of the one who has wronged him.

Anyway, I know this is a few days past Good Friday. Still, it is something that should never be far from our minds.

Time As Pure Relation and the Power of our Freedom

People very often debate whether or not God is “in” time. Now, there are always only three possible reponses to a question. You can answer yes. You can answer no. Or you can say that the question is meaningless. I want to maintain that asking whether or not God is “in” time is ultimately a meaningless question.

The biggest offender in the question itself is the word “in.” When I think of something being “in” another thing, I imagine one thing being contained or subsumed inSIDE something else. My bed is IN my room, for instance, because “my room” is a space composed of material objects, and my bed is inSIDE the parameters established by those objects.

I suspect that many people unknowingly smuggle into their own thinking some similar MATERIAL idea when considering God’s mode of existence. I think this because I frequently hear people say that God “created” time. They may also argue that time either “came into” being itself or that “it” has always existed. Such phrases suggest – again by use of the spatial imagination – that time is a THING, almost a sort of frictionless liquid, that we all move “through.” The thought suggests that people move through time like a bird flies through the air or a fish swims through the water. Time is some sort of substance that imposes limitations and therefore has a certain determining power over material bodies. It is a pressing kind of force that “moves” or directs us to certain ends and prevents us from attaining others.

I think this idea of time is wrong. Here is why. If time is in fact a “thing,” it must have some properties or be describable in some way. How, though, should such a thing be described? Even though it may be PICTURED as air or water or some moving liquid, it cannot of course BE such a thing. For then it would be a liquid or a gas and be itself subject to time. Any “thing” made of matter has some property that allows you to say what it is: a rock is hard, a cheetah is fast, a flame it hot and so on. But time thought of as a THING simply vanishes when you try to describe what it as a thing IS.

It seems to me much more accurate to say that time is a measure of the RELATION among things, rather than that it is a thing itself. Time is the measure of, say, the movement of the cheetah as it “goes from” walking to sprinting after the gazelle. You could of course say that the cheetah moves “through” time as it runs after its prey but only in a very loose way. It is not really physically going through any solid body. Rather, its body itself is moving from being in one particular relation to the gazelle to being in another.

Here is how this relates to God. If time is the measure of the relation among things, and if God is really related to us as free beings, then God himself cannot exist in a changeless way. He must exist dynamically. By constantly relating to our free movement and choices he must HIMSELF be interactive and changing in his responses to us. Needless to say this thought has huge implications for theology. If it is true then absolutely everything cannot be “pre-destined.” At least, our free choices cannot be (though God could of course predestine other things.) God also is not “outside” of time or “timeless” in such a way that makes him totally changeless; and further, he could not have “foreknowledge” of free choices that have not yet come into being, for such relationships among things do not yet exist. There is nothing, then, for God to KNOW about them. Strictly speaking, future relations among free creatures are not yet REAL, and so are indistinguishable from nothing.

The question then is not whether or not God is “in” time, but rather whether or not he relates to what he has made. And if he DOES relate to what he has made, then this totally changes how we imagine his own mode of existence. Since he is not existing in some timeless, frozen dimension inaccessible to our own mode of existence, he becomes more intimate, more personal, and more REAL.

As frightening as it is, then, we evidently have enough power to “affect” or “act” on God himself. Lest there is any danger in supposing we have more power than God himself, I must quickly add that this power – our real and true freedom – only exists because God has FIRST opened himself up, so to speak, to be so conditioned by and related to us. Without him first giving us existence, we could never be free, could never act, and could never relate. But he has given such existence and freedom to us. He has given us a small “space” in which we can move, respond and exert our being.

There is only one thing in this universe which we have absolute power over. That is how we relate – how we use our power of freedom – towards God, towards others, and towards that hard, brute physical monster we call “the world” or “nature” or “life.” That should give us great comfort, but also great humility. For the very power we have towards our own liberation can also lead to our own demise.

May we use our time here on this plane well.


She’s sitting in the truck. It’s a cold night and the football game is just over. Her nose is red and she will be sniffling here in a minute. A country song would sweep her right up, because she’s from a small town and they just won a big game. But she’s afraid. And so is he. They both love each other. (I’m not against that feeling – I think it’s real.) But they both think it has to end. It’s like a curse, isn’t it? For small town folk you almost have to believe – it’s practically your religion – that you’ll get your heart broke by your high school love. Maybe that’s some deep truth in the south. Maybe it’s bound up with the way life is here. All I know is that a memory of a high school flame on a fall night surrounding a football game can take me to places I can’t get to anywhere else. And my my, how sweet it all smells when you get there. The youth. The innocence. The love. The whole thing is just near too much to even talk about. Isn’t it?