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).