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The "unbounded Now"

One of my favorite concepts to contemplate (you know, in my copious amounts of free time) is the concept of God existing outside of time – not just without it or without affect from it but entirely outside it. Our RCIA class today touched on our “Images of God” (i.e. how we picture, if you will, God in our minds) and the concept of predestination (Calvinist) came up. I relayed to those there the concept that for God everything is happening “Now”, there is no past that has come and gone nor a future that has not happened yet. Then, of course, I mentioned that it’s a great way to give yourself a headache if you contemplate that for a sufficiently long time.

Fortunately for me, I had just recently finished The Screwtape Letters (aside: any book that I can finish in under two days’ reading has something going for it – who would think of a religious book as a page-turner?) so I had the fine opportunity to utilize C.S. Lewis‘ fine turn of phrase about the “unbounded Now”. Again, as a refresher, this is the demon Screwtape writing to his nephew Wormwood, a tempter demon, so the good/bad inversion is not unintentional.

You, being a spirit, will find it difficult to understand how he gets into this confusion. But you must remember that he takes Time for an ultimate reality. He supposes that the Enemy, like himself, sees some things as present, remembers others as past, and anticipates others as future; or even if he believes that the Enemy does not see things that way, yet, in his heart of hearts, he regards this as a peculiarity of the Enemy’s mode of perception – he doesn’t really think (though he would say he did) that things as the Enemy sees them are things as they are! If you tried to explain to him that men’s prayers today are one of the innumerable co-ordinates with which the Enemy harmonises the weather of tomorrow, he would reply that then the Enemy always knew men were going to make those prayer and, if so, they did not pray freely but were predestined to do so. And he would add that the weather on a given day can be traced back through its causes to the original creation of matter itself – so that the whole thing, both on the human and on the material side, is given ‘from the word go’. What he ought to say, of course, is obvious to us; that the problem of adapting the particular weather to the particular prayers is merely the appearance, at two points in his temporal mode of perception, of the total problem of adapting the whole spiritual universe to the whole corporeal universe; that creation in its entirety operates at every point of space and time, or rather that their kind of consciousness forces them to encounter the whole, self-consistent creative act as a series of successive events. Why that creative act leaves room for their free will is the problem of problems, the secret behind the Enemy’s nonsense about ‘Love’. How it does so is no problem at all; for the Enemy does not foresee the humans making their free contributions in a future, but sees them doing so in His unbounded Now. And obviously to watch a man doing something is not to make him do it.

That last bit is simply a phenomenal door-closing on the concept of irreversible predestination. To assert, as some Protestant faiths do, that one can sin as many times as one wants to without any necessity of interior repentance and waltz directly into Heaven because he or she “has been saved” is positively mind-blowing in my estimation. My favorite retort to the question, “have you been saved?” remains to this day, “I am today”. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time holding on the one hand the concept of Jesus’ forgiveness while also holding on the other the fact that forgiveness or not doesn’t really matter because you never had a choice to begin with.

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