The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Atemporal Immutability of God and Conditional Providence … inity.html


    Thomas Aquinas declared the following: God always exists in atemporal eternity; [1] God is altogether immutable; [2] God created the temporal world; [3] God is omnipresent in the temporal word; [4] the Incarnation involved God joining human flesh in the temporal world. [5] However, the doctrines of absolute immutability and atemporality of God apparently conflict with the central Christian doctrine of God joining human flesh in the temporal world. The doctrines of divine immutability and atemporality also challenge the doctrine of creation because creation resulted from a decree of the originally atemporal and immutable God. Perhaps Aquinas actually indicated the following: God’s original nature is altogether immutable; God originally existed in atemporal eternity: God created the temporal world; the Incarnation involved God joining human flesh in the temporal world.

Aquinas also declared that God’s providence absolutely determines all activity in the temporal world including the appearance of chance events. [6] However, the Bible teaches about conditions in divine covenants and predictive prophecies. The divine covenants and prophecies never alter while the outcome varies according to the divine parameters and the responses of the addressees. [7] These biblical conditions in covenants and prophecies suggest the possibility of conditions in divine providence. This brief introductory article presents a model of Trinitarian open theism that includes original atemporality, the immutability of God’s original nature, and conditional providence.

  1. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica, 1:9:1.

  2. Aquinas. 1:10.

  3. Aquinas. 1:44—46.

  4. Aquinas. 1:8:1–2.

  5. Aquinas. 3:2:1.

  6. Aquinas. 1:22:1–4.

  7. Goetz, James. Conditional Futurism: New Perspective of End-Time Prophecy, (Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2012).

    2.1. Definitions
    In this article, the term atemporality means “without succession of time or activity that could include the existence of infinite time dimensions with no distinction between the past, present, and future.” Also, the term temporal means “within a succession of time or activity.”

2.2. Atemporality
Classical theists such as Aquinas teach that God is atemporal. For example, Aquinas said that God alone exists in eternity while eternity is a simultaneous whole with no succession. This compares to the atemporality in the materialistic models of Zeno and eternalism. Zeno proposed that the observable universe is motionless and an undivided whole. Eternalism similarly proposes that the observable universe is absolutely simultaneous with no distinction between the past, present, and future.

Eternalism developed from Einstein’s theory of special relativity that predicts relative simultaneity. Relative simultaneity means there is no absolute simultaneity of distant events, which indicates that there is no absolute time frame. This lack of absolute time frame from relative simultaneity ironically supports the radical simultaneity of all events in an infinite time dimension with no distinction between the past, present, and future. The absolute simultaneity of all events also indicates that the set of all events in the universe is uncaused and likewise self-existent while all apparent evidence of causation and time’s arrow in scientific observations and human experience is merely an illusion.

Incidentally, McTaggart proposed two models of eternalism. First, McTaggart proposed the B-theory of time that says the time dimension has no distinction between the past, present, and future while all appearance of temporality is an illusion. Second, McTaggart ultimately rejected both his A-theory and B-theory while proposing that all appearance of a time dimension (A-theory or B-theory) is an illusion and there is no distinction between the, past, present and future.

In the case of atemporality in classical theism, God Almighty is uncaused, self-existent, and immutable. Similarly, in the case of eternalism, the observable universe is uncaused, self-existent, and immutable.

2.3. Temporality
Aquinas clearly distinguished between eternity and temporality. He said that eternity exists with no beginning, no end, and no succession while temporality has a beginning, succession, and an end. However, Aquinas’s view of temporality faces conflict with contemporary evidence of a flat universe that has a beginning and a succession that will never end. For example, the observable universe presumably has a beginning while space-time and respective vacuum energy will continuously expand without an end and always approach zero degrees Kelvin. Also, despite the lack of an end in the continuous expansion of a flat universe, any possible measurement of temporality would always equal a finite age.

Temporality in the observable universe always involves entropy, which is the inevitable increase of disorder. However, perhaps there are created regions non-subjected to entropy. Such regions might be thought of as atemporal because nothing is subject age, but such a region is temporal if there could be succession of activity, regardless of possible reversibility. Also, some created regions might involve no succession of activity apart from their origin. These regions might appear atemporal except that they had a beginning, which makes them a hybrid of temporality and atemporality.

2.4. Proof of Atemporality
The existence of atemporality as defined above Section 2.1 involves an easy formal proof. First, a completed infinite succession is impossible, which indicates that there was no past-infinite temporality. The impossibility of no past-infinite temporality indicates one of three possible categorical options: (C1) temporality never existed such as a version of eternalism; (C2) temporality originated without cause from atemporal nothingness; (C3) temporality originated from an atemporal nature. Likewise, all possible options for the impossibility of past-infinite temporality indicate some type of atemporality.

