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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

God Does Not Live in the Present Either

In “Process, open theologians’ debate nearly claims its first casualties,” (Science & Theology News, January 2004,) Thomas Jay Oord obverses, “Open theologians embrace forms of spirituality that emphasize that God responds to what we say and do. Among other things, this means that prayer can really change what God will do. If God knows the future as settled, prayer to influence God’s action would be futile. Because open theology says that the future is not settled, prayer can really affect what God will do.” The professor also writes, “Many evangelicals, especially those with ties to the Reformed tradition of Christianity, believe that God knows today everything that will happen in the future. God exists outside time, according to this view, and God knows the past, present and future all at once.”

While being a valid articulation of mainstream evangelical Christianity, this view has an internal contradiction that runs deeper than just semantics. If God “exists outside time,” then it becomes meaningless to opine that He “knows today everything that will happen in the future,” which requires an existence within time. If God exists in the present, looking into the future, He then cannot be described as existing outside time. We humans, who have never existed outside the dimension of time, do not have the experience nor the language to describe outside-time existence.

Yet, the effects of engaging with a Being living outside time can be experienced with interesting and delightfully perplexing results. Research centers such as PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research, Princeton University, NJ) are bringing human consciousness into the quantum physics realm, accumulating data supporting the power of mental intention in influencing physical events in and out of time. One of its studies, using random number sequence generation, can be easily replicated with a small group of students or colleagues by flipping ten coins and recording percentages of heads versus tails. After establishing a control baseline with ten trials (since the statistical probability of 50% cannot be assumed due to slight variations in the weights and distortions of the coins), have the group members visualize and intend a result of 100% heads, then run ten trials. The PEAR experiment established a statistically significant result favoring the intended.

This is not surprising nor of particular interest. But now comes the point of interest and implication. PEAR (as you can in your own experimentation) ran the trials while the participants’ minds were engaged with another activity, such as reading. Then they were asked to visualize the intended outcome, after the event already occurred but the results were not yet revealed. One of the conclusions was it did not matter whether the intending visualization was performed before the trials (or flips of the coins) or after: The statistical significance favoring the intended outcome remained the same. An event in the past was being influenced by an intervention in the present.

The implications for prayer in general and influencing God with prayer specifically are significant. "Before they call, I will answer" (Isaiah 66:24b). "Even before there is a single word on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord"(Psalm 139:4). These verses and others like them seem to imply God is looking into the future, that is if one believes time is linear. But consider that the book of Revelation says, "the Lamb [Christ] was slain before the foundation of the world." Then what about His crucifixion around 30 AD? Quantum physicists know that some events that appear to us in the future have determined the outcome of other events that already happened. In other terms, there is no future or past or even present for God. Things that are happening to us now are influenced by what we will pray in our future. Personally, I can cite instances of what one would call divine providence or intervention that I found myself addressing in prayer after it happened, unbeknown to me. An example of this is getting an unexpected check in the mail or contact with someone the day after one prays for a need. Obviously, the check or contact was already on its way before the prayer was offered.

The reason the Scriptures so often stress prayers of thanks for blessings already received and needs already met may not be in order to avoid offending God with ingratitude, but rather because our prayers of thanks which, to us, come after the fulfillment, are heard by God before we think to say them. "Before they call, I will answer," or "I will do now for what they are thanking me later." Prayers of thanks are not for the past, but, like all prayers, are outside of time, affecting the past, present and future, from our in-time perspective, and are thus very powerful.

When Jesus instructed, "I tell you to have faith that you have already received whatever you pray for, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24), He wasn't telling us to "psych" ourselves into believing the prayer answer is "in the mail" to help our faith. Jesus is affirming Isaiah 66:24 and Psalm 139:4 and the need to forego our notion of linear time. If we don't, then Jesus doesn't make sense. How can we have already received what we are praying for now, and not see that we have received it until a future time? Indeed, we must "live by faith, not by sight."

Quantum physics also demonstrates time compression, "warping" and even suspension. So does Scripture. "Isn't this recorded in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the middle of the sky, and for nearly a day the sun was in no hurry to set" (Joshua 10:13b). "Indeed, in your [God's] sight a thousand years are like a single day, like yesterday - already past - like an hour in the night" (Psalm 90:4). Generally people have been too locked into notion of time to understand these verses other than thinking, "Well, if I lived for a zillion years, I also would see a thousand years like one day." Or, "If the sun stopped, then God must have stopped the earth from rotating and miraculously kept the 'law' of gravitation intact." This is very human thinking, for time is a physical dimension that is mathematically defined. Thus time can be compressed, stretched or escaped. Again, our prayers are timeless and have the power of infinity, for the Holy Spirit who receives them is infinite, and “heard” our prayers before we were born.

The old question, "If a tree falls in a forest but no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?" can lead to the question, "When God first said, 'Let there be light,' to whom was He talking?" If God "talked" to nothingness, who was listening and responded by coming into existence? Being stuck in linguistics can also lead to absurd notions about praying things into being or into happening. "Everything came into existence through him [the Word or Logos]” (John 1:3a). The Word or Logos is not a language, but a Being.

Our prayers are brought into existence through the Logos as well, which is the meaning of praying “in Christ's name." The Christ “who was slain before the foundation of the world” carries our burdens and prayers in that “point” of no-time. Our human condition and language force us to speak of His looking into the future and presents the apparent (but not real) problem of “how can our prayers affect a future that is already known by God?” Our human condition (living in time) and language (woefully inadequate) require, for our sakes, that God speak to us in our time and in our language. Understandably, the evangelicals say, as Professor Oord noted, “God knows the past, present and future all at once.” But those in the mystical tradition of Christianity talk about experiencing God, not in the past, present or future, but in a consciousness of timelessness, knowing the meaning of His name, “I Am.” (“Before Abraham was, I Am.”) The mystical tradition also tells of communing with God without language. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26b).

In great measure, the debate between the perspectives of open and process theology is more about framing the ineffable and essentially unknowable into our infinitesimally limited perspectives of time and language than of God’s limitation to “know” the future or be moved by prayer. As long as we are stuck in this time dimension and believe that God shares our perspectives, the debate will continue and will claim “casualties.” The knowing for which we seek, I believe, lies in the transcendence of open, process and all theologies. Useful as they are for pointing to the way, they do not put us there.
 

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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