As Catholics, we believe that God knows the past, present, and future. But how exactly does He know all of this? We could give an easy answer by saying, “He’s God.”
While that’s true, we can actually say a lot more. Let’s dig deeper by examining the nature of time — something many of us get wrong.
Only by understanding time can we perceive how God knows the future.
1. What is time?
St. Thomas Aquinas had a strong view on the nature of time, which he mostly got from Aristotle. Aristotle believed time is just a measure of change.
When God created, He made things that are finite and subject to change. A human baby changes into a child and then an adult. Snow that falls on a winter day eventually transforms back to water as the temperature rises.
Time is simply how we measure these changes. The reason this is important is that we often think of time as something that exists on its own — something extra that is added into the mix. But this is not how St. Thomas and Aristotle saw time. For them, if there were no changing beings, there would be no time.
2. What is eternity?
Our view of eternity influences how we view God’s eternity. Many of us think of eternity as time on steroids — time that keeps going on and on in both directions. While this is one kind of eternity, it’s not the eternity we mean when we speak of God being eternal.
Remember that for St. Thomas, time is the measurement of change. But God is changeless. There is no transformation in Him to measure. He simply is.
For God, eternity is not time continually progressing forever. It is something many theologians speak of as an “eternal now.” This isn’t a perfect expression, since “now” is still connected to time. But it’s the closest we can get.
Humans progress to the fullness of being in stages. We never possess all we can become in a single moment in time. You may be experiencing the company of your spouse and children, but not your deceased parents. You may be enjoying a steak tonight that you won’t experience during your next meal of fried fish.
But God possesses His life wholly and simultaneously. There is no before and after in God. He is timeless. He doesn’t exist for “a really, really long time in both directions.” He simply transcends time.
3. All things are present to God simultaneously.
God is the cause of all things, even those that — from our frame of reference — are in the future.
We can sometimes guess future events through causes. For example, if I observe two of my single friends hitting it off at a party, I know there’s a good chance they may end up on a date soon. I can’t know that with absolute certainty, but through my knowledge of causes I can make a reasonable guess.
But God knows our future events not only through causes that will lead to them, but also in and of themselves. They are already present to Him. There is no future with God. Just now.
Hopefully, this basic explanation clarifies God’s knowledge of the future. Of course, philosophers and theologians dig much more deeply into these concepts.
Let’s end with a practical application of this theoretical knowledge: The reason you can entrust your future to God is that that future is already present to Him in His eternal now. And since He already sees it, you can be assured that He will help you find your true fulfillment as you cooperate with His grace.