O Lord, you govern the universe with your eternal order: you brought time itself into being, and all that marks its changes in the heavens and here on the earth, both moving and also in stillness.  (III, x, 84)

Boethius has already established that God is omnipotent, all-powerful and just.  By these precepts, God must also have knowledge of the choices humans will make, which leads into an obvious question: if He already knows what we are going to do, are the decisions we make truly our own?

Freedom and Time. Boethius wrestles with the apparent contradiction between human freedom and God’s knowledge of the future by explaining that there is a distinction between the human and the divine which cannot be overlooked. Specifically, there is a distinction between the temporal present and the divine present. Lady Philosophy says, “Just as you see things in the temporal present, [God] must see things in the eternal present” (V, vi, p. 171). As humans, we operate under conditions of time and space, whereas God does not have these same limitations placed upon him.  He is knowledgeable of the past, present and future simultaneously. He is not watching down on us from the present with a divine understanding of what will happen in the future–he is both here and there.

Reflection

As humans, we live within the confines and parameters of time, and those boundaries influence the way in which we consider philosophy. In contrast, God, according to Boethius, is a being completely “other” and fundamentally different than us, living outside the limiting bounds of our “time.”  Such a concept of God in relation to time is an advantage in that it provides for the acceptance of Boethius’ concept of free will.

In addition to solving the problem of free will, Boethius presents a novel perception of God. Everything in our lives is about time; everything functions according or in relation to time. God’s time-independent existence lends itself to His use of power that is equally beyond the realm of our human comprehension. Consider a man who builds a birdhouse, using hammers and nails and paint and glue. The product may be beautiful, but it may not necessarily be impressive–anyone knows how it was built and could replicate it themselves in the same manner.  Now, imagine that the man simply waved his hand and called the birdhouse into being, thus inspiring gasps of amazement from onlookers because they do not know how or by what means the man created the birdhouse.  Likewise, God’s power itself is not that impressive, but our inability to comprehend the way by which that power exists is what causes the power to become awe-inspiring. In the same way, our lives are based on wondering what the future will bring or trying to recall what has happened, but Boethius describes a being for whom what is, what was, and what will be exist concurrently.  God does not just know what we will do in the future, though we have not done it yet; He knows the entire scope of history all at once.

 

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