A Response to Dr. Richard Land’s Presentation on Unconditional Election, Part 2a. C.S. Lewis’ Philosophy of God’s Relationship to Time in Mere Christianity

[Read part 1 of my response to Dr. Land HERE.]

2. C.S. Lewis’ Philosophy of God’s Relationship to Time

Dr. Land titled his presentation, “Congruent Election: Understanding Salvation from An Eternal Now Perspective.” This “eternal now perspective” is based on C.S. Lewis’ theory of God’s relationship to time. While live-blogging Dr. Land’s presentation [as you can read HERE], I failed to record the specific reference[s] from Lewis given by Dr. Land. Thankfully, blogger johnMark, who was also present at the Conference, noted the reference to Miracles, appendix B [you can read johnMark’s account of this presentation HERE]. I believe that I recall Dr. Land also mentioning Mere Christianity (and, in any case, I think that C.S. Lewis’ argument in Miracles is developed from his earlier discussion of this issue in Mere Christianity), so in this post I would like to make some observations on Lewis’ discussion of God’s relationship to time found in Mere Christianity, Book 4, chapter 3, “Time and Beyond Time.”

a. In Mere Christianity

Lewis concludes the chapter “Time and Beyond Time” by saying that his teaching on the subject of God’s relationship to time is in accordance with the teachings of other Christian thinkers and that it does not contradict anything within Christianity, but he admits that the particulars of his teaching are not directly found in the Bible. In other words, Lewis’ teaching on this subject is a philosophy built (hopefully) on the foundation of Scripture but it is not an exegesis of particular passages. I do find much of what Lewis says about God’s relationship to time to be helpful, but we must judge everything carefully by God’s Word.

About God’s relationship to time, Lewis writes:

Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following on another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty- and every other moment from the beginning of the world- is always Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by the pilot as the plane crashes in flames.

The above is, I think, philosophically helpful in understanding the eternality of God.

Lewis illustrates the above point with the following word-picture:

If you picture time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn. We come to the parts of the line one by one: we have to leave A before we get to B, and cannot reach C until we leave B behind. God, from above or outside or all around, contains the whole line, and sees it all.

I think that this illustration is also helpful.

Lewis (and possibly Dr. Land in following Lewis) runs into a difficulty when he tries to use this illustration to defend a libertarian notion of ‘free-will.’ Again, Lewis writes:

…if [God] knows I am going to do so-and-so [in the future], how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, 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. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not “foresee” you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never suppose that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow’s actions in just the same way- because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already “Now” for Him.

Some of the above is helpful; I think that the observation, “You never suppose that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow’s actions in just the same way-” is especially worthy of further reflection. However, I think that at least three words of caution are in order concerning Lewis’ concept of time:
i. The Creator/creature distinction must be maintained. That God is Sovereign Creator of all things is proclaimed throughout Scripture, literally from the first verse. That God alone is self-existent is seen in the personal name He declares to Moses in Exodus 3:14. The “eternal now perspective” of C.S. Lewis, adopted by Dr. Land, can (if one is not careful) give the false impression that God and the Time-line are co-eternal, rather than God, who is alone eternal, creating the Time-line.
ii. God is presented as active, not passive, in His relation to His creation. Again, from the first verse of the Bible, we encounter God in action- “God created.” In Lewis’ attempt to preserve libertarian ‘free-will,’ notice how the author tends to present God as passive: God “simply sees you” and “can simply watch you.” Yet the Bible says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33), not ‘the lot is cast into the lap, and God simply sees its every decision;’ God is active, not passive, in ordering all things together for the good of those who love Him, those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
iii. God does foresee the acts of His creatures. Lewis’ statement, “In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it,” is not consistent with his other arguments nor with the Scriptures. God may very well have an “eternal now perspective,” but He is also able to discern our experience of time, where we are located in our conscious perception of time, and He does foresee our future acts. Biblical prophecy depends on this fact, as does Jesus’ declaration, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).

-Andrew Lindsey

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10 Comments on “A Response to Dr. Richard Land’s Presentation on Unconditional Election, Part 2a. C.S. Lewis’ Philosophy of God’s Relationship to Time in Mere Christianity”

  1. mark12ministries Says:

    Excellent study of Lewis! I think Isaiah 46:10,11 is appropriate, “I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all my will…Yes, I have spoken; so I will also bring it about. I have planned it; I will also do it.”

