Combined Theological and Scientific Study of the Eternality of God Analyzed
By Kathy L. McFarland
March 23, 2012
The Catholic Church in Rome condemned the teachings of Galileo in 1633 for upholding Copernicus’ theory that the earth revolves around the sun. Since then, there has been great deal of misinformation in general knowledge that presupposes Christianity is hostile to science. But, the scientific revolution in the 17th century did support reason over blind religious faith and fostered rationalism over rigid dogmatism. Science and Theology are sometimes diametrically conflicted even today, with the two fields often maintaining separation from each other for the good of each, especially those of conservative Christian faith that hold the Bible to be the literal inerrant Word of God.
What if a study of science and theology could be undertaken with an adherence to scientific principles while at the same time uphold inerrant Scripture? Can a theological and scientific study of the eternal time of God be developed that supports the principles of Scripture inerrancy with a carefully controlled, rational scientific examination of available evidence? Can God’s absolute nature as recorded by Scripture, exist in relational time and space contrary to Process Theology which wrongly defines God as relational rather than absolute? The purpose of this paper is to examine the possibility that the mystery of the eternality of our absolute God can be studied using current theological models in a carefully organized study program based upon the revelations of God through inerrant Scripture, with secondary support from reliable scientific references, to increase understanding of dynamic, relational time ruled eternally by Him.
Reasons for proposed study
It might be possible that Bible scholars can develop increased understanding and closer personal relationship with the absolute LORD God who moves in space not ruled by time. Such knowledge may lead to fuller realizations about Christ’s incarnation, and equip scholars with the skill to articulate interpretations of eschatological prophecies with theological consistencies that express God’s revelation of Himself with full veracity. These difficult concepts that form the theology of the eternal realm must combine science, religion, and just a limited amount of philosophical terms in a working theological model that can support the specific development of such an ordered study.
A well-structured study, based upon Scripture with support of current scientific data but without philosophical ideas cluttering the factual inquiry may lead to a deeper knowledge of God’s eternality. It may include new theological responses to present-day confusions of eschatological significance, such as whether a new heaven and a new earth describe the destruction and creation of a new world or the renewal of the old. It might also explain the possibility of living an eternal life with the survival of the full self of a sentient person, while first experiencing a radical ceasing of physical life through death. The common theological ideas that God can be in all spaces at all times, has knowledge of future events before mankind learns of them through the passage of their concept of time, and that God’s dispensational arrangement of providence will unfold precisely according to His eternal plan are further areas where a study model might be beneficial. Also, the more we discover concerning the nature of our Triune God, the closer our relationship potential with Him grows.
Restrictions for proposed study
Philosopher Kierkegaard’s existential philosophy makes a profound point that only a logic system, rather than a life system, can be known through philosophical inquiry. He stresses that the personal relationship that God holds with an individual believer, with a “double movement of infinity” between them, prevents philosophical ordering of that experience, because it neglects God as the absolute starting point and the need for inner subjectivity to grasp spiritual reality. Philosophy, other than for the use of standard terms that support contemplative evaluation within theology and science is not applicable in our study effort. Thus, great care must be taken in the development of a study of time that it should be approached from God’s side of eternity without philosophical associations, and without man’s life experience, expectations, and ordering of time, if the wisdom of Kierkegaard is to be applied.
One important consideration is the avoidance of the popular contemporary Process Theology that expresses false ideas of a relative, rather than an absolute God. Process Theology limits the deity and sovereignty of God. However, parts of this theology attempts to find common ground between science and theology, which is a goal of this class paper. Thus, it is impossible to avoid some mention of process philosophy; however, any philosophical process points must confirm the truth of Scripture, or they are invalid in this research effort.
The Process Theology idea that God is relative must be rejected in the organization of any study plan under this criteria; His absolute presence is noted throughout Scripture. As a result, Process Theology has major problems with faulty interpretation that rejects the truth of Scripture of God’s revelation of His nature. However, there seems to be a place for process analysis that can conform to Biblical truth when it examines the relative existence of the time and space realms without the need for God to be relative. It is the supposition of this paper that God can be absolute, while time (and space) is relative, with full assurance that God rules both according to Scripture.
