On the Beginning of Time

Did time have a beginning? If time began, then each point in time will be reached given sufficient time. But what if time did not have a beginning, and always existed? Then, every point in time will be preceded by an infinite amount of time. Just as adding to a finite number will never reach infinity, so subtracting from an infinite number will never reach a finite number. We may take the present as a finite reference point; the passage of time, by its very nature, is finite. Thus, if time has no beginning, the amount of time preceding the present is infinite; no passage of time, necessarily finite, could possibly reach the present, a clear absurdity. Therefore, time must have had a beginning.

But we must be very careful about what it means to say that time had a beginning. It does not mean, as we mean when we say that anything else had a beginning, that there was a time when time did not exist, a clear contradiction. But if time had no beginning, something must lie beyond it; if not time, then what? We refer to this meta-time eternity, which at this point we must define by simple negation: eternity is the condition of time not existing. The defining characteristic of time is its passage; thus, in eternity, their must be no passage, no “before” and “after”. But with no before and after, then there can be no change, for change implies a before when one thing is true, and an after when it is not. Thus, eternity is, most simply, changelessnesss, without even the change of growing older.

But some created things, such as souls and angels, are immortal, and thus never cease to exist, and yet in the Apocalypse of John, we read “and time shall be no more”. Nothing created can be eternal, for being created implies change. Thus, we must designate a third status, aeviternity. Aeviternity is, as it were, a created eternity, having a beginning, but no further change.

Thus classification solves, I think, many commonly raised problems. For example, one objection raised against divine creation is that it implies that God at one point did not see fit to create the world, and then did, implying that God changes his mind. But this supposes that God lives within time and that time was not itself part of the creation; in reality, time just is, without being preceded by a different time. Thus, God simply created the earth, just as the Son simply proceeds from the Father, without the procession involving temporal change. The only difference is that that the Son exists in eternity, and thus it is appropriate to use the present tense, while the earth exists in time, and thus it is appropriate to use the past tense. All times the present with respect to God, and thus a change occurring in time implies no change in God.


6 Responses to On the Beginning of Time

  1. AbigailT says:

    What about Genesis which says that the only thing that existed before creation was God? If time has an end, then it must be created; therefore, God is above time. However, this does not mean that He refuses to operate within time, or that He does not use time as we understand it as a kind of illustration of eternity. And this does not mean that at one time He did not see fit to create the world, and then did…He saw fit to create the world, but He chose (if you will pardon my use of time as a kind of illustration) a specific moment to do it. This does not indicate a change of mind, but a more comprehensive will and understanding than ours.

  2. The Ambulatory Sesquipedalian says:

    I am afraid that I do not at all understand you. Where did I say that something other than God existed before creation? Eternity is not a subsisting thing; it is rather the manner of God’s subsistence.

    God does act in such a manner that his effects are within time, but God (except as incarnate) is never himself within time, just as a computer programmer may produce effects within the control structure of his program, but is never himself subject to that structure. God’s actions are in time, not he himself.

    By saying that God chose a specific moment to create the world, you assume that time is everlasting, and that God is wholly encompassed by time. He is not. All times are present with respect to God; his very name, “I AM”, reflects this. Not “I am, and was forever, and will be forever”, but simply “I AM”. Thus, to think of a time before creation is an absurdity. In fact, from the perspective of God, it is not even accurate to say that God created the world; we must say that he creates the world. From our perspective the world came into being and will cease to exist; from God’s perspective, the entirety of the world’s existence is a single, indivisible eternity.

  3. AbigailT says:

    When the world was created, couldn’t it be that time was created simultaneously? And due to the fact that the world is in time, isn’t it logical to suppose that the world is not in eternity? So I do not understand how you can apply the standards of eternity (i.e. God creates the world now) to our present situation. I will of course grant the exception where Jesus says “I AM”, because He is also God and surely He can bring time and eternity together. But in general, isn’t there a separation between the temporal and the eternal?

  4. The Ambulatory Sesquipedalian says:

    I do not deny the existence of time; time was created (whether concurrently with the creation of the earth or before I do not know) and all human action takes place in time. God, however, does not enter time except as the incarnate word. Regarding my statement “God creates the world”, remember that that is with respect to God. From our perspective, God has created the world, but that does not mean that creation is a past event with respect to God. Admitting a past and present with God creates an immeasurable list of insoluble theological difficulties. God created time as external to himself, not as a condition of his own existence, his own existence being immutable.

    There is a difference between the temporal and the eternal, but not an unbridgeable gap. It is as possible for an eternal God to act on a temporal world as it is for him to create time originally.

  5. AbigailT says:

    However, if you say that “God creates”, you are still using time…the present tense. Personally I doubt whether humans can or should know God’s perspective on time; it’s not been revealed to us, and it is not necessary for us to know. Perhaps this is one of the mysteries of God that we will not be able to inquire into at least until we see Him in Heaven.

  6. The Ambulatory Sesquipedalian says:

    We do not have an “eternal tense”; by convention, the present is used (which is appropriate, given that the relationship of eternity to time is that all times are present from the perspective of eternity). Again, I am not saying that the present tense is appropriate from our perspective, only from the perspective of eternity.

    I would disagree. A substantial number of objections to Christianity are insoluble without a proper understanding of eternity. While we cannot fully comprehend eternity, we can know enough to be able to refute those objections.

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