Many questions arise about time in prophecy and how the future can be known.
For example, if God gave man free will, how can future events be known if man has the will and capacity to create his own destiny? If an event is predestined to happen, isn’t that unfair? Has God been micromanaging human affairs in ways that render human effort futile?
To weave our way through this conundrum, let’s consider the concept of time in prophecy from God’s point of view as the prophet Isaiah so eloquently expressed it:
Remember this, keep it in mind,Isaiah 46:8–10
take it to heart, you rebels.
Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’
Our understanding of God’s time is as inadequate as an unborn infant’s understanding of earth time. The Bahá’í writings state:
In the world of God there is no past, present, or future: All of these are one.‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, no. 39:7, 178.
So when Christ said,
In the beginning was the Word,John 1:1
He meant that it was, is, and shall be; for in the world of God there is no time. Time holds sway over the creatures but not over God. So in the prayer where Christ says,
Hallowed be Thy name,Matt. 6:9, Luke 11:2
the meaning is that Thy name was, is, and shall be hallowed. Again, morning, noon, and evening exist in relation to the earth, but in the sun there is neither morning, nor noon, nor evening.‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, no. 39:7, 178.
Our concept of time is expressed as past, present, and future, but in the larger reality there is no past, present, or future! They are one in the mind of God. They are only tools for our use on earth in a physical environment, but linear time might be called an artificial construct that is a necessary aid that helps us live in this world. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sympathized with our problem understanding the concept of no time.
Know that it is one of the most abstruse questions of divinity that the world of existence––that is, this endless universe––has no beginning.‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, no. 47:1, 207.
And he elaborated on further when He wrote:
For God the beginning and the end are one and the same. Similarly, the reckoning of days, weeks, months, and years—of yesterday and today—is made with respect to the earth; but in the sun such things are unknown: There is neither yesterday, nor today, nor tomorrow, neither months nor years—all are equal. Likewise, the Word of God is sanctified above all these conditions and exalted beyond every law, constraint, or limitation that may exist in the contingent world.‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, no. 38:4, 172–73.
The Hebrew prophets sometimes used the words soon and very soon for events foreseen thousands of years ahead in our usage of linear time. That has been frustrating to individuals expecting those events “soon,” not sometime during thousands of years. But as explained above, divine time is not necessarily linear.
Does predetermination play a role prophecy?
The knowledge of a thing is not the cause of its occurrence; for the essential knowledge of God encompasses the realities of all things both before and after they come to exist, but it is not the cause of their existence. This is an expression of the perfection of God.‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, no. 35:2-4, 156.
The far-future prophecies of the Hebrew prophets, that is, prophecies of events to occur hundreds or thousands of years later, are primarily about the Manifestations of God, whose times and ministries are indeed predestined by God. As for the average person, if he does not change his attitudes, beliefs, and manner of living, it is no mystery that his future could be known in the mind of God. But rather than this somehow interfering with his ability to create his own destiny, or exhibiting any unfairness as in predestination, let’s keep in mind that not only do we have the benefit of changing our lives’ destinies through spiritual teachings brought by the Prophets of God, but we also have the tool of dreams.
As to the pronouncements which, through divine revelation, have issued from the Prophets regarding the advent of the Promised One of the Torah, these likewise were not the cause of Christ’s appearance. But the hidden mysteries of the days to come were revealed to the Prophets, who thus became acquainted with future events and who proclaimed them in turn. This knowledge and proclamation were not the cause of the occurrence of these events.‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, no. 47:1, 207.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá also spoke of the Light Divine and the role it plays in helping us to understand the enigma of time. He described the two kinds of light––the visible light of the sun, which has no intelligence or consciousness, and the light of the intellect, which gives us knowledge and understanding.
This light of the intellect is the highest light that exists, for it is born of the Light Divine.‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 69.
The light of the intellect enables us to understand and realize all that exists, but it is only the Divine Light that can give us sight for the invisible things, and which enables us to see truths that will only be visible to the world thousands of years hence.
It was the Divine Light which enabled the prophets to see two thousand years in advance what was going to take place and today we see the realization of their vision. Thus it is this Light which we must strive to seek, for it is greater than any other.
The author realizes that the first response to the subject of prophecy is often, “Who can know the future?” Therefore, she addresses the nature of time in prophecy at length in Volume 2 of The Coming of the Glory, which will be released in September 2021.