Full evolution of open theism, a product of process theology, disavows God’s immutability, impassability, and timelessness through His omnipresent, omnipotence, and omniscience nature. But, Scripture truth reflects that God exists in eternal time and is timeless; sometimes God lowers or veils His face by turning away, leaving predictable destructive forces of floundering humans to cause the dynamics necessary to carry out His will. Therefore, God effectively uses the temporal, linear time of human existence to create necessary events in His eternal realm to fully express His intentions, though He exists and moves in an eternal time that is relative to Him.
General Scripture Reference
Genesis 4:3 identifies time as a “process” a term included in the verse that adds deeper detail that is not required for the understanding that time for Cain’s misguided offering has arrived. This key term can be explained by contemporary process theology that sees the fundamental nature of realities to be a dynamic, relational process rather than static, unchanging substances. The idea of a changing reality of time through a process, usually indicative from the context of last in a series of events, is also found in Genesis 4:3, 38:12; Exodus 2:23; Judges 11:4; and 2 Chronicles 21:19. Also, Genesis 1-2 show God’s sovereignty over time, which concludes on the seventh day of creation with a sanctification and declaration of holiness in a celebration of time that is reflected in eternal, rather than temporal time. Yet, Genesis 8:22 shows a linear connection of time with the continuing existence of the earth, with planting crops and harvesting, temperatures of cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night.
There are many instances of the development and revelation of time, both temporal and eternal in the Book of Genesis. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, orders time on a linear, temporal line that moves back and forth on the desirable and undesirable aspects of life. But, throughout Scripture there are ideas that flow with God’s time unseen and unknown by man, leading many Reformed theologians to speak in terms of predestination and foreknowledge.
New Testament time is often based upon the Greek’s understanding of time in the philosophical sense. Words of theology based upon ideas reflected in Scripture such as eschatology, eternal or everlasting life and apocalypticism are key words that reflect the time that this study examines.
Kairos vs. chronos time
The Greek word for time is chronos; however, the Bible uses the words kairos and aion to reflect a distinctive, relational connection within a “created sphere” of God’s plans for redemption. Kairos refers to a specific point of time while aion captures the idea of the extent of time. But the word kairos time means a great deal more when examined in context with the unfolding plans of God; it then is shown to be a deliberate, decisive, watershed moment that reveals eternal fulfillment of specific parts of salvation history. At the same time, the use of the word aion demands contextual evaluation always; both words require relational association to God’s eternal time as well as limited association with man’s linear time.
Calvin says the OT and NT are alike in reflecting the nature of time; there is no difference between Kairos and Chronos if one does not place conjecture upon the definitions. But, since theological insight requires conjecture to form analysis and conclusion, this seems to dull the Word of God to an old historical book without deep revelations from God.
Two different words are used purposely in the New Testament. Kairos expresses a pivotal point in the plan of salvation that God places in time. Chronos exists, and Kairos moves within it when God’s special eternal time must intersect. Though these two words represent Greek thought, there are Kairos moments in the Old Testament; but, there is no separate word for the different times, which requires careful search to find the times when God’s dynamic time comes upon the linear time of mankind.
Linear vs. dynamic (relational) time
The universe that is ruled by God in His time and space exists without the dependence upon linear time; rather, cosmic law associates movement by God’s with kairos time in supernatural space. The mystery of God and His rule of time are deeply veiled and difficult to resolve. God’s eternal nature and His active renewal of His being through the fullness of time and between times are recognizable in both the Old and New Testaments. God has no limit or boundaries; these ideas are impossible for human beings to understand.
God’s design operates in two temporal fields, with cosmic rhythms (Acts 17:26) occurring in the midst of God’s foreordained plans with His control of time unfolding at His will. Thus, time is objective, dynamic, changeable, and circular in its movement according to physicist’s models, and subjective, fixed, and linear according to human awareness.
Subjective time is time measured by human beings in normal consciousness, with the idea that something happens then something else comes. Physicists examine objective (relational) time that is a four-dimensional space-time model. Though humans can only measure linear time in their consciousness, scientific models suggest that the relative unfolding of time in the four-dimensions provides a metaphysical place where God rules from.
Theologian Karl Barth describes the eternal and temporal of time as both linear and relational. In his thought process, earthly temporality proceeds from the “potentiality of God’s eternity.” The incarnation is God’s entry into human temporality, based upon earthly time that is linear.
Support for combined religious and scientific study
If there had been no contact between scientists and theologists concerning the eternal time of God to this point, then it would be impossible to evaluate whether a study model could be developed that combined the knowledge from both fields effectively. However, a well-known scientist, John R. Albright, professor emeritus of physics at Florida State University Calumet, examined the book Time and Eternity, written by influential theologist Dr. Antje Jackelén, director of Zygon Center for Religion and Science.