    God knows every thing that will happen, because he has ordained it as well as foreknown it, down to the lowliest hydrogen atom in the farthest galaxy. Are we free? God alone is totally free, creatures all have their limits. There is a mystery about how we can be moral beings with a will in God’s creation, and to deny the mystery is to stray into fatalism on the one side, and libertarian free will on the other.

    As any actor or musician knows, you say the lines or play the notes that were written/composed for you, but there is much freedom in how you choose to say/play them. And even that is a poor illustration/analogy of the mystery of our free will as creatures with a sovereign God who has ordained it all.
    Bryan

  2. Howard Says:

    Good post.


  3. ” God is presented as active, not passive, in His relation to His creation.”

    James White’s recent DL makes this point well, too. The sense in which God is an observer of all time really betrays a misunderstanding of how God knows. Lewis’ description sound like a middle knowledge explanation. I don’t know.

    The description of God “outside” is really a poor analogy. Not only is time not eternal in God, it is not eternal, nor existing beside him. The “in him we live and move and have our being” exposes a transcendance that is unlike that of deists which presents God as simply other. Transcendance, biblically, is both other and immanent. And that is a mystery.

    For Lewis to say that God is in the eternal now, or for Land to describe history that way really misunderstands what the eternal now is. That is a reference to the timelessness of God, and not his relationship to creation. He is not then when he will be, nor is he then when he was. He is here, or as Scripture describes, I AM. God does see himself as now present in the future. He does not see himself in the Molinist reality of present in all possibles. But only that he will be in that which will be. That does not mean he is there now. Far from it. The future is not yet, and the past is no longer. God is not in the past, nor in the future. He is the I AM. To that, in Himself he is without time, not outside of time. He is not observer, but creator. And by that, he is present in the now.

    That kind of reality escapse us because we only percieve time in passing. But for God, time is his creation and exists only as a product of other determinants. That is, time is a secondary effect, the resultant of secondary causal agents. History then to God is what is being created and time is experienced only by man as agents passing from one point to another.

    For the LFWer, the necessity of alternative, or potentials future, cannot be escaped. But, the “might not be” is ruled out by God’s essential nature, which is not a simple transcendance as a deist would believe, outside his creation, but must consider that he is also omnipresent. He cannot be in that which will not be and being in himself eternally now, the present is all that is. No, God is not in the future recieving the data of our actions as present with them there. Rather, he is now, in our present, the creator of it.

  4. Darrin Says:

    Good observations. I enjoy some of Lewis’ fiction, but have become concerned with some of his fuzzy logic and “more philosophical than biblical” concepts. In recent readings of Mere Christianity, it was apparent that he is indeed at times inconsistent in his reasoning, attempting to uphold man’s helplessness on one page and his autonomy on the next. It has its moments, but I would caution any reading it (or just recommend some much better books), and I think it odd to use it as a reference in a large conference addressing doctrine in the SBC.

    • Bill Says:

      I do not think that the “helplessness” of man is so difficult to grasp in the context of man’s autonomy nor the concept of the Election of man by God. In the first place, man is NOTHING without God. Even the most base of men is completely dependent on God for everything, even his very breath. To say that there is a contradiction between man’s helplessness and his autonomy is to remove from God the power of creation once the initial act has begun. God does not, can not, remove Himself from the continual act of Creation lest the entire edifice come crashing to a halt and thus disappear all together!

      Concerning the concept of the Elect, are not all men of the Elect? This is most certainly why man was created in the first place! In effect, it is not God who chooses to remove the names of some men from the Book of Life, rather it is the individual man himself who removes what is to the individual man the offending mark. Those who are not saved are not left to the wilderness because they somehow forgotten by God, they are left there because they will not heed the call of the bell which rings to call all men to prayer in their father’s house!


      • Re: “…are not all men of the Elect?”
        -If by “all men” you mean every individual ever to live throughout history, then it is certainly NOT the case that “all men [are] of the Elect” just as NOT “all men [were] of the Elect” nation Israel (Psa 147:20) and NOT all of national Israel is “of the Elect” Israel of God (Rom 9:6). If “all men [are] of the Elect,” then Jesus’ statement in John 10:26, “you are not my sheep,” would be meaningless.


  5. Something not related, but could you guys sign your posts so that we know who is writing what?

  6. Darrin Says:

    Thomas, This post was from Andrew, and yes, I think there’s a couple different ways we can do that. I’ve signed my few contributions, but assume by default it’s Andrew. Dustin may of course be putting more stuff up anytime also.

  7. strangebaptistfire Says:

    Re: signing posts.

    Oops! Thanks for the reminder; i’ll fix that

    -Andrew


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