Been a Long Time, Been a Long Time, Been an Aeviternal Time

Yes, I know it’s a reach, but it is Zep.

We’ve been discussing the seeming paradox encountered if we posit an immortal being making a voluntarily irrevocable decision–that is, something like “I will never do X”, where X  is not forbidden by outside factors, but only refrained from as an ongoing act of will, then it seems as if he can’t have free will.  This is because if he succeeds in keeping his decision, then the probability that he ever does X is zero; but zero probability implies that something can’t happen; and if it can’t be that the being in question could ever do X, then he seems to lack free will, since by definition having free will to do X implies that there is a probability greater than zero that he could do it.  Conversely, if there is a non-zero chance of his actually breaking his stated decision and actually doing X, the implication is that sooner or  later, given all eternity, sooner or later a situation will arise in which he will break the decision.  But if this is inevitable, then once more free will takes a dive.  Since we’re interested in whether or not the damned in Hell or the saved in Heaven can ever change their minds, this is relevant to the theme of universalism.  In the last post, I argued that this paradox does not apply to God, for the reasons discussed there.

Here I want to make a couple points to avoid a possible error.  Part of the reason I gave that God can make eternal and irrevocable decisions voluntarily, keep them perfectly, and yet not be affected by the paradox is that He is outside of time completely; to put it another way, only God is eternal in the strict theological sense of that word.  Now it might at this point be objected that the angels, demons, and damned and saved humans are also outside of time, so they, too, can make irrevocable decisions without contradiction or paradox.  I don’t think this is correct, though, for reasons I’m going to explain.

First, it is not actually correct to say that the angels, demons, saved, and damned are eternal, properly so-called.  Only God is eternal.  We, here on Earth, are temporal.  The other categories of beings just named are properly referred to as aeviternal.  The root word here is aevum, the Latin for “age” or “aeon”.  Aeviternity is sometimes said to be intermediate between eternity and temporality.  Eternity is true timelessness–God exists above, beyond, and without reference to time.  We are immersed in the river of time.  Another way to put it is this:  Time, by definition, involves change, be it the motion of hands on a clock, pulsations of a quartz crystal, or the slow aging of our bodies.  God is changeless; we are constantly changing.  Aeviternity is beyond physical time, growth, decay, and change of state (aging) and so is unlike and in some sense “beyond” time as we know it.  On the other hand, it does admit of some change–both the saved and damned are held to have restored bodies, so they could change location; angels (or devils) and the saved (or the damned) could presumably have conversations, and might thus learn new things, which is also a change, a change in knowledge.

Over here is a good, brief description:

The Greeks, in fact, had two different words for time, chronos, which is how we normally think of earthly time, and kairos, which is best described as “event time”. For intents and purposes, this is precisely what aeveternity is, event time, where the events measured are purely immaterial changes rather than material changes. The changes are not merely changes in choice, but can be any immaterial change, like the acquisition of knowledge. We know that angels are capable of growing in knowledge. I personally like to call aeveternity “kairological” time.

The late Madeleine L’Engle, in a vastly different context, made use of the concepts of chronos (clock time) and kairos (experienced time, appropriate time, or meaningful time).

The thing is that even though aeviternity or kairos is not numbered, quantified time as we know it, there is still a sort of progression, or better, an ordering.  To put it another way, there’s still a sort of “before” and “after”, or as I put it in an earlier post, “anterior” and “posterior”.  This is different, in a way that can’t fully be explained, from what we experience; but it’s far from God’s eternal changelessness, and it could be perhaps said that in some ways aeviternity is more like temporality than it is like eternity properly so-called.

Therefore, while a spirit or resurrected human might not experience “millions of years”, he/she/it would experience some kind of sequence.  This has two implications.

1.  Some theologians argue that the damned and the saved can’t change their minds  because the afterlife is one eternal moment, and there’s nothing to change.  However, this would necessarily imply that they–even the dammed–were in some way assimilated to God’s true eternity.  This seems unlikely–although I’m not totally sure, it seems almost a contradiction to posit eternity of a finite, contingent being–and goes against the opinion of most theologians.  Instead, it seems almost certain that the good and bad angels and the saved and damned humans are aeviternal.  Thus, this rationale for the fixing of one’s state at judgement seems invalid.

2.  The second implication is the obvious one that, though “timeless” in a sense, the angels, devils, and saved and damned humans do have a “duration”, if you will, during which minds could theoretically be changed.  This puts us back in the realm of potential paradox.

Another reason that the paradox can’t be avoided for these beings is that they are finite.  Being infinite, God is pure actuality–He cannot be other than He is, since He is literally everything He can be.  A finite being by definition always has some potentiality to be other than what he/she/it is; and even in aeviternity, a being could be other than it is by changing its mind.

Thus, we are thrown back to dealing with the paradox:  Can immortal but otherwise finite beings make eternal, irrevocable decisions; and whatever the answer, what are the implications for free will and for the endlessness (or not) of Heaven and Hell?  That’s what we’ll consider next.

Part of the series “You Pays Your Money and Takes Your Chances: Free Will

Posted on 20/08/2013, in Christianity, Nietzsche, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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