"When We Get to Heaven, We Will Be Timeless" . . . And Other Stupid Statements

Continuing with my series — “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” —

I would like to register a complaint. In truth, I would like to register many complaints about the common Christian view of the afterlife, but I start here. This complaint is important because it not only represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the afterlife (i.e. heaven), but of the very nature of God, for to have this view of the afterlife, one must either be some sort of modified pantheist or an atheist.

Let me make my proposition and then repeat the above charge:

The statement, “When we get to heaven, we will be timeless” represents a fundamental misunderstanding of Christian theology. To have this view of the afterlife, one must either be, as I said, either a modified pantheist or an atheist.

Much of Christian theology carries the assumption that in eternity (heaven), believers will be like God, timeless. This belief goes back quite some time in pop theology.

Notice the concept in the hymn “Almighty Father of Mankind” (emphases added in all)

Therefore in life I’ll trust in Thee,
In death I will adore;
And after death will sing Thy praise
When time shall be no more.

Or how about “The Christian’s Guide,”

When old earth shall cease to travel,
And when time shall be no more,
With our loved ones we will gather
Over on the other shore,
Where all sorrow will be over,
Where all tears are wiped away,
Where with angel voices blending
We shall sing in endless day.

Or take this stanza by James Thomson (1700-1748) in “A Poem Sacred to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton,”

While in expectance of the second life,
When time shall be no more, they sacred dust
Sleeps with her kings, and dignifies the scene

Or how about the most well known “When the Roll is Called up Yonder,”

When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

If that were not enough “evidence” for our expectation of future timeless existence, we also have biblical proof:

Revelation 10:6: “And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer” (emphasis mine).

But I don’t believe that there will ever be a time when Christians (or any of creation) will experience timelessness. I believe that we will always experience a succession of moments. There will always be a past, present, and future for the Christian.

I will deal with the passage in Revelation shortly, but let me first explain how it is theologically and philosophically impossible (not merely improbable) for any of creation to ever experience timelessness:

Timelessness is a characteristic of God alone. Paul tells Timothy that God “alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.” (1Ti 6:16 ESV). While believers are promised eternal life, this does not imply the same kind of eternal life that God possesses. Though there is a sense in which we will see God with our eyes, there is also a very real sense that we will never see God in his essence. He exists in an “unapproachable light.” The phrase “whom no one has ever seen or can see” uses the word dunatai which speaks of our ability or capacity to accomplish that which is spoken about. Humanity, indeed, all of creation, does not have the ability or capacity to see God in his essence. Why? Because of his transcendent nature.

Transcendence is a quality that is God’s alone. Indeed, transcendence is a foundational qualification of being God. Transcendence, in this sense, is to be separate and above all things created. God is not the creation. He is not “in” the creation. Creation is not a part of him. To believe otherwise is pantheistic.

When God created all things, he created them ex nihilo “out of nothing.” In other words, creation was not made from some preexisting “stuff” that God used and molded into our universe. Neither is the universe created out of God’s essence itself. There was nothing before creation but God (Heb 11:3). Therefore, God created space, matter, and time. But God is not made up of space, matter, or time. God is the “First Cause” of all things. He is the “Necessary Being” that makes sense out of existence. In this way, because he is God, he is transcendent to space, matter, and time.

God is not a part of time. If he were, he would not be God. He would simply be the most powerful being that we know of in our universe, a sort of “Superman.” If we believed that God was a part of time, we would be, philosophically speaking, atheists. But the definition of God is not “The most powerful being in the universe” but the one who created all that there is and is transcendent and sovereign over it. God cannot be in time because it is a necessary characteristic of divinity to be timeless. God does not experience a succession of moments in his essence. This is not to say that God does not act in time and experience time in his activity or in the incarnation of Christ or the presence of the Holy Spirit. It simply means that the essence of the Triune Godhead is not in time, but transcendent to it.

