God & Time

DB Ryen

All the physical laws of the universe are subject to their Creator. Even time itself.

[Keywords: spacetime, speed of light, gravity, black hole, time dilation, astrophysics, Creator, science, faith, Christianity, Bible]

Length: Long, 2416 words

With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years

and a thousand years is like one day. 

2 Peter 3:8, NASB 


Have a few minutes? The concept of time seems so simple for our human minds, but God’s experience of it is likely completely different than ours. 

For us, the present is that moment as the future slips into the past. We can remember experiences from the past, but we can no more travel back to them as we can jump years into the future. Nor can we experience two different times at once. Because the human body occupies a specific time and physical space, we are restricted to living within the present. All the time, no exceptions. 

God, however, never came into being and he’ll never not exist. This is the definition of eternal. He created the laws of the universe to govern creation - including time itself - but they don’t govern him. 

The concept of time, and how it changes depending on who experiences it, isn’t always easy to understand, but that’s what we’ll try to do here. Specifically, there are allegorical, mathematical, and biblical arguments in support of God being outside of time. 

Trying to understand how God relates to time doesn’t change how we’re saved, and it’s not necessary for living for the Lord. However, when we stretch our minds in an attempt to grasp divine concepts, it’s a step in the right direction. Like a toddler asking questions about how a world works, it might be impossible to comprehend such lofty concepts, but God seems to appreciate any effort to better understand his nature and character. 

So, got a moment? 


First, an analogy. When my children were young, I told them stories about knights and monsters, mermaids and spaceships, heroes and villains. Over time, these adventures got written down. However, even after they became books, the stories were never set in stone. Every so often I’d update a section, change details, add jokes, or remove unnecessary details. One time I even changed one of the endings so Rory the Knight didn’t kill the grumpy alligator but just yanked out one of its teeth. As the author, I was able to enter the story at any point and change whatever I wanted. I could do this because I wasn’t bound to the world I'd created - I didn’t live in the pages, nor was I stuck in the make-believe timeline. I could literally hold each story in my hands and know every detail of every moment all at once. Furthermore, I could flip to any page and re-experience any point in the storyline with my kids. The characters in my book didn’t know any better - they simply experienced the reality I established for them whenever the cover was cracked open. No matter how many times I changed things, all they knew was that single timeline as it was written at that moment.

This isn’t so different from the way God relates to the physical world. Humanity is the cast of characters in his epic story of salvation. We’re born, grow up, and eventually die all within the confines of physical time and space. We don’t exist outside of the universe like the Author can. Nor can we travel through time, experiencing things in the past or future. God, however, isn’t bound to anything in this physical world. As the Creator of all existence, he can view the entirety of creation - over all time - as a whole. Although time marches on without fail for us, that’s not how it is to God. Similar to how I exist outside of time for the characters in my stories, God is spirit (Jn 4:24; 2 Cor 4:13), not physical, and he exists on an entirely different level. 

Now, every analogy falls apart at some level. For me, I can’t actually interact with the characters I created. I can’t step into the pages and fight giant squids or explore alien planets. God, however, did exactly that. He jumped into time, into our physical universe at a specific time, while somehow still being God outside of it all. How? No idea. That’s one of the great mysteries of our faith. However, the concept that God is like an Author helps get a sense of how he’s outside time.


There are complex laws that govern our universe - mathematics, quantum physics, gravity, etc. - which have been explained by some very smart people. It might seem like time marches on at a constant pace, but Einstein described how its rate can actually be changed. That is, under certain conditions, time can slow down, maybe even stop altogether. Crazy, right? However, as far-fetched as it might seem, this is part of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which has been proven many times over with practical experiments. In short, two things can slow time: very high speeds or large sources of gravity. 

Let me explain.

Physicists have built super-accurate clocks. By measuring the constant vibration of atoms, these aptly named “atomic clocks” tick along at exactly the same rate. In fact, multiple atomic clocks, once synchronized, will tell the same time decades later, even down to the millisecond. However, here's the crazy part: if one is sent flying around in space (i.e. aboard a space shuttle), it’ll return back to earth slower than its twin that remained relatively stationary. That is, the faster something moves through space, the slower time slows down for it. In fact, Einstein postulated that if something were to approach the speed of light (i.e. the fastest anything can ever move), time would theoretically slow to a stop

Time is also affected by gravity. The closer something is to a strong gravitational field, the slower time passes. In outer space, with very little gravity, time moves faster. But next to something huge - a big planet, a star, or a black hole - time moves slower. 

This is called time dilation, and both of these phenomena hint at how God can exist outside of time. First, in terms of speed, God is in constant motion. In Genesis 1, before the creation of the world, the Bible records, 

The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Gen 1:2, NIV)

According to the ancient Jewish worldview, “the waters” weren’t actually the oceans that cover so much of our planet now. Instead, these mighty waters actually referred to outer space, the vast expanse of nothingness that is devoid of all matter. So, as the Bible says, God was cruising through the void before anything else existed. He was in constant motion. Then, on the first day, he created light. Given that God wouldn’t be able to make something greater than he was, it’s reasonable to assume God can move faster than light itself. And if we consider that time grinds to a halt as it approaches the speed of light, it’s no stretch to conclude that God can stop, reverse, speed up, or do anything he wants to time just by being able to move infinitely fast through space

Second, God is big. 

“Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. (Jer 23:24, ESV)

His size, whether you consider it physical or spiritual or something else, is incomparable. 

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in a pair of scales? (Is 40:12, NASB)

Again, God can’t make something greater than his infinite self, which means he’s bigger than the sum of the entire created universe. If God were strictly physical, his mass would be infinite and his gravitational pull would be off the charts. Again, considering that big sources of gravity cause time to slow down, it’s reasonable that God can stop time just by how big he is.

So, in these two ways, the mathematics that govern our physical universe hint that God is outside of time as we know it. Because of his inherent nature - specifically that he’s big and fast - he is able to skew time as he sees fit. That is, even the immovable laws of physics are subject to their Creator.


Finally, the Bible itself talks about the timeless nature of God. Consider Peters’s words:

With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day. (2 Pet 3:8, NASB)

To any human, a day and a thousand years aren’t even close to being the same thing. How can something small be equal to something big, and vice versa? The only possible explanation is if God is outside of time. If the entire history of the universe was viewed as a single moment, then yes, a day would be like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. Thus, to God, who holds the world in his hands like an author holds a story, that would certainly be the case. David hinted at the same thing:

A thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night. (Ps 90:4, NASB)

That is, God is timeless.

Now, let’s get back to God entering time. Again, this is like if I jumped into my own book, then fought ogres, defeated space monsters, and rescued creatures in distress. Of course, this is entirely impossible for me, or any human for that matter, but what is impossible for man is possible for God (Mt 19:26; Lk 1:37). He was born a man, bound by all the physical laws that we all are, yet at the same time still eternal. 

For in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, (Col 2:9, ESV)

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:14, ESV)

Jesus, although he entered time two thousand years ago, was (and still is) outside time. His death and resurrection paid for the sins of all people over all time (Rom 6:10). That means those who lived and died before him (i.e. Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, etc.) were still able to receive his blood to cover their sins, even though they were long dead by the time he walked the earth. Also, anyone who came after Jesus - you, me, and everyone else on earth - is also able to receive his blood to cover our sins as many times as needed. To God, every moment in time occurs simultaneously. To him, it’s always the present. That means, at the same time anyone is sinning over the course of human history, Jesus is dying on the cross. Whenever we are struggling to overcome a temptation or trial, Jesus is walking out the grave, empowering us to live by his strength. 

Jesus said it like this: “Take heart, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33, ESV). When he spoke this, he hadn’t actually overcome anything in the grand scheme of things because his death and resurrection were still ahead of him. And yet, he spoke in the past tense. Although Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross occurred in a single moment in history - around 30 AD - he had already done it since the dawn of time. 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:15-20, ESV)

How could Jesus be the firstborn of all creation when he was born thousands of years after creation began? How could he “reconcile to himself all things” when so much of human history was in the past before he had even stepped foot on earth? As we’ve said many times now, the only explanation is that God (including Jesus) exists outside time. every moment occurs as “now” to God. The same thing occurs during Jesus' conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus. "No one has ascended into heaven, except he who descended from heaven: the Son of Man." (Jn 3:13, NASB). Again, Jesus spoke of his ascension into heaven in the past tense, even though it would not occur until after his resurrection. Jesus entered the world at a specific time in earth's history, but the repercussions of his life, death, and resurrection reverberate throughout all time, even to before he arrived on earth.

The Bible often likens death to falling asleep (see Dan 12:2; Mt 27:52; Acts 7:60, 13:36; 1 Cor 15:6,18,20; 2 Pet 3:4). Indeed, it’s a fitting metaphor. We all lay down in bed every night and all of a sudden it’s morning. Hours may pass, but to us, it's barely a moment. In the same way, all those souls who have died are sleeping in a sense, unaware of the time passing. To them, whether they’ve been dead a thousand years or a day, it’ll seem like barely a moment before they’re waking up at the end of time. Nobody's waiting around in purgatory, nor is anyone biding their time in heaven or hell. We’ll all get to the end at the same time. 


God is the great Author, fashioning the story of humanity in a timeline he hand-crafted. In fact, the Bible records that detail in history of the world is recorded by him. 

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Ps 139:16, NIV)

I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (Rev 20:12, ESV)

God planned every moment before anything came into existence, before time itself. Like any author, he exists outside the timeline of his characters. It’s a great mystery of our faith is how Jesus could be the fullness of God within time and space while still being God outside it all, but it happened nonetheless. Even the very laws of the universe bear their Creator’s fingerprints - the seemingly constant pace of time is subject to him. That is, his very nature - constant motion and infinite size - dictate that he can’t be contained in any given moment. There’s no past or future for him. He’s eternal. 

From everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Ps 90:2, ESV)

That’s why God refers to himself as “I AM” (Ex 3:14). It’s not that he was or will be, he just is for all time.

And beyond. 

© D. B. Ryen Incorporated, September 2023.