Lewis explains that this chapter can be skipped if readers don’t connect with its subject. Lewis will address a common objection to Christianity—the idea that God could attend to the lives of billions of people at the same time. While such an objection seems reasonable, the phrase “at the same time” indicates how little people understand the universe. People experience time as a series of moments. But many thinkers have argued that God experiences these moments simultaneously; he can perceive past, present, and future all at once.
Lewis uses this chapter to discuss the Christian conception of God as a being who exists outside of time (God created time and space; therefore, he isn’t confined by either one). Still, Lewis admits that he’s just theorizing; there’s no way to be certain about God’s relationship to time.
Another similar possibility is that God exists outside of time altogether. To illustrate such a concept, Lewis says, imagine that he is writing a story. Within the “universe” of the story, the characters might “live” two or three days. But from the perspective of Lewis, the author, the story might take a couple weeks to write. Even in the middle of a sentence—i.e., an instant to the characters in the story—Lewis might eat dinner, have a bath, and then get back to writing. Lewis admits that his analogy isn’t perfect; nevertheless, he wants to suggest that God exists outside of time, can suspend it and change it however he wishes, and therefore can attend to many different people and places in what seems to us to be a very short amount of time.
Lewis offers an interesting comparison between his own profession, writing, and God’s power over human beings. Perhaps God isn’t just a talented “multi-tasker,” capable of attending to billions of people in the same instant—perhaps the fact that he exists outside of time allows him to carry out his work in what, from our perspective, is no more than the blink of an eye.
It’s important for theologians to study time, because doing so can resolve some familiar religious problems. Some have wondered how God can have absolute knowledge of the future and yet leave humans the power of free will—if God knows what will happen to us, then, it would seem, we’re not truly deciding what to do; we’re just “going along” with what God has already decided. Again, the problem originates from humans’ limited capacity to conceive of existence outside of time. Perhaps God experiences humans’ present and future at the same time; thus, the moment when humans act is always “now” to God.
Here, Lewis addresses one of the most famous criticisms of Christianity—that there is an inherent contradiction between an all-knowing God and a free human race. If God really is all-knowing, it would seem, then one’s choices aren’t truly “free” at all; God knows in advance what we’re going to do, and thus seems to control our actions. Lewis’s reply (borrowed from the late classical philosopher Boethius, whom Lewis admired greatly), is that this contradiction only seems like a contradiction because of our limited understanding of time. If God perceives the past, present, and future simultaneously, then there is never a moment in which God knows what we’re going to do “before” it happens—that moment, strictly speaking, is always “now.” Thus, it seems possible for humans to make free choices and for God to also be all-knowing and all-powerful.
Lewis says that his ideas about time have helped him understand the concept of free will a little better. But if his readers find his ideas about time unhelpful, they should just ignore them; Lewis is just guessing how God perceives time.
This was a particularly short chapter—it would take much, much longer for Lewis to expound on the topic of free will thoroughly (and he does so in some of his other works). As a result, Lewis is characteristically measured in his arguments—he’s just guessing about the nature of free will, and if his guesses bring some Christians satisfaction, all the better.