We now must examine how far off it is for us to entertain the idea that people, part of God’s creation, will one day be timeless. To be timeless is, by definition, to be God. Timelessness is not all he is, but it is for him alone. If we maintain that at death or in the resurrection we become timeless, we are saying that we are going to be joined with the essence of God. This is pantheism. In other words, we are saying that one day we will be God! If we were to deny God timelessness, then he would not really be God, and we would be atheistic, philosophically speaking.

“What about the passage in Revelation? Doesn’t that say that we will be timeless. Sorry Michael, I am going with the Bible rather than the philosophy of man.”

The passage in Revelation does not in any way speak to the ceasing of time. The version I used above is an unfortunately obscure translation from the King James Version of the Bible. Due to its influence and obscurity here, this train of thought has made its way into much of Christian culture. The phrase, “that there should be time no longer,” translates the Greek, hoti chronos ouketi estai. Literally, it is “that time no longer is.” In the context, the seventh Angel has just revealed the seven voices of thunder (which John was instructed to seal up). The events that follow show the angel bringing this stage of the tribulation to completion. The idea behind “time is no longer” is that the duration has run its course. “Time is up,” the angel declares, “Its over.”

Take note of other translations here:

ESV Revelation 10:6 – and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay,

NAB Revelation 10:6 – and swore by the one who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them, “There shall be no more delay.

NAS Revelation 10:6 – and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it, that there shall be delay no longer,

NAU Revelation 10:6 – and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, WHO CREATED HEAVEN AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE EARTH AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE SEA AND THE THINGS IN IT, that there will be delay no longer,

NET Revelation 10:6 – and swore by the one who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, and the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, “There will be no more delay!

NIV Revelation 10:6 – And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay!

NJB Revelation 10:6 – and swore by him who lives for ever and ever, and made heaven and all that it contains, and earth and all it contains, and the sea and all it contains, ‘The time of waiting is over;

NLT Revelation 10:6 – He swore an oath in the name of the one who lives forever and ever, who created the heavens and everything in them, the earth and everything in it, and the sea and everything in it. He said, “There will be no more delay.

TNIV Revelation 10:6 – And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay!

The KJV is the only translation whose wording allows for the misunderstanding.

In short, we will not ever become timeless precisely because we will never become God. The dictum is true: once timeless, always timeless. Once time-bound, always time-bound. There is a sense, as Paul says, that you and I will never see God because we are not able to do so. We will not be able to peek through the curtains of time and see what no eye can see. God will forever remain holy and timeless, even though manifestations of him along with his activity will always be ever present with us in time and through the incarnate Christ.

In heaven (and hell) and forever more, you and I will experience time, space, and matter. The only way that time could ever be no more is if God destroyed all of creation, leaving only himself. But he has promised otherwise.

41 Responses to “"When We Get to Heaven, We Will Be Timeless" . . . And Other Stupid Statements”

  1. Michael,

    I’m having trouble reading this article. It appears that the font is extra smallish…

    Is that my browser, or the article? Usually I don’t have any probs on this site.

    Stephen Stallard

  2. but how can you argue with a hymn?


    great post. time is related to matter. basic fact.

    as long as there is matter (renewed heavens/earth) there will be time. makes sense to me.

    I want to videotape myself preaching my own funeral: Top Ten Stupid Things I Hear At Funerals. (I had this title long before I heard of your blog series!)


  3. Well, I’m relieved. I’ve always found the thought of timelessness to be mind boggling. It seems like it would be an eternal Caribbean vacation, although even the Caribbean is under ‘Island time‘. Again I would think, or would be worried, that timelessness would get a little blurry, possibly even monotonous, but I was counting that my glorified self would understand and enjoy it. I wouldn’t object to dead lines in heaven. (there’s a punny in that last sentence, but I‘ll let it be) I’m not sure I understand that “if God is part of time” then that makes you an atheist..but then, like I said, any thought that removes time and my brain seizes up. And I’m inclined to think everyone’s brain freezes without time, so there is another reason for time in the after life, to prevent brain freeze :)

  4. Cadis,

    “I’m not sure I understand that “if God is part of time” then that makes you an atheist”

    Well, it is only properly speaking or, as I said, philosophically speaking.

