Rushing waters, marking time,
visible to all, yet mystery sublime.
What are the eons to Him Who Is?
What is a second for Him Who sees?
On and on time runs its course,
shattering all with mighty force.
Great kingdoms are reduced to dust,
Towers of pride evaporate with the gust.
Time flattens mountains, dries up oceans,
Blows up suns and ends all motions.
Star-dusted nights with millions,
Are merely a tiny, fragile pinion,
In His mind’s eye, which delights!
What is time but a sign of our smallness?
Who dares to understand its crystal flawlessness?
Beings of time we are, but not for long.
Eternity is waiting, so stay strong!
“The river of time” is a common way to think about the passage of time. We commonly think of things occurring linearly-one things lead to another, which leads to another, in a typical cause-and-effect fashion. Unfortunately a conundrum presents itself when we start asking about this linearity’s relationship with foreknowledge and destiny. A question I recently asked myself was how God, having the Christian attribute of omniscience, can have foreknowledge of our decisions? Wouldn’t that conflict with the orthodox premise that we all have free will?
Now, some strict materialist will say there is no such thing as free will, to which I’d reply, that your assumption is itself a manifestation of your free will in believing in such nonsense!
Back to my main point, if God already knows what each one of us will do, wouldn’t that suggest that we’re not really in control of our own actions, and hence, that we don’t have free will?
I can’t put my finger on who exactly came up with the idea first, but having read Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy and St. Augustine’s Confessions, it seems to me that these two extraordinary men arrived at the same conclusion independently from one another: that time (past, present, future) is seen in an eternal present by God, and His actual knowing of what things are to come do not actually interfere with our capacity for free will. Let’s re-trace the steps to see how this can be so.
God, if we are to assume he’s the highest possibility of being, must be eternal. If He (please note that the pronoun is not of concern here) were not, then God would be changeable, finite, and therefore not God. So He must be eternal. As you could probably imagine, an infinite being will see a time-anchored world differently than we’d see ourselves. An ant might see a mountain before it, but to us it’s merely a small stone. Imagine how much more God sees if he has infinite omniscience!
Where were you when I founded the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its size? Surely you know?
Who stretched out the measuring line for it?
Into what were its pedestals sunk,
and who laid its cornerstone,
While the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Since God is eternal, He sees past and future as an eternal present. God knows what we’ll do, he knows what our decisions will be, not because he actively intervenes in it, but because he sees us taking those actions across the spectrum of time (future and past), all in an immediate present. For example, let’s say I decide on a spur of the moment that I would like to go to the pool. God already knew that. God knew I was going to make that decision, that I was going to the pool, and that I would make myself dinner after. What if I decided instead, however, that I was not going to to the pool. God would still have known that. It’s futile to imagine a life where God doesn’t know what each person’s decisions will be. Even if we “rebel” against God and insist that we are independent of his all-knowing mind, God will know. This is not because God guides our wills like a puppeteer guides his marionettes. As Boethius put it, God doesn’t have so much fore-knowledge as forth-knowledge -everything happens in front of His eyes, in an eternal present.
From this divine perspective, I would like to materialize into words what I believe can be very beneficial for our own flourishing; an idea inspired by how God sees our finite universe: vertical time. If time is usually thought of as linear, with one direction and a single trajectory, vertical time brings out another dimension and extends time outward into the timelessness. This is all a bit strange so allow me to elaborate.
Consider our communication with the timeless -that is, prayer. Prayer extends outwards into eternal heaven, where it’s effects would no longer be tied to a specific point of time which it was initially offered. If you had prayed for the souls of sick people, not only would you be affecting future souls, but, because of the vertical dimension that prayer has, it affects past, present and future souls as well. Your prayer request at a single moment of time, by virtue of its ability to transcend vertically from the linear stream of time, can affect ALL time.
If you think there are other things that transcend to vertical time, feel free to comment below and of course, subscribe.