Q. Do you believe that God is the creator of time and hence outside of it, or that he is in time like the rest of us? If you believe God is outside time, and is its creator, why wouldn’t it be possible for God to simply view all of history, past and future, like a canvas or movie, without infringing on human free will?
I don’t think that “inside” and “outside” are quite the right terms to use when thinking about God’s relationship with time. Let me explain what I mean by analogy to God’s relationship with space (the physical creation), the other part of the space-time continuum.
God is immanent in creation, that is, God is present in every single part of it. But that doesn’t mean that God is “inside” creation, in the sense of being contained within it. That would be pantheism.
Because we know that God is not contained within creation, we also confess that God is transcendent beyond creation. But that does not mean God is separated or excluded from creation. That would be gnosticism, with its radical spirit-matter distinction.
To avoid both of these errors, Christians have historically confessed that God is both immanent in creation and transcendent beyond creation, and I think we should understand God’s relationship to time in the same way. God is immanent in time in the sense of being present at every single moment of time, but God is also transcendent beyond time (as its creator, as you say), not bound or limited by it the way we are.
So does this mean that God can simultaneously view all moments in time and know what is going to happen in the future without infringing on human free will?
Let me answer that question with another question, based again on an analogy to space: Can God be present in a place that doesn’t exist? No, that’s not what we understand God’s immanence to mean. It means that God is present in all places that really do exist within the creation that God made.
Similarly, God cannot be present in a time that does not exist. And the future does not exist yet. The existence of the creation that God made unfolds in “real time” (so to speak)—that’s simply its character—so there’s nowhere to be (actually, “nowhen” to be) until time moves forward.
It is possible to view all of a canvas (painting) at the same time. But it’s not possible to view every single moment in a movie all at the same time. If a movie has been recorded and we have the capacity to rewind or fast forward, we can view any particular moment in it that we wish. In that sense we have the same relationship to the characters and events in the movie that God, being transcendent, has in relationship to time.
But we can’t do this with a movie that hasn’t been made yet. And so it is no limitation on God’s transcendence in relationship to time (one aspect of God’s omnipresence) that God can’t do this with the future that does not yet exist, either. This is really the same point that I’ve made in several previous posts when discussing God’s omniscience: it is no defect in omniscience not to know what cannot be known (the “last digit” of pi, for example).
God knows His own plans for the future, how He wants to bring human history to its culmination, and that’s what’s described for us in the Bible in places like the book of Revelation. But God will actually fulfill His own plans in creative response to the millions and billions of free choices that people will make between now and then. God can’t jump ahead into a future that does not yet exist in order to know in advance how everything will turn out. But God can know, and tell us, how everything will turn out in the end because He will shape the destiny of history by His own sovereign power and authority.