    The idea here is that God, by definition, transcends all things, time included. If he is in time, he does not transcend time and therefore he does not transcend all things. At this point, he is no longer God by definition. Just the most powerful being that we know of who is “caught-up” in the present time-space universe. If this were the case, “God” would be above all things other than time, which would “Lord” over him. Time would then, in a certian sense, be God.

    However, since time is simply a measurement of movement, this can never be. Time starts, by definition, when movement starts. Movement starts when things are created.

    In the end, again, God, by definition, is above time in his essence.

  5. Michael,

    You mentioned there is a sense in which we will never see God as He is.

    I have always thought this verse speaks of the fact that we will indeed see Him as He is: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” I John 3:2

    How do you interpret that in light of what you have said about never being able to see Him in His essence?

    I guess, for that matter, how do you interpret the phrase “we will be like Him”? In what way do do think John means that?

  6. Cheryl,

    Great question. It is not easy. As I said, there is a sense that we will see God. Even some sense that we will be able to see God the Father as he dwells with us. However, we must also take into account what Paul says and philosophy demands. “Whom no eye has seen or can see” was written by Paul, who encountered God in Christ. Nevertheless, Paul retains this understanding that we can’t see God.

    It would obscure the issue to say that we can’t see “God in his majesty,” as some people have done (ala, Moses only seeing God’s back), because we are talking not about his moral holiness, but his transcendent essence. His essence is beyond time. The only way to see this essence is to be beyond time. The only way to be beyond time is to be God.

    I know that this is very difficult, but we must hold this in tension. Christians believe that we will see God and that we can’t see God. But we don’t mean these in the same relationship. One is dealing with his true essence. The other is a true manefestation of Him in a single person of the Trinity.

    We will be “like” him, not that we will possess divine attributes of omniscience, simplicity, eternality (as he is eternal), or omnipresence. We will be like him, in that we will be like Christ, the God-man. Our resurrected humanity will be like the second Adam—Christ Jesus…not God’s essence.

  7. I have always personally understood the “time will be no more” of the hymns to be the cessation of astral/lunar time:

    And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. – Revelation 21:23-25, ESV

    No sun, no moon, no “time” as we measure it now.

  8. Michael,

    I don’t quite follow the argument to your conclusion. A few thoughts:

    I’m not convinced experiencing timelessness is the same thing as transcending time, any more than experiencing weightlessness is transcending gravity.

    If we can be “like” him in terms of other divine attributes, such as holiness and everlasting life, why not timelessness, transcension not withstanding?

    If God can be timeless and transcendent of time, and yet, in your words, “experience time in his activity,” couldn’t humans in the same way not be timeless or transcendent, and yet experience timelessness in their activity in heaven?

  9. Actually, humans experience timelessness every night when we sleep: since that part of our brain that notices time is checked out, we have no idea that time is passing or how long we have slept.

    Our experience in heaven, I think, will be an eternal present. It will be as I think it was pre-Fall and as it still seems to be with other animals: I mean, have you ever seen a dog check his watch? Animals are not timeless but they don’t seem to experience time. I think that awaits us, too.

    The concept of time is a product of our brain. It is a construct that I’m not sure we can reify and then project into a future, perfect existence that we will enjoy – or suffer, as the case may be.

  10. No, not in the sense that we are talking about it. We are talking about experiencing (not simply subjectively) the succession of moments and events and having a past, present, and future. We will always have these things in heaven, even if our subjective experience of time is altered.

  11. I very much want there to be a sense of time in heaven, a succesion of moments and a storing of memories. I like to think that God knew what He was doing the first time He created us…that He knew the joy of events that tumbled one into another and memories that piled into amazing story lines. Except that, for those who choose life with Him, God gives the happy endings that so allude us here on earth.

    One thing that often puzzles me as a free lance writer are the Christian publishers who insist on biblical quotes being given only in King James. Although the original Word was flawless, the same cannot be said for translation. Case in point in this post.

    Thanks for giving me something interesting to think about!

