John Frame & God’s “Temporal Omnipresence” (Pt. 2)

II. I. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

–– Westminster Confession of Faith, 2.1––


In the previous post, we got to right about the second bullet point in our outline of chapter twenty-seven in Frame’s book, The Doctrine of God. You can catch that outline here. In this installment, I’d like to discuss, in depth, the third roman numeral of the outline which explicitly addresses what Frame calls God’s “temporal omnipresence.”

In Time & Out of Time

One of the most baffling lines Frame takes is to, borrowing from the temporalist philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, affirm that God exists both transcendent of time and within time. He writes:

In one sense, Wolterstorff is correct. We saw in chapters 6 and 7 that covenant presence is an important element of God’s lordship. And that means that God is here and that he is here now. Israel needed to learn in Egypt that God was present, not only to the patriarchs four hundred years before, but to them as well, in their current experience. God not only works in time, but is also present in time, at all times.[1]

Frame is setting us up for the conclusion of the current section, “So God is temporal after all, but not merely temporal.”[2] Because God’s providential government occurs in time, it is thought, God must be located in time, at least in some sense. But such a conclusion does not follow. First, if God is self-existent, an attribute of God Frame would quickly concede, then God cannot be affected by His effects. If something is of itself (i.e. a se), then nothing can make it what it is not. Otherwise, it would be dependent on whatever that thing is to be what it causes it to be.

So, (A), if (A) be a se, cannot be changed, in any way, by (B). If (A) were changed by (B), (A) would not be a se since it would be dependent upon (B) to be whatever it is changed into being. In this case, Frame wants to say that because creation exists, and because God rules it, that He therefore becomes temporally related to it. But, this is to say that God is now reliant on creation to be who He is, i.e. temporally relational. On Frame’s view, God becomes that which He was not before.

Because God is omnipresent, thinks Frame, then He must be present in time. He writes, “He can feel with human beings the flow of time from one moment to the next.”[3] Now, in the previous post, I discussed something of the historical definition and purpose of the term “omnipresence.” Following Turretin, the notion of omnipresence is to be thought of in negative terms. It strips away any limitations we may venture to place upon the divine essence. Thus, Turretin writes:

When God is said to be immense (as so everywhere in the world that nevertheless he is not included in the world, which is finite, but may be conceived to be also beyond the world), this ought not to be understood positively (as if certain spaces are to be conceived of beyond the world which God completely fills by his presence), but negatively (inasmuch as the universal spaces of the world do not exhaust the immensity of God so as to be contained in and circumscribed by them)… He who conceives God as everywhere present by his essence, does not therefore conceive him as extended like bodies through the whole world, but as containing the whole world in the most simple infinity of his own essence…[4]

What Frame appears to have done in his work is make the attribute of omnipresence a positive trait of the divine substance rather than an indicator of what the essence is not, that is, not limited by spatial-temporal creation which depends on Him for its existence. Turretin is saying quite the opposite of Frame. Rather than creation coming to comprehend the divine essence at creation, the divine essence comprehends creation. Geerhardus Vos says the same thing when he writes, “How should we not think of this omnipresence of God? Not as an extension over space; ‘God is entirely within all and entirely outside all,’ as one theologian has stated.”[5] Omnipresence, though a positive statement in our language, helps us to think of what God is not rather than what God is.

Frame’s “Enhanced” View of God’s Sovereignty

Frame goes on to make an affirmation with a my-God-is-better-than-your-God ring to it. But is it really true that if God is both in time and out of time that He is therefore, better? I think not. Nevertheless, Frame writes:

But God’s temporal immanence does not contradict his lordship over time or the exhaustiveness of his decree. These temporal categories are merely aspects of God’s general transcendence and immanence as the Lord. The give-and-take between God and the creation requires, not a reduced, but an enhanced, view of his sovereignty. God is Lord in time as well as the Lord above time.[6]

The fact of the matter is this. There are basically two ways Frame has introduced imperfections into the divine essence. First, God, for Frame, is able to become that which He was not before. This is mutability. Second, the way in which God becomes that which He was not before is to subject Himself to time. And, here we are not talking about the obviousness of the doctrine of the incarnation. We are talking about creation en toto. If God created, then He becomes spatial-temporal along with creation. In other words, God now depends on creation in order to relate creation to Himself. But, just like God is not dependent upon creation to create, He is not dependent upon creation in order to bring that creation into covenantal union with Himself. In other words, He does not need to relate to creation, essentially, in order for there to be a meaningful relationship between creation and God.

Creation relates to God rather than God moving into relationship with creation, at creation. God, therefore, should not be said to essentially unite with creation at the point at which creation was brought forth out of nothing. That would introduce contingency or dependency in God essentially. Rather, the only way in which we should consider God as relating to creation is in the incarnation of the Son of God. Other than this, creation changes in its relationship to God, not God in His relationship to creation. But even in the incarnation, we need to consider the divine essence as not being added to or taken away from, thereby undergoing a mutation. Rather, the divine Person of the Son took a human nature unto Himself. And this does nothing to the divine essence since that divine essence is a se.

The divine essence does not have what we might call passive potency. Just because God creates, just because He incarnates, does not mean the divine essence changes or undergoes processes of time in space. When a human hits a golf ball, in addition to us bringing about an effect (the golf ball moves), an effect comes back to the human (the club vibrates the wrists). But this retroactive relationship of cause and effect in the creaturely world cannot apply to God since God is purely actual. There is no potency in Him. If there were passive potency, it would follow that His work would result in a change in Him, just as hitting a golf ball causes a change in us.

In the following post, I want to finish off this series with a brief discussion on Frame’s model of immutability in relation to his notion of temporal omnipresence.


[1] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, 558.
[2] Ibid., 559.
[3] Ibid., 558.
[4] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 200-201. Where Turretin says, “but as containing the whole word,” it could be confused with the idea of panentheism wherein creation is an extension of the divine essence. That is not at all what Turretin is saying. Rather, he is saying that the divine essence comprehends and sustains the world rather than the other way around.
[5] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, 12.
[6] Frame, Doctrine, 559.

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