God, as eternal, unchanging, timeless, acts singularly and simply apart from any created conception of sequence since sequence involves change, development, growth. Such things belong to created beings, not to uncreated beings. And God is an uncreated being. So he cannot change nor work in sequence at least in ways that we conceive of sequence.
What was God doing before time? According to Scripture, God created everything (Gen 1:1) and apart from him nothing was made (John 1:3). So God alone is uncreated. And this means God existed before creation, before the universe, and, I think we can say, before all time. He is, after all, said to “alone possess immortality” (1 Tim 6:16). And it is impossible for him to have a beginning if nothing but him existed before any created thing came into existence.
How then can we conceive of God before all time? And how can God relate to us in time? It is an odd question but one that, I think, has an answer that leads to profound worship.
To begin to answer this question, we need to first discuss and define time. In the first place, time has no essence. Time measures change. The earth rotates around the sun every 365 days. We define this change or movement by the word “year.” The earth also spins on its axis, and when it reaches a full spin, we call this “day.” And we also measure the increments of its spin by the term “hour.” Time measures change or movement.
In this way, God created time because he created moving and growing entities. Trees grow, die, and dissolve. We grow taller, then a bit shorter, and then stop any growth once our cells cease from multiplying. Since we come into being by birth, grow year-by-year, and die as mortals, we are in time. Our changes from life to death signify participation in time since time merely measures our development and change.
Since God has no beginning nor mortal death, he does not appear to enter into time as we do. Now, perhaps we could say that God changes by growing or developing and so in this way has a temporal existence. But if God is perfect, then any growth would imply that he lacked perfection. And that statement is incoherent. A perfect being needs nothing to make it perfect for it is already perfect.
So any change would imply that God became less than perfect. But that too makes little sense since a perfect being cannot lose perfection (since perfection means not having the capacity to be imperfect).
And yet God speaks to people in Scripture. He enacts miracles for Israel. He appears on Mount Sinai. So surely this means that God somehow relates to time. But we need maintain this assertion alongside the other sure truth that God has no origin, growth, or mortal nature. Hence, he does not have the markers that would allow us to measure him temporally as we do with created things.
If God does not change (at least in any way like we do due to our mortal and corruptible nature), then God must exist timelessly. The classic definition of God’s timelessness occurs on Boethius who writes, “Eternity, then, is the complete, simultaneous and perfect possession of everlasting life.”
So God is eternal. And God, therefore, has “complete, simultaneous and perfect possession of everlasting life.” The word simultaneous here is important. If we can conceive of a changeless and so timeless being, this being would have to exist differently than we do. And this is true about God who is “above all being” since he alone possesses immortality via being uncreated and so eternal. We have no perfect analogy for such a being.