  12. Since reading N.T. Wright I began to notice that the Bible has very little to say about entering a bodiless, timeless existence in paradise after we die. That’s what Islam says and it comes from a Hellenistic Platonic philosophy. The Gospel was the news about God re-establishing His Kingdom on Earth and the wonderful news that the righteous will inherit this after bodily resurrection on the last day. The Jews were not interested in the end of the evil world but the end of the evil age (spiritual exile) and some Bible translations of, e.g. Mt 24:3 (KJV), have systematically mislead us.

    Indeed, how many attributes of God, foreign to the Bible, have been invented to win or worm out of philosophical arguments and problems? Mathematicians will tell you that you can prove any nonsense if you use infinity as a symbol in algebra. Yet theologians routinely invoke things like God’s infinite nature or holiness (or knowledge, or unchangeability) to justify certain theologies.

    But infinity or timelessness are not concepts anyone (including the arguer) can really understand and it’s illegitimate to hoodwink people with arguments based on these concepts and then say “But God is God and can do this” or “His ways are higher”.

  13. I don’t think the Bible addresses this topic enough to be so sure about it one way or the other. You also have to deal with the “last days” terminology. I never took the hymns (essentially poems) so seriously on this point.

    Why do you keep saying “in heaven”?

    Why do we think that we really understand what time is? It seems to me that time may not really exist anyhow.

  14. Yes, but our experience of sequence will certainly be very different in the eternal state, not least because our state will be just that: eternal. We will not experience the sort fleetingness associated with our lives here. We will not die. Arguably, temporal indicators like the rotation of the earth (itself and in relation to the sun) might cease. “Time will be no more” is a way of speaking, not too different from “the sun rises.” The description somewhat accurately describes an experience.

  15. Two points on this:

    1- In the new heaven will be the tree of life “producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year” (Rev 22:2, NET).

    Even if those months or years are not measured exactly the same as now (because there is no sun), they still exist, and they still mark time.

    2 – Time on earth is marked because of the sun. But, according to Genesis 1, “there was evening, and there was morning, marking” three days before then sun was created (fourth day).

    Even if one argues about the length of those “days”, we have to acknowledge that time was passing on earth without the need of the sun.


  16. Granted, this part of my argument began with ‘arguably’, but I think that my main contention stands: our experience of sequence will be different in a sense. “Fleetingness” will cease.

  17. Excellent discussion. Philosophical theology at its best. Excellent points made by all. My 2 cents worth is this:
    the “tyranny” of time we now experience will be no more. This tyranny we experience now is a result of sin and since sin shall be no more. This tyranny is experienced now in the form of deadlines and such, the feeling of not having enough time, the endless pressure, etc. With endless time we will experience no such pressure. That there will be endless time is implied in these verses: Psalms 93:5, 106:31

  18. As a musician, I’ve often wondered about this. Music is built on time. I can’t imagine music without time. Then again, I’ve worked with a few drummers….

  19. In my reading the other day I ran across a quotation attributed to Einstein about time. He wrote to a friend “For us faithful physicists, the separation between past, present, and future has only the meaning of an illusion, though a persistent one.”

    Thought that was interesting in light of your discussion.

  20. Postulating that the philosophical notion of “timelessness” is what is meant in the hymns and popular sayings is to make a genre mistake, and the result of that mistake is to make the error rather than the hymn. The hymns are not referring to the elimination of one of the dimensions of our universe. Furthermore, once a particular turn of phrase becomes popular (e.g., “time shall be no more”) then it tends to get reused for its own sake, because of its popularity, or for literary or intertextual allusion, but not because each writer is thinking through the philosophical concepts of timelessness.

    “Timelessness” in hymns and poetry and sayings merely refers to time without end. If time will not end, and there is no death, then a huge aspect of its meaning for us on this earth is removed in the hereafter. Effectively, time has no significance. Yes, it is still a dimension of the universe and an aspect in which we exist and move, but that is not the focus of the hymns. So, basically, the entire post is off-base even though it is philosophically correct.

