Full Text for Dogmatics 1- Volume 36 - How do we conceptualize God's omnipresence? (Video)

DOGMATICS 36 Captioning provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 ******** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ******** >> If I hear that God is omnipresent, I get a picture in my mind that goes like this: A very fine substance all across the universe. Now, I know that's not right, but I can't really think of it in a different way. >> It's one of these things again where we struggle with the concept of God in His majesty beyond space and time. And if we conceptualize it and try to have a picture of it in my mind, we come up with something that is rather ridiculous, no offense. But we're -- you know, we think that yeah, he must be some kind of fine substance spread out like in the 19th century, the physicists talked about ether, a universal medium that goes through everything and which carries light. Obviously, that's wrong, because that again would make God present at one place only partly. When we talk about the omnipresence of God, and to that closely related is the eternity of God, we talk about God's relationship to space and time. Obviously God is not contained in space and time. God is not like the Gods of the Gentiles, sitting on one high mountain. There is no effluent *** or Olympus where the gods sit or the high mountain on which Baal sits in the biblical witness. Israel knew from the beginning that God is not a local God, that His rule is not restricted to only one little territory. But Israel realized that God's rule was universal, that He was the ruler of everything, and that He was not part of this creation, not contained in space. So when we talk about omnipresence and eternity, we say that space and time are created and that God is beyond space and time. He's beyond space and time, but not in the sense that He is divorced from it, but in the sense that He is present, undivided, to everything at every given time in space. It is God who is present. That's when we talk about God's imminence. We talked a lot about God's transcendence. We also have to talk about His imminence and that He's intimately in His creation. It belongs also to the doctrine of creation. God is present everywhere. He is more intimate to me as I am myself, as Augustine put it. He is present everywhere without local extension, contraction, multiplication or division. So, there is truly no place that is God forsaken. God is everywhere. And when we look at that, we can look at the omnipresence of God in a law way and in a Gospel way. In a law way, we cannot hide before God and to Him we are an open book. In a Gospel way, nothing, no place or space, can separate us from His loving protection. While the omnipresence of God is generally accepted, and there is not much discussion going on, it's a little bit different from the eternity of God, so that God is beyond space, everybody accepts. Nobody thinks of God sitting on some star and then having to move in space if He wants to interact with us. But what about time? Is God outside of time, too? What do we mean when we say "eternity?" Do we mean a long period of time? Do we mean an unlimited duration without beginning, without end, without succession? Do we talk about temporal eternality or endless temporality? So, again, all Christians agree that God is in some sense eternal, and that means that He will never come to an end and that there is no beginning of God. On that everybody agrees. But then the divide starts. One company says that God is completely outside of time and that time doesn't in no way apply to Him. That he holds all of history in one simultaneous glance as He is present in space at one in the same moment. God knows the future and the past exactly as He does the present. And there is no difference in these for him. That's the concept of atemporal eternality. Another camp -- company of theologians thinks that this is an unbiblical essentially Greek concept and that they advocate endless temporality. That is that time applies to God as it does to other beings. There is a sequence in God, a before and an after. He knows the present and He also has a knowledge of the past and the future, but in a different sense. Now, is that important to discuss or can you say: Well, I don't care about atemporal eternality or endless temporality. Well, it actually does have consequences, rather great consequences. An atemporal view is firmly committed to defining multability, whereas an endless temporality approach can be reconciled with immutability or a mutability. Those who favor endless temporality think that an atemporal God jeopardizes the personality of God and makes His interaction with history impossible. Some even say that there is a lot of bad influence in western thought because it devalues history. Let's look at both views a little bit closer. The atemporalist view was stated first and classically by Boethius, a fifth century philosopher and theologian. He said that eternity is the complete possession all at once of illimitable life. Eternity is the complete possession all at once of illimitable life. That means that God possesses everything, He knows and He does, at one moment. Whereas temporal beings don't do that in the same way. What we did in the past has become a memory to us. What will be in the future we can anticipate and hope for, but it's not in the way present to us as what I do right now. But for god everything is in the same way present, in