I reject C1, but cannot yet formally disprove C1. However, the claim that all the evidence of time’s arrow and causation in the observable universe is a mere illusion appears absurd. Also, relative simultaneity predicts a time’s arrow in each light cone, which apparently conflicts with absolute simultaneity. In any case, I suppose that relative simultaneity suggests the possibility of an uncaused simultaneous nature, but that nature is not the observed universe.

2.5. Conjecture of Atemporal God
John Philoponus and the Kalam philosophers developed the limits of temporality into a cosmological argument for the proof of God. As far as I know, they never considered C1. However, they deliberated between C2 and C3 while the two categories assume the existence of temporality and deduct that temporality requires a finite origin, which philosophers call temporal finitism. In short, Philoponus and the Kalam concluded that C2 is impossible and C3 is God according to classical theism.

This paper supposes no proofs of God while various points from so-called proofs of God actually support reasonable conjectures of God. In this case, temporal finitism supports a reasonable conjecture for the existence of God, [8] which this paper calls the [iatemporal cosmological conjecture[/i].

Assuming the atemporal cosmological conjecture, then mystery surrounds original atemporal love within the Trinity and the dynamics of the first divine decree that began creation. My article “Love and Special Relativity in the Atemporal and Temporal Trinity” briefly addresses the mystery of atemporal love within the Trinity, [9] and this article briefly addresses the first divine decree. For example, how could atemporally immutable God create anything while creation is a category of change? And how did God make providential plans?

  1. Goetz. 2012. “First Quasi-Cause: Uncaused Timeless Nature.” … eless.html

  2. Goetz. 2012. “Love and Special Relativity in the Atemporal and Temporal Trinity.” … ty-in.html

    3.1. God’s Self-Existence (Aseity) and Transcendence

The Psalmist declares God existed from everlasting to everlasting before the formation of the observable world. God always existed and God caused the formation of the world.

God declares his preeminent existence and monotheism.

Jesus Christ identifies himself as the preeminent God in Isaiah 44:6.

3.2. God’s Unchangeability (Immutability)

These verses declare God’s unchangeable nature.

3.3. God’s Omnipotence

God and the Word who is God always existed and made all things that came into existence.

God formed the observable world by divine decree without anything visible such a self-existent matter surrounded by literal primordial waters.

3.4. God’s Providence

God made a conditional covenant with Abram and planned to bless all the families in the world.

God planned for all days that formed and will form into existence.

God has planned to convert the nations.

God declares that his providence of the nations is conditional. Repentance and prosperity could fulfill a divine prophecy of doom while disobedience and destruction could fulfill a divine prophecy of blessing.

The great suffering of believers in this age is little in comparison to their glory in the future.

God eventually makes all good or evil circumstances work for the good of those who love him.

Before the ages, God decreed wisdom for the church.

God chose his children and planned their adoption and salvation since before the foundation of the world.

God has planned to convert the nations.

3.5. God’s Immanence

God manifests everywhere in creation from the heavenly realms to the realm of the dead.

Isaiah saw a theophany of the Lord with seraph angels.

God promised to pour out his Spirit on all people.

As Aquinas said, God joined to human flesh.

These verses show manifestations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the same time and location.

The Holy Spirit specially manifests within believers.

    The above scriptures on one hand teach that God transcends temporality while on the other hand God is also immanent within temporality. This indicates a doctrine of divine atemporality and divine temporality while implying that God has an essential atemporal experience and nonessential temporal experiences. The term *nonessential *in this context in no way implies unimportant or inadvertent, but God’s nonessential experiences resulted from discretionary decrees.

The central nonessential experience of God in Christian doctrine is the Incarnation. Christ, the second person of God, remained one hundred percent God and also became one hundred percent human, the divine-human hypostatic union of the Incarnation. The hypostatic union was a manifestation of Christ who originally existed in essential mode, developed a nonessential mode at the beginning of temporality, and eventually developed into the Incarnation. Likewise, Christ had at least two nonessential modes while each mode was one hundred percent the second person of God.

Another divine nonessential mode in basic Christian doctrine is the outpouring and manifestation of the Holy Spirit, the third person of God. The essential mode and the nonessential mode of the Holy Spirit are completely God in the same way the essential mode and nonessential modes of Christ are completely God.

An example of a manifest nonessential mode of the Father is quoted above at the baptism of Christ when the Father audibly said: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)

Likewise, the three divine persons relate to each other both essentially and non-essentially. Additionally, no created person can possibly perceive the atemporal essence of God, but God reveals himself in the divine manifestations to angels and humans.