    CMPs “Stupid” series only work because the over-press an aspect of some saying, but in this case the aspect he seeks to over-press in order to make his point does not even exist.


  21. John,

    A little on the harsh and defensive side for something like this…

    “”Timelessness” in hymns and poetry and sayings merely refers to time without end.”

    Can you demonstrate this particularly because I can’t see it and a mere assertion does not promote this conversation in any direction.

    I am certainly willing to concede that this is the case in these poetry examples, but you are going to have to do more than that.

    As well, this is a supposition that IS ingrained into pop Christian culture nonetheless. I have dealt with it for ten years of teaching theology. I believed it once myself. Therefore, this post is, in my opinion valid as an attempt to correct common folk theology as I see it, even without the hymns!

    I look forward to examining what your sources are.

  22. Michael, you make some good points. I especially appreciate the way you clarified the reading of Rev. 10:6. I think you very well establish the biblical plausibility of a continued human subjection to linear time. I’m not sure though that you adequately demonstrated the implausibility of the opposing view. And I’m not sure you’re entirely consistent in your reasoning. If immortality is unique to God—but we can experience a different kind of immortality—why could your opponent not say the same thing regarding timelessness? We may not agree with that view, but how is one logically valid but the other not?

    And even if such a view is not accurate biblically, does that really make the person holding such a view some sort of modified pantheist or atheist?! That’s pretty harsh! It doesn’t sound like the irenic CMP that I usually enjoy reading. I’m not disagreeing with your viewpoint on this issue, but can we really be this dogmatic about something that is not unambiguously spelled out in Scripture? And, even if we can, could you maybe discuss the implications of such a view without labeling your opponents pejoratively?


  23. C. S. Lewis posited an interesting time analogy in comparing the view of a train one gets when stopped at the crossing — boxcar after boxcar passing in front in linear progression — versus the view of the same train one might get from an airplane, where the entire line of boxcars makes an almost imperceptible advance through the terrain. While I can’t remember the fullness of the analogy, certainly the perception of what is taking place is quite different in both cases. (Maybe someone out there remembers the exact quotation or its source.)

    While I lack the resources to articulate an alternative, I think the conclusion here is based on the hypothesis that timelessness somehow means equality with God. I’m not sure I can buy in on that; and wonder how conjecture can take place when linear time is all we’ve ever known. Maybe only God can truly exist outside time, but certainly he could decide that our “heavenly” state would exist outside lineartime (i.e. the train example, above).

    I also believe that we shouldn’t be too quick to toss out the hymnwriters, especially when so many of them echo the same sentiments. Obviously these hymns are based on teaching and understanding that was popular at the time. Even allowing that there are trends or fads in the understanding of some of the “less-than-core” doctrines, has there been a shift in thinking on this subject in say, the last 100 years? Or is this truly another case where an entire doctrine has been built on poor translation in the KJV? (In which case God must cringe at those who crusade for that translation’s exclusivity.) And if that is so, what other Christian doctrinal “sacred cows” do we need to reconsider?

  24. Hey, I’m not the one that used the word “stupid” to describe someone else’s views. I merely argued that there was an error in what you wrote, and I believe that I proved the point to a sufficient degree without engaging in vituperative language. How is arguing for a position and trying to find truth “harsh”? Moreover, since I was not defending anything, my response can hardly be called “defensive”. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip. No matter, I will proceed to further flesh out my argument.

    Though Charles Wesley was not the first hymn writer to use the phrase “time shall be no more”, it did appear a number of times in the 9,000 poems he wrote, and as well frequently in his sermons. The word “eternity” did not, for either Wesley, function as a referent to a philosphical notion, but as a pointer to our life after death. A life that will never again end in death. Their sermons frequently draw a contrast or distinction between “time”, by which they mean our lives in the here and now before death, and “eternity”, which refers to our glorious post resurrection life.

    For example, below is an excerpt from a sermon preached by Charles Wesley on April 4, 1742, before the University of Oxford, titled “Awake, Thou that Sleepest” and based on the text “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Eph. 5:14.

