Mere Christianity – Book IV – Chapter 3 (“Time and beyond time”)
Picking back up my notes for C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”…
1. Some people struggle with the idea of prayer
(a) It relates to how God hears prayer
“A man put it to me by saying ‘I can believe in God all right, but what I cannot swallow is the idea of Him attending to several hundred million human beings who are all addressing Him at the same moment.'”
(b) Specifically, how God can hear prayers at the same time
“Most of us can imagine God attending to any number of applicants if only they came one by one and He had an endless time to do it in. So what is really at the back of this difficulty is the idea of God having to fit too many things into one moment of time”
2. Our trouble stems from how we experience life in time
“Our life comes to us moment by moment One moment disappears before the next comes along: and there is room for very little in each. That is what Time is like”
(a) They assume that God experiences things in the same way
We tend to assume that the whole universe and God Himself are always moving on from past to future just as we do. But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the Theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in Time at all: later the Philosophers took it over: and now some of the scientists are doing the same.
(b) However, God is not in Time
“His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty-and every other moment from the beginning of the world-is always the Present for Him”
3. As an analogy, consider an author writing a story
(a) The character in the story is in his/her own time-stream
Suppose I am writing a novel. I write “Mary laid down her work; next moment came a knock at the door!” For Mary who has to live in the imaginary time of my story there is no interval between putting down the work and hearing the knock. But I, who am Mary’s maker, do not live in that imaginary time at all. Between writing the first half of that sentence and the second, I might sit down for three hours and think steadily about Mary. I could think about Mary as if she were the only character in the book and for as long as I pleased, and the hours I spent in doing so would not appear in Mary’s time (the time inside the story) at all.
(b) God is not hurried along
“God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us…. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man in the world”
(c) This analogy obviously has limitations
“The way in which my illustration breaks down is this. In it the author gets out of one Time-series (that of the novel) only by going into another Time-series (the real one). But God, I believe, does not live in a Time-series at all. His life is not dribbled out moment by moment like ours: with Him it is, so to speak, still 1920 and already 1960. For His life is Himself”
4. Alternatively, consider a line on a piece of paper
“If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn. We come to the parts of the line one by one: we have to leave A behind before we get to B, and cannot reach C until we leave B behind. God, from above or outside or all round, contains the whole line, and sees it all”
5. Understanding God’s relationship to time can help resolve some difficulties people may have
(a) The sleeping God
The Christians said that the eternal God who is everywhere and keeps the whole universe going, once became a human being. Well then, said I, how did the whole universe keep going while He was a baby, or while He was asleep? How could He at the same time be God who knows everything and also a man asking his disciples “Who touched me?”
(i) The issue relates to time
“You will notice that the sting lay in the time words: ‘While He was a baby’-‘How could He at the same time?’ In other words I was assuming that Christ’s life as God was in time, and that His life as the man Jesus in Palestine was a shorter period taken out of that time – just as my service in the army was a shorter period taken out of my total life… We picture God living through a period when His human life was still in the future: then coming to a period when it was present: then going on to a period when He could look back on it as something in the past”
(ii) …and connecting the incarnation with His life in eternity
“You cannot fit Christ’s earthly life in Palestine into any time-relations with His life as God beyond all space and time. It is really, I suggest, a timeless truth about God that human nature, and the human experience of weakness and sleep and ignorance, are somehow included in His whole divine life. This human life in God is from our point of view a particular period in the history of our world (from the year A.D. one till the Crucifixion). We therefore imagine it is also a period in the history of God’s own existence”
(iii) God has no history
“But God has no history. He is too completely and utterly real to have one. For, of course, to have a history means losing part of your reality (because it had already slipped away into the past) and not yet having another part (because it is still in the future): in fact having nothing but the tiny little present, which has gone before you can speak about it. God forbid we should think God was like that. Even we may hope not to be always rationed in that way”
(b) Free will
“Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise?”
(i) God doesn’t just simply foresee
“…the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them”
(ii) Suppose God is outside of time
“But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today.’ All the days are ‘Now’ for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday. He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him.
(iii) We believe in the freedom of the moment
“You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow’s actions in just the same way-because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him”
1. Why do some people have trouble understanding prayer?
2. What are the differences in the way that we experience time and in which God experiences time? What are some analogies Jack uses to explain the difference?
3. How does this understand resolve certain objections to Christianity which people may have?
C.S. Lewis Doodle