God and Time

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If a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day for the Lord, why did he create time in the first place?

This idea and phrase comes from 2 Peter 3:8. Before I talk about God and time, let me lay down the context of this passage so we can understand why Peter says this. Here’s the passage:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:8–10, ESV)

When Peter states that it is a fact that a thousand years is as a day to the Lord, he is using an illustration or example to show that the Lord is outside of time. The Lord does not endure the passage of time as we do. He is eternal and we are not.

This is one of the major differences between God and humans. Peter states this fact of God’s eternal reality to show that he can be very patient toward us and humanity in general. After he states the principle that God is outside of time, he gives the specific meaning for us, that God is patient toward us (2 Peter 3:9).

God had not yet sent Jesus back to retrieve the Church in the first century when Peter wrote this. People were calling God slow because he didn’t send Jesus back already. Perhaps he is speaking to false teachers and even persecutors of the church who are mocking the church for believing in the imminent return of Christ.

So Peter defends the idea of the imminent return of Christ at any time by saying that God is not slow but waiting on the full amount of people who will repent to repent before he sends Jesus back. And in case we thought that he will wait forever, Peter says that’s not the case.

He says that after God has waited patiently for the full number of people to repent, you will then bring the Day of the Lord, his day of judgment on all the people who did not repent (2 Peter 3:10). As part of that judgment, we will see amazing astrological and celestial signs of destruction because of the judgment of God.

I am not a physicist or scientist. However, I have the understanding that space and time must exist simultaneously. So for God to create the universe, time had to be part of the equation. But beyond this, I believe you are asking a more philosophical question than a scientific question.

Some people take this to literally mean that a thousand years can be compared to a day in the Bible. Then they take this idea and put it across all of Scripture. For instance, some of the people who hold this literal stance suggest that the six days of creation before the seventh day of rest for 6000 years instead of six literal 24 hour days.

The problem is that if you take this literalist view about a thousand years and a day, every time a day as mentioned in Scripture, they must make an interpretive decision on whether this is a 24 hour day or a thousand years.

It’s much better to understand what Peter is talking about in context and not use it as an overall rule to interpret the word “day” in all of Scripture. I hold to the standard that unless otherwise made clear, when we see the word “day” it probably means a literal 24 hour period.

If you see the word appear in apocalyptic literature or even prophetic literature, it may mean something other than a literal day. As we have seen, Peter is laying down a principle that God is eternal and outside of time.

This is a really neat thing when you think about it. God sees all of human history in one shot, and nothing as a surprise to him. Because he is outside of time, he knows what’s going to happen at the end. Nothing that happens to you or me is beyond his capability.

He is the God of human history, the King of all of creation and time. Time was created for humanity, not for God. He can choose when to insert himself into human history. He can decide when to interact with humanity. And we see throughout the Bible he does exactly that.

I caution against taking this principle of Peter literally. It is only an illustration to show that God is above time and he can use it however he wishes for his purposes. But we must be careful to not presume to know why God takes more time or less time from our perspective. God is in control.

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