Albright agrees with Jackelén’s understanding of the likeness of traditional theologians supporting linear time and space, with Newtonian mechanics of a linear time that is continuous with space that follows Aristotle’s findings that force on an object is proportional to its velocity and Newton’s conclusion that force is proportional to acceleration. However, Einstein’s general theory of relativity removes the idea of time as linear, making theological definition of eternity difficult to define. Relativity requires time and space to be expressed in a relational model for theology and physical science to reach truthful agreement. Jackelén discusses a variety of modern relational theological models for time and eternity, using the eschatological and cosmological perspectives in both science and Scripture interpretation by traditional and modern theologists. These ideas are presented by Jackelén in an “authoritative and careful summary” of both the science and the theology, giving Professor Albright confidence in her evaluation.
Albright concludes that Jackelén has given a strong presentation with support from sound theological interpretations that are confirmed by modern scientific data of time and space having the required relational qualities. He supports Jackelén’s efforts to explain the views of valid theological models that agree with science but does not remove God’s truth from the process. Thus, Professor Albright’s approval of the science behind present-day theological models supports relational theological interpretations of time and space through Scripture exegesis.
Three distinct models for the study of time
Theological Model – This study is centered on the “quantitative difference of time and eternity” which is based upon Newton’s notion of absolute time. It is a linear timeline that models time based upon Christ at the center. Jackelén believes this model avoids creating a relationship with God, which must be accomplished if time is measured with Scripture truth. Further, this view is oversimplified and naïve because it does not discuss beginning and ending of time, but stays focused in the center. It denies common physics measures such as the infinity of the speed of light, since to focus on that infinity attention is removed from Christ from the center of linear time measurement.
Eschatological Model – This multi-temporal model distinguishes between old and new time that does not focus upon the center of time, but rather at the “presence of the end of time in the midst of time.” This model creates both a relational and dynamic time that is able to express the reality that Scripture evidence presents both linear and relational time, ruled by God. Present time is undivided in this multi-temporality model, but God’s time is unrestricted to space and time.
Trinitarian Model – This model creates the possibility of envisioning time and eternity between multi-temporality and relational dynamics. The theology of the Trinity can refer to relational dynamics that are multi-temporal in nature, but, the Trinity does not offer an explanation for the relationality. Thus, it is a model that does not advance the knowledge of time and eternity satisfactorily. Jackelén favors this method and thinks the Trinity in comparison to modern physics shows both to be consistent with a relational understanding of God. At this point of her analysis, Jackelén drifts once again too far over the line of Process Theology; the moment God is defined as something other than absolute, is the time when Scripture revelation of Him is disregarded. Under my study criteria, a theological study based upon the inerrancy of Scripture cannot be formed with this model, and should not be undertaken.
My hope was to formulate a study plan and address problem areas where my further theological study of the eternality of God can progress with a solid emphasis on Bible veracity and revelation with secondary support from reliable scientific references. My supposition is that God can be absolute, with time relational that conforms to Scripture revelation. This idea contradicts with one-half of Process Theology, which demands both God and time to be relational, an idea that is against God’s truth of his absolute nature expressed in Scripture.
I have learned that the philosophy behind Process Theology must be skirted carefully; each step of scientific theory must be checked against the truth of God and made sure that it does not conflict with Scripture. While the dynamic, relational time is supported by science, scripture, and process theology, it does not mean all three agree on all things. In fact, Process Theory is so far away from the Truth of God by suggesting that God is relational rather than absolute, that it potentially corrupts Scripture exegesis, unless due care is taken to utilize Scripture as the lead document and insure that it is precedent in all thought processes concerning time.
The eschatological model for the study of time is the only current model that supports both linear and relational time; however, I am not convinced by my research that God is considered absolute in this study. I suspect that though it is understated, that this model includes the Process Theology inclusion of a relative God. Until the eschatological model is examined for this specific characteristic fully, requiring much more time than this class paper allows, it is unproven to me that it is a satisfactory model.
