The Lord of Time

A summary of John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 17

In discussing God's metaphysical or incommunicable attributes, such as infinity, eternity, immutability, etc., it's more biblical to refer to God as the Lord of time.

Infinity isn't really discussed in the Bible.  It's a substitute for the prefix "omni," for the perfection of other attributes, or it means He is free from the limits of creatures.

God is the King Eternal (1 Tim 1:17), the Everlasting God (Gen 21:33).  He is beyond time.  Some have argued against this, the temporalist view, that God has no beginning or end but experiences the time He has made with us, not being above it.  This is motivated by wanting to defend libertarian human freedom and to deny divine foreknowledge, and we reject it.  God obviously acts within time, though.

God and Time
We will have everlasting life, but this doesn't mean we will not experience time.
God experiences time differently from us:
  • Time began at Gen. 1:1, but God and the Word (and Spirit) were there before this.
  • God is unchangeable (Mal 3:6).
  • God sees past, present and future equally vividly.  He may not experience a succession of moments, but He does know all chains of all events.
  • God isn't frustrated by time going too quickly or slowly (Ps 90:4; 2 Pet 3:8; Gal 4:4).
The main question isn't if God is within/in time or outside/beyond time, but whether He is Lord of time.  History is made up of "times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority" (Acts 1:7; cf 17:26; Mark 13:32).

History is linear, with a beginning, middle and end.
God is present here and now to us; He knows the flow of time.
He is in time, but not confined to it.

Immutable - Unchangeable
To measure change accurately, there must be a fixed point - that is God.
God stays the same, His plans don't vacillate - Psalm 102:25-27; Mal 3:6; James 1:17; Num 23:19.

The Relenting God
Many texts show God relenting, even describing Him as a relenting God, generally (Jon 4:1-2; Jer 18:5-10; 1 Sam 15:35; Joel 2:13-14.
Others say He does not relent (1 Sam 15:29; Num 23:19).
These all use the same Hebrew word.
Relenting is response to repentance.  Predictions of judgment are often warnings that can be changed.  God's relenting isn't His decretive will violated, but His sovereign choice.  It doesn't undercut prophetic words, since God's relenting is implied in calls to repent, in promises of blessing and warnings of curses to come (Jonah 3:9).

God does not change:

  • "'in himself,' but does change 'in his relations to creatures.'"  How does God not change, yet sovereignly bring about the change from hating a sinner to regenerating Him in His mercy?
  • in His essential attributes of wisdom, knowledge, power, goodness, etc.
  • in His decreed will.
  • in His covenant faithfulness (context of Mal 3:6; Ps 89:34-37; Heb 6:17-20).
  • in His revealed truth.  Scripture remains infallible despite changing times and cultures (Matt 5:17; 2 Tim 3:16-17).
God within Time
When God acts within history, He does so in sequence.  There is some level of change from making and naming day and night, to seeing that it is good.  His interests change from one moment to the next, "according to His unchanging plan."

Modern views hold that God doesn't know the future, that He is confined by time and unknowable future human decisions.  Or that He is primarily future in a way that affirms both His omnipotence and our freedom.  But this denies that God is Lord of the past or present, and that He is really beyond time.

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