Monday, May 30, 2011

How Do We Know the Past Existed?

I was asked recently if it was possible for God to have created everything one second ago and have simultaneously created in us memories of a past that wasn’t there. The idea is that the physical evidences of aging and the subjective and communal memories of the past might have been created only a moment ago but done in such a way as to cause us to assume that there was a long history where none actually existed. This may seem like a ridiculous question but it needs to be answered because if is true that God might possibly have created everything one second ago it would have profound implications for our view of God and truth.

Let me begin by saying that God certainly has the power to have done this. Considered in isolation from His other attributes we could say that God is capable with regard to his authority and power to have created the universe already infused with the memories and evidences of a past history. I would also say that had He done so there would be no way for any of us to tell that this had happened. There is no way for us to get outside of the natural world and our own mind and experience to evaluate such things apart from the revelation of God. If, therefore, God intended for us to live in this kind of illusion then we would not be able to escape it.

It would, however, be a big mistake to consider a question like this solely on the basis of God’s power and authority. Though His power isn’t limited God is limited in what He can do on the basis of who He is. God would not be God if there were anything outside of Himself that limited Him but in this case it is what is within Himself that creates the limitation. We know God cannot decree something contrary to His own nature. We see two examples of this in the letter to the Hebrews:

“Now when God made his promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you greatly and multiply your descendants abundantly.” And so by persevering, Abraham inherited the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and the oath serves as a confirmation to end all dispute. In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie.”
(Hebrews 6:13-18 NET Bible emphasis mine)

There are, therefore things that God cannot do as a result of His own nature. He cannot be other than He is and since He is sovereign and since He is truth he cannot swear by one greater and He cannot lie. This becomes an important consideration for our answer to the question about God creating this world with constructed memories.

God has revealed Himself to us in His word and that revelation contains the record of historical events. Since God is Truth and cannot tell a lie those events must correspond to actual states of affairs. If God had created everything one second ago then His word would not correlate to an actual state of affairs and therefore the propositions contained in the scripture would be false. It would mean that Jesus did not actually die on Calvary; it would mean that our sins were not actually atoned for by His death; it would mean that the promises to the Church were never actually given to the Apostles. The bible would be a false record.

Even if God planned to work everything out in the end based upon this illusionary history the fact would remain that He would have given us a record of events that is different than He knows it to be. Since His own character prevents this (He cannot lie) we can say with confidence that it is impossible that the Christian God could have created the universe one second ago and given us memories/evidences of a past that never existed. To do so would be to bear false witness. If it is true that the world was created a moment ago then the biblical God by definition could not exist and if the biblical God exists then the world could not have been created one second ago.  

Let us lift up praise that we worship our God not simply because of how powerful He is (though His power is unlimited) but because of who He is. We can sing of His love, His loving-kindness, His graciousness, His longsuffering, and His unchanging nature. We worship a God who is worthy to be praised! He has attained for us victory over sin through the Lamb who was actually slain and who is coming again. We can count on these things because He has told us so,  we know Him, and He is trustworthy.

Praise God!

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