I believe that there is great mystery and revelation in Scripture that offers shadows and typological significance towards time that matches with the science of physics. However, with the place I am with my education, I am not certain that I am prepared to fully explore this area of interest. But, I have started the learning process by identifying some of the current theologies and physics that address the understanding of time, become familiar with three current models of study, and found the dangers of Process Theology and dangerous other philosophies that remove the unchangeable, absolute nature of our LORD God. Thus, I have proven that there is no reliable theological and scientific shared model that can guide a study towards God’s truth at this present time. I have a long way to go in my education before I can attempt to go to places that none of gone before; but, I am engaged in that process and gathering information as time goes by in linear order, and the Holy Spirit moves me to know deeper things in His eternal relational time of His fullness revealed.
Albright, John R. "Time and Eternity: Hymnic, Biblical, Scientific, and Theological Views." Zygon 44, no. 4 (2009): 989-996.
Bektovic, Safet. "The Double Movement of Infinity in Kierkegaard and in Sūfism." Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 10, no. 3 (1999): 325-337.
Berkouwer, G. C. Faith and Perseverance. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958.
Blocher, Henri. "Yesterday, Today, Forever: Time, Times, Eternity in Biblical Perspective." Tyndale Bulletin 52, no. 2 (2001): 183-202.
Bracken, Joseph A. "Space and Time from a Neo-Whiteheadian Perspective." Zygon 42, no. 1 (2007): 41-47.
Calvin, John and Thomas Myers. Commentary on the Book of the Prophet of Daniel. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.
Henry, Carl Ferdinand Howard. God, Revelation, and Authority. Vol. 5. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999.
Jackelén, Antje. Time and Eternity: The Question of Time in Church, Science and Theology. (English Trans. Of Zeit Und Ewigkeit: Die Frdge Der Zeit in Kirche, Naturwissenschaft Und Theologie). Philadelhia: Templeton Foundation Press,  2005.
Little, Edmund. "Galileo, Science and the Church." Stimulus 18, no. 3 (2010): 31-34.
Martin, Hilary C. "Eternity and Temporality in the Theology of Karl Barth." Science and Christian Belief 21, no. 2 (2009): 101-110.
Welker, Michael. "God's Eternity, God's Temporality, and Trinitarian Theology." Theology Today 55, no. 3 (1998): 317-328.
Wicks, Marshall. "Is It Time to Change? Open Theism and the Divine Timelessness Debate." Master's Seminary Journal 18, no. 1 (2007): 43-68.
Zhu, Rui. "Kairos: Between Cosmic Order and Human Agency: A Comparative Study of Aurelius and Confucius." Journal of Religious Ethics 34, no. 1 (2006): 115-138.
 Edmund Little, "Galileo, Science and the Church," Stimulus 18, no. 3 (2010): 31.
 Safet Bektovic, "The Double Movement of Infinity in Kierkegaard and in Sūfism," Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 10, no. 3 (1999): 325.
 Carl Ferdinand Howard Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 5 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 22-23.
 Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 949.
 Marshall Wicks, "Is It Time to Change? Open Theism and the Divine Timelessness Debate," Master's Seminary Journal 18, no. 1 (2007): 43-68.
 Michael Welker, "God's Eternity, God's Temporality, and Trinitarian Theology," Theology Today 55, no. 3 (1998): 320.
 Elwell, 504.
 Antje Jackelén, Time and Eternity: The Question of Time in Church, Science and Theology. (English Trans. Of Zeit Und Ewigkeit: Die Frdge Der Zeit in Kirche, Naturwissenschaft Und Theologie) (Philadelhia: Templeton Foundation Press,  2005), 72.
 Elwell, 1201.
 John and Thomas Myers Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet of Daniel (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), Da 7:25.
 G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Perseverance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 101-102.
 Rui Zhu, "Kairos: Between Cosmic Order and Human Agency: A Comparative Study of Aurelius and Confucius," Journal of Religious Ethics 34, no. 1 (2006): 115.
 Henri Blocher, "Yesterday, Today, Forever: Time, Times, Eternity in Biblical Perspective," Tyndale Bulletin 52, no. 2 (2001): 201.
 Joseph A. Bracken, "Space and Time from a Neo-Whiteheadian Perspective," Zygon 42, no. 1 (2007): 41.
 Hilary C. Martin, "Eternity and Temporality in the Theology of Karl Barth," Science and Christian Belief 21, no. 2 (2009): 101-110.
 John R. Albright, "Time and Eternity: Hymnic, Biblical, Scientific, and Theological Views," Zygon 44, no. 4 (2009): 996.
 Ibid., 184-185.
 Ibid., 185.
 Ibid., 107.
 Ibid., 190.
 Ibid., 61.
 Ibid., 190.