    “5. Awake, thou everlasting spirit, out of thy dream of worldly happiness! Did not God create thee for himself? Then thou canst not rest till thou restest in him. Return, thou wanderer! Fly back to thy ark, This is not thy home. Think not of building tabernacles here. Thou art but a stranger, a sojourner upon earth; a creature of a day, but just launching out into an unchangeable state. Make haste. Eternity is at hand. Eternity depends on this moment. An eternity of happiness, or an eternity of misery!”

    Such hymns during the 300 years since Charles birth have not only continued to be sung, but have passed into common church parlance. To read into them more than what Charles intended, or what most people mean by them, is unwarranted. It is, to Charles, and in his sermons and hymns, and for most people (including those I know or read) a simple, unsophisticated, reference to our life after death. It is not a statement that one of our four dimensions (i.e., time) will be missing in the future. To do something in the future with our new bodies will require time as a dimension, but of what value will be the recording of time if after one year there are still a billion to go? But in this life, one could die before a year is out. And die without salvation. That is the concern of Wesley.

    Furthermore, the statement ” If we maintain that at death or in the resurrection we become timeless, we are saying that we are going to be joined with the essence of God.” is a non sequitur. It does not so follow, no more than Chist, being God, in become time bound has joined us to him in some…

  25. Michael, The Bible everywhere speaks of God having sequence and duration, i.e., being in time. The biblical definition of “eternal” is having no beginning to sequence in the past and having no ending to sequence in the future. As I think can be demonstrated, the view of God being above or outside of time is a Greek view that was brought into the church. However, I realize the timeless view of God is almost universally accepted by believers and it is no easy task to persuade people otherwise. But, with your careful exegesis skills and your expertise in identifying folklore doctrines, I am confident you will work it out. Re-reading the Bible on this subject alone, being careful not to confuse anthropomorphism with anthropopathism, should suffice to convince you, but a useful book on the subject is Does God Know the Future? by Michael Saia.

  26. I agree that time will always be, and that Revelation is not saying there will be no time, but I disagree with the reasoning employed to reach that conclusion.

    First Tim 6:16 was cited to prove that “timelessness is a characteristic of God alone.” But this verse doesn’t say God is timeless; it says He’s immortal, or eternal. Minimally, this means He never began to exist, and will never cease to exist—a property belonging to Him alone. As William Lane Craig points out, however, one can be eternal in one of two ways: by always existing at every moment in time, or existing timelessly.

    Maybe you’re aware of these two modes of eternality, but think God must be eternal in the timeless sense because, as you point out, God created time, and thus was timeless without creation. I agree that God was timeless without creation, but as Craig (who specializes in the philosophy of time) points out, we have good Biblical and philosophical reasons to think God became temporal simultaneous with His act of creation, so that God is now in time (omnitemporal). This would mean God is timeless without creation, but temporal with creation.

    The implication of this is that timelessness and temporality are contingent properties of God. The only essential property of God is His eternality. “Prior” to creation God experienced His eternality in a timeless way (contingently), whereas after creation God experiences His eternality in a temporal way (contingently). In arguing that we cannot experience timelessness because that is a property of God alone, you mistakenly identify timeless as an essential property of God. But it is eternality, not timelessness, that is essential to God’s nature. So, in principle, humans could become timeless and this would not impugn God’s essential attributes at all (although this is impossible because it would require us to become beginningless, which is logically impossible). While I have good reasons to believe we will not become timeless, there are no theological problems with the idea as you claim.

    You’ll have to research Craig’s arguments on your own to determine for yourself whether they are cogent, but suffice it to say here that you claim too much when you say that if someone believes “God was part of time” they would be an “atheist.” Surely William Craig is no atheist! Neither was Isaac Newton who believed time is eternal, and that God exists omnitemporally. You can argue that either of these men are mistaken, but clearly the belief that God is in time does not require atheism.

    I never did see a clear philosophical argument as to why there will always be time. But I would like to suggest a simple one. The reason is that the eternal state will be a material state, and material beings need space in which to exist, and time in which to move. If there was no time, everything would be utterly immobile.