    Aquinas and many church fathers taught that God’s providence determines all activity in the universe, but that was not the unanimous view of the church fathers. For examples, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Jerome said that God never determined everything that God foreknew, [10 11 12 13] which compares the Arminian doctrine of simple foreknowledge. Also, there appears no dissent among the ancient church fathers that God always foreknew the definite outcome of the future, which means that God has static omniscience. However, some contemporary Trinitarian theologians and philosophers hold that God has dynamic omniscience because the Bible teaches that some of the future is unsettled. God exhaustively foreknows the parameters of what could happen while God always works the world toward his overall purposes. This is called open theism. [14]

Open theism holds that God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and dynamically omniscient. A primary concern with open theism is the belief that God made a lovingly free and contingent decision to create the observable world that includes creaturely free-will agents such as humans. God was non-subjected to uncaused determinism when he created this world, but he lovingly made a free and contingent choice to create this world. In all cases of monotheism, God always possesses exhaustive knowledge of all possibilities, which is called natural knowledge. In the case of open theism, God deliberated with natural knowledge and decreed this world and any other created world.

A typical view among open theists is that God always self-existed in temporality, which supposedly helps to explain how God eternally relates within the Trinity and how God made free and contingent choices apart from uncaused atemporality. But as discussed in Section 2, a past-infinite succession could never have elapsed regardless if in the case of God alone. That view proposes the existence of temporality without origin. However, no supernatural mystery could possibly cause a completed infinite succession. But a simultaneous infinite set of divine dimensions could exist, which apparently describes the essential self-existence of the triune God.

But how did God transition from sole immutable essentiality to essentiality and non-essentiality? Perhaps there is no possible completely positive model for this transition that evidently involves mystery. Despite the mystery, this paper proposes in short that the atemporal capacity for divine activity necessitated that God would make a first decree that incidentally included the origin of temporality and non-essential divine activity. God’s necessitation to make the first decree was uncaused and completely compatible with God’s desires while the content of the decree was one of an infinite number of possible free and contingent divine decrees. For example, God’s necessity to make a decree never necessitated that the decree would make a habitat for creaturely free-will agents. Instead, God freely chose to create a habitat for free-will agents so God could cultivate loving relationships with them.

This paper also proposes a short model of divine providence. For example, God made the first divine decree in the context of (1) omnibenevolence, (2) omnipotence, (3) natural knowledge, and (4) the biblical model for the conditional nature of divine covenants and future prophecy. In this context, God’s first decree also providentially planned all possible intervention in all possible circumstances that could occur in the created world that by his choice allows genuine contingencies. This providence is called conditional providence or conditional foreordination. For example, God’s first decree foreordained his best possible responses to all possible circumstances that humans could face.

  1. Martyr, Justin. First Apology 42—45.

  2. Tertullian. Against Marcion 2:7.

  3. Irenaeus. Against Heresies 39.

  4. Jerome. Against the Pelagians 3:6.

  5. Clark, Pinnock. et al. The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 1994)

    Proposals of divine providence inevitably raise questions about the problem of evil and theodicy. The philosophical problem of evil rejects that God with his omnibenevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence would permit horrific evil such as the moral evil of Hitler’s Holocaust and the natural evil of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. However, proponents of theodicy offer resolutions to the problem of evil. For example, many philosophers conclude that the existence of horrific evil eliminates the possibility for the existence of omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient deity called God. They reason that God would immediately stop evil people like Hitler and any devastating natural disaster. This leads to the conclusion that God never existed. Alternatively, proponents of theodicy such as Christian philosophers conclude that God has an overall perhaps mysterious purpose for temporarily permitting horrific evil in a fallen world. My summary follows below.

The first step in understanding why God temporarily permits horrific evil begins with understanding why God permits any evil. Why would omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God permit evil? The first major part of the answer is that God permits evil because the creation of free-will agents necessitated the possibility of moral evil responses from finite agents. God wanted loving relationships with finite agents, which logically required the risk of moral evil. Also, the second major part of understanding why God permits evil is that finite agents can develop character and abilities while they face evil and God has a long-term plan for the development of human agents.

As indicated above, God’s risk of creation with free-will agents and the development of the agents are excellent reasons for the divine permission of evil. For example, many heroes developed in the face of evil. However, the question of why God permits extensively horrific evil challenges the most devout believers. For instance, Christianity teaches that God delineates the parameters of evil. In that case, why does God temporarily permit extensively horrific evil when he foreordains his best response to every possible circumstance? God could say “Peace! Be still!” to every potentially devastating storm and tsunami. Also, God could disable all evil people who plan horrific evil. God could prevent all horrific evil at its roots so that heroic deeds are unnecessary, but he does not do that. This section deserves its own lengthy article, but here I offer a brief outline with the qualification that humans can only dimly comprehend the divine permission for horrifically extensive evil while God works a long-term plan for glorious results. Moreover, the little within comprehension requires faith in God and his long-term plan for human development.

    This article briefly introduces my theology proper paradigms of divine atemporality and conditional providence that fit with my eschatological paradigm of conditional futurism. I hope to develop these models into an academic book and eventually break down these concepts for the general public.

[size=85]Copyright © 2012 James Edward Goetz

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.[/size]