Have you ever thought about how God relates to time? Is time eternal like God?
I think this is the key concept to understanding and resolving the many problems, errors, and confusion about salvation. Understanding the being of God is very important if we want to get a good grip on how God saves.
Definition of Time
First of all, we need to define time as a construct which is part of God’s creation. In other words, “time began” at creation. Time is a lineal treatment of events and circumstances. We consider or define time as past (previous to now), present (now), and future (after now). We are lineal time dependent creatures (at least for the moment).
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Limitations of a Time-limited Being
A “time-limited” being is a being which does not dominate, control, nor has the ability to override time’s restraints. We cannot go back in time, nor forward, nor can we “know” the past nor the future, except through testimonies to events in the past (somebody who tells us, or scientific evidence like a video tape). Being a time limited being, our relationship with time is that it dominates us, and we don’t dominate time.
God is not a time-limited being. He is God, and as such, He dominates time, controlling it, making exceptions if He so desires, and like all the rest of his creation, He dominates it.
When did/does God save a person?
I think that the greatest mistake a Calvinist makes is that he presumes that God is a time-limited being. God isn’t. So what is the difference and how does it affect our understanding of election?
Basically there are two understandings of election: election happens when a person believes God to be saved, 1) being based on that person’s actions at the moment (God’s election becomes foreknowledge), or 2) it is based on God’s decision in eternity past when God elected every person ever to be born. Hard core Calvinism extends this election of the saved (which is the biblical idea of the term) to include an election to hell for the rest (the correct Calvinistic term here is “perdition”).
But both of these concepts don’t take into consideration that God exists outside of time. In other words, think of time as a construct which God made for man, and specifically has to do with our world, i.e. the rotation of our planet around the sun, and spinning on its axis, but also as a sequential arrangement of conditions, circumstances, events, and actions. (Here the angels are equal with man, time-dependent beings.)
So to understand this better, consider that God has set all creation (things as well as constructs like time) in a setting of a mountain with a high lake, which flows through a river (time) until it reaches a sea (the end). Time is the river, and each point on the river curves around this great mountain. God sits on the mountain, and with a single glimpse, He sees the high lake, the entire river, and the sea. All points are equal to Him, and equally “near”. At one point Jesus entered the river of life for a section of its course, and later returned to the mountain, and He sent the Holy Spirit to take his place in the river. God sees all things, but is not physically “in it” except as he leaves the mountain (heaven), and then comes back, but His interaction with it is constant and intense.
The most important point in understanding this timelessness of God is that no point (present, past, nor future) is any nearer or farther from him. God lives in a constant “present” like we are able to act and move and have interaction with our world only in the present, so likewise God relates to all time as if it were present. This means that God doesn’t relate to past nor future events differently than he does to “His present”. He acts in a unified manner, across all as if they were all a “present”. God also acts as a divine being, acting in all areas, parts, places, and with all people equally. God’s treatment of Abraham and David is parallel with his treatment of me. God’s judgment on man is equal with his judgment on the fallen angels. This is in a timeless aspect, but God has placed man and angel in a time restraint for now (until the end or time runs out) in which God will judge, and we literally enter the timelessness of eternity with God (we go up to the mountain top with God).
So the most distance past you can conceive, probably an eternity before creation began, this point is equally “near” and “active” to God as the equally far from us point of eternity future.
If God lives outside of time and in eternity, and if this means that God’s eternal nature also reveals a constant presence and activity and power in all time, present, past, or future, then when were we elected is a mute question. We were elect before the creation existed, we are elected at the moment of being saved, and we are elected in the future, because none of these accurately represent the truth that God lives in all “times” equally active, powerful, and interactive with creation.
How does the Bible speak of our election and salvation?
The very important point here is that God is in a way “outside” or “above” time, and being in that position, he deals with us, actions, and events, and history and mankind in general in a wholistic manner. But when speaking of salvation, nobody is referred to as “saved” until after that point in time in which they repent and have faith to be saved. The “roots” of this go backward into the depths of time, really before time, and before creation when God alone existed, and in this state of existence, God has a plan.
Another bothersome thing that Calvinists seem hell bent on doing is restricting God. Through their deductions from deductions from deductions of a minor comment of Scripture, they seem hell bent on making God impossible to be a person. People live, act, think, decide, etc. All of this is highly squashed in Calvinism’s concept of God. Because God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, they seem to think that God cannot think, act, “change his mind”, or do any other “person things.” God’s personality comes to bear in a relationship with His creation, and especially individually with man.
Sure, we can think that God knows when I sin, God’s response of punishment, and then my repentance, and therefore God planned it all, and none of it has any active element. God made me or preprogrammed me through my sinful nature to sin without my will or consciousness really being involved, and with God’s eternal election preset, God decided to cause me to repent, etc.
However you want to try to make this situation, in the end, it has to check with what God (a God that only tells the truth) tells us in Scripture. God does not present that our decision to sin or obey God is predecided, but rather God exhorts us to obey, and not give in to temptation. Everything is not predecided, at least as how we live and understand our world.
God makes an offer to man to turn and live. This offer is based on reality as our truthful God presents it to us, and although God knows and God works (controls, influences, causes, and prevents), there are elements that are very important in God’s presentation of truth to us. We are responsible, and God offers us a decision and action of our will to change our state of rebellion or obedience before God. This truth cannot be buried.
God living in timelessness interacts in all times as though it is present for Him, because it is present for Him. This does not mean time doesn’t exist for us. We live bound by time, and our life is sequential, not multi-dimensional.