  27. Well said. Clearly explained. No, eternity will not be timeless, but simply endless time. Only God “inhabits eternity” and experiences all time as now. And it is a reminder that we must not get our theology from our hymnology! (And I say that as a long-time student and lover of our traditional hymnody.)

  28. Well I think that all who claim “timelessness,” actually mean it in an eschatological way, saying “when we don’t have to look out anymore, to the time when…” cause then its all fulfilled.

    What do you think?


  29. Michael,

    Good topic. I too have come from that particular folk theology, which misunderstands much more of the afterlife than this. Closely connected with the necessity of the passing of time for us humans in the eternal Kingdom is the idea that while being mature (perfect) morally, we will still not cease to learn and grow and discover – in other words, change. A very wise pastor friend of mine, who is an astute theologian with an apologetic bent, addressed such extrabiblical folk theologies with a statement like this: “Heaven will be a lot more like this present state than most of us believe; only it will be perfect.” Scripture certainly points more to a pre-fall type of existence, than to some etherial, other-worldly experience like in the movie What Dreams May Come. Certainly it will be more than Eden, but probably not so different from it.

  30. What about the promise of eter al life? What would your defination of eternal life be

  31. This makes interesting reading, but to my mind is highly speculative and based on conjecture. I am not sure that the bible properly and fully explains whether there the saved will experiecne timelessness or not. In any case in I John 3 it says ” it does not yet appear what we will be like but we shall be like hin and shall see him as he is”

  32. N.T. Wright is one of several writers recently who have been raising awareness of, and returning the emphasis to, the fact that our eternal life is actually life after life after death. That is, between now and Christ’s second coming with the new heaven and new earth the dead will experience some sort of intermediate life, and then at the second coming of Christ and the general resurrection we will experience the life in the new heaven and new earth with a resurrection body.


  33. Response to the presupposition that God’s transcendence disconnects him from time:

    Discussions of God’s existence always seem to be in time related terminology. Before God created, nothing existed but God. The Bible says: “From everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). To say that God exists is to imply the necessity of two dimensions, at least: time and space. While God, according to Jesus, is not corporeal but spiritual, he exists as something, not nothing. God does not exist “in” space, as though space were a creation or a part of God. Rather, God “is” space. Furthermore, because he exists, time exists as well, for it is impossible to be without being from moment to moment. Therefore, just as space is derivative of his being, so is time. When he creates all this is not God, it comes into being in God. Thus Paul’s affirmation that we live and move and are “in him” (Acts 17:28) signifies reality.

    “Creatio ex nihilo” presupposes that “nothing” exists, which, of course, is nonsense. God has always existed. For a long while — until he created — he was all that existed. So at no time has there ever been nothing. Granted, when God creates, he makes what does not yet exist to be, but that begs the question of whether or not he created “out of nothing.” Hebrews 11:3 only says that what is seen was made from what is not seen, not from nothing. Because God has always existed, when he creates, the energy necessary to form physical reality comes from him. How he converts that energy to matter so that it becomes distinct from its creator remains a mystery, but that it does is the only proposition that makes sense to me (and is problematic in either system).

    Can some kind of “universe” exist “outside” of God? If we affirm that God is everywhere, or to put it negatively, that there is no place where God is not, are we not saying just what Paul said when he stated that we live and move and have our being in him? How else could God be everywhere? Doesn’t David ask and answer this question in Psalm 139:7-12: “Where can I go from you Spirit?”? The answer includes the farthest reaches of space and the farthest dimension of hell — NOWHERE!

    God’s being the “space” in which creation exists has many benefits, as does its existence in his time. One: The ability of entities to act on one another at a distance is greatly enhanced. Instantaneous cause effect would be possible. Two: multi-dimensional entities should exist and be able to interact. Three: time and space become absolute because God’s existence does not vary. The inferiority of God does not follow from the fact that he can contain in his being entities that do not constitute a portion of his being. That he creates us separately but intimately related to him actually helps us remember that he does not need us for his existence—he being completely self-sufficient—but that we need him for ours. Were he to cease willing our…

  34. Good start to what could be an interesting conversation. Unfortunately, the terms are not sufficiently defined to resolve the conflict. In what sense are the terms being used? I think that in order to have a truly meaningful discussion about time and its relationship to God and to us much more work needs to be done to explain what you mean by time and why you feel that it is an essential attribute of divinity. I would think that at the very least you would have to deal with Kant’s categorical time as well as McTaggart’s type A / type B distinction as both have theological significance.