the same way possessed. What are arguments brought forth in favor of atemporalist view? It fits better with and supports the idea of divine transcendence. How can God be truly transcendent, who is a part of time, who shares the same time strand as its creatures, including human beings? It fits better because it parallels His relationship to space. God's relationship to space is that He is not in any sense spatial. Although He is present and active everywhere within space, it is really not appropriate to ask: Where is God? God is as much outside of time as He is inside of time. Or God is as much outside of time as he is outside of space. So there is not a difficulty to understand that, if we can say that God is on the one hand outside of space, and we can also talk about His imminence, that He is present to everything in space, why can't we have the same kind of talk about God in regards to time? That He is at the same time beyond time and nevertheless can interact in time with temporal beings. When we talk about God being temporal, we forget that time is a created thing, just like matter. If God is in time after creation, what was God before creation? He might have been timeless. Why is it even necessary that He is in time now? God created the world not in time, but with time, as Augustine said. Also, such an understanding of an atemporal eternality is more in harmony with contemporary physics. There is no such thing as Newtons, still believe that there is this eternal absolute time to which then God can be related. Time, space and matter form something which is interdependent and without space and without matter, you also have no time. Timelessness also implies immutability, whereas when God is in time you predicate ofen a change and that brings a lot of problems with it. What then about the language, talking about God in a sequential manner? Again, that can be seen as metaphorical language about God. A temporalist view assumes a rather literal character to our statements about God. For example, the famous phrase used by obstinate German American Lutherans to justify that you should have German in the service and not English in the '30s. After all, it's God's language, because God said Adam hobis tu ***? Adam, where art Thou? Now, does that mean that God did not know where Adam was, that God was walking through the garden but that He was confined to this one spot and He couldn't peek through the leaves or look behind the bushes? Everybody would say of course not. God was also at that moment omnipresent. So, also, other examples where God seems to change or God -- there seems to be a sequence in God must be interpreted metaphorically. Now, that is the position of the atemporal eternality. What's brought forth in favor of a temporalist view? First that timeliness is incompatible with God acting in time. To act in time, God must be in some way in time. Another point, a timeless being can scarcely be called a person. A person must be able to remember, anticipate, deliberate, reflect, intent, act intentionally, and that all presupposes sequence and that means time. An atemporalist view is rejected as incompatible with the God of scripture. Rather, it seems to show an over -- emphasize an overinfluence -- no. A concept of timelessness seems to be incompatible with scripture. Rather, it seems to show the great influence of Greek philosophy. Another point is seen that the biblical idea of time supports a temporalist view. And Auscar Kuman, *** "christ in Time," is quoted in favor of that, that eternity is not something qualitatively different from time. This was rejected and criticized and seen no, there is actually also in scripture a view that sees ion hodan *** eternity as something that is not simply a long extended period of time, but qualitatively different. So what do we make out of that controversy, out of that discussion? In the absolute sense, God's eternality is that God is prior and in some sense independent of time. That must be stated: God is not contained in time, because then time would be eternal. The question of God's relationship with time must be seen in the bilecting *** of transcendence and imminence. If God's transcendence concerning space does not pose a problem, if God can be seen to be aspatial and still can act locally, then the question is why cannot a similar concept also be used for God regarding time? That he is at the same time transcendent and imminent with time? Also, a view that accepts the omnipresence of God in the sense that God is beyond space but rejects God being beyond time does not do justice to the universe as Einstein has conceived it. You cannot separate space and time. So to sum it up, to me it seems that the atemporal view, atemporal eternity, still does the best job in describing God's relationship to time. He divides putting God in some form of time. It divides making time something uncreated. It safeguard His transcendence. Of course, there are difficulties to conceive how He then can relate to time. But the same difficulty we have when we think of how He can relate to space if we don't have this picture, as you mentioned in your question, that God is some kind of fine extended substance through the universe. We come again at the point where we see that ultimately we cannot have an exhaustive conception of God outside of space and time. But our limitations are not limitations on God. So, God is outside of space and time and at the same time He is acting and present --