    Most surprizing, however, is the lack of grappling with the explanation of time given by Augustine. His view that time is potentially tenseless and properly exists in the mind has huge implications for your thoughts on the hymns and the nature of time as it relates to God.

    You have a lot more work to do on the theology of time before being so certain. I don’t disagree with you but I think that the arguments are not thought all the way through yet.

  35. @Doug Knighton does a good job of summarizing what I think I believe.

    To say that God is transcends time and is not bound by time differs from saying that God is timeless.

    Like Doug, I think space and time are, like logic, divine emmanations. They flow from the Divine and always have / always will. He transcends them and they proceed from Him.

    A succession of moments IS a necessary precondition for action, thought, etc. When God decided to create the rest of what IS, he did so at some particular moment. God, who is not bound by time, enjoys specific, eternal fellowship, within the Trinity, at every moment.

    Eternity is a infinite succession of moments. It isn’t our sun / moon kind of time, but it is time, as Michael describes. There will be music (based on time) in heaven. There will be sound and motion and communication (all requiring time) in eternity future.

    So, I guess what I’m wondering is why the traditional view of God as timeless is so necessary for theological orthodoxy if one sees time as something proceeding from God? Like the moral law, which is not his fiat nor his judge, time exists because God exists. Is that unsound?

  36. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the article.
    I hope that you permit me to make a side note. As a person with secular views, I respectfully consider your exercise abstract. This stance however, allows for considerations that are perhaps not relevant to this tread, but nonetheless cogent in a broader perspective and certainly not stupid.
    As you do, I apply skeptical scrutiny of familiar claims (you mentioned hymns, I could present Descartes in that way). We both study and arrive at conclusions (in this instance we even share subject). An as often, the pondering raises questions and intelligent counter statements (see Jason Dulle’s excellent comment). Skepticism is vital to the process of exposing error.
    But why, Michael, call these efforts ‘Stupid Statements’. It seems to contradict with that part of your mission-statement dealing with anti-intellectualism, skepticism and confusion.


  37. I think I’m understanding Michael to say that we will always some experience of linear time (a succession of moments, one after the other), although it may not be time as we know it currently (measured in minutes, years, etc).

    If we assume that time is a part of creation and a part of the material world (relative to one’s speed, and all that), then how we are to experience “time” in the afterlife depends on how God has organized the new heaven and new earth; presumably there may be some new laws of physics. But, we simply don’t know.

    Another problem is that we simply can’t conceive of timelessness or any sort of non-linear experience of time. What sort of time do the angels experience? We don’t know.

    So, our hymnology may be acceptable for the most part, if we mean that time as we experience it on earth will stop (I’m really looking forward to life without calendars…).

  38. The statement, “When we get to heaven, we will be timeless” represents a fundamental misunderstanding of Christian theology. To have this view of the afterlife, one must either be, as I said, either a modified pantheist or an atheist.

    Really? C’mon, you were fine with the “fundamental misunderstanding” but to outright say someone is an atheist, or modified pantheist, is presumptuous at best, and self righteous at worse.

    I understand your article, agree with you 100%, but I think you would do better to help those with “fundamental misunderstanding” by helping them understand. If this is a “fundamental” issue and someone does not get it, for whatever reason, and you come along and tell then they are not saved (are atheists and modified pantheists saved?) then I think you have made their belief and understanding of time a litmus test for salvation. I don’t think you can be so dogmatic as to assert that the understanding of time after death is indicative of true salvation.

  39. The concept of an everlasting afterlife gives me panic attacks. Not that I don’t believe it, though.


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