Can God Change The Past?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, a place where we dive into the ocean of truth! We’re studying the doctrine of God right now in Christian thought. Our guide for this has been the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, a work that can be read for free at newadvent.org. Tonight, we’re going to be looking more at the topic of the power of God and asking if this power of God is capable of changing the past.

Why shouldn’t God be able to change the past? It would seem as if this would be something simple. My wife and I spent the evening watching a favorite program together. Maybe he could make it so that instead, we played a game on the Wii together.

However, Aquinas says that this is not the case. To say of Socrates that he sat and then say of him that he did not sit is to take what is true and then to make it false. It is asking God to make what is true to be false. He also has the belief of Aristotle behind him on that one. Aquinas gives this quote from Book VI of the Ethics that can be found in section 2.

For this alone is lacking even to God,
To make undone things thathave once been done.)

Quite revealing is the whole section before that:

The origin of action-its efficient, not its final cause-is choice, and that of choice is desire and reasoning with a view to an end. This is why choice cannot exist either without reason and intellect or without a moral state; for good action and its opposite cannot exist without a combination of intellect and character. Intellect itself, however, moves nothing, but only the intellect which aims at an end and is practical; for this rules the productive intellect, as well, since every one who makes makes for an end, and that which is made is not an end in the unqualified sense (but only an end in a particular relation, and the end of a particular operation)-only that which is done is that; for good action is an end, and desire aims at this. Hence choice is either desiderative reason or ratiocinative desire, and such an origin of action is a man. (It is to be noted that nothing that is past is an object of choice, e.g. no one chooses to have sacked Troy; for no one deliberates about the past, but about what is future and capable of being otherwise, while what is past is not capable of not having taken place; hence Agathon is right in saying

What this means is that once something is done, it is not undone. Indeed, were God to ever change the past, we would not know that it had been changed. How could we? If God made it so that my wife and I played the Wii together, then it would be in my memory that we did that. If I asserted otherwise, would I be speaking truthfully or a lie? We could have indeed watched a program, but then it would be that it was changed so that we played the Wii together.

If I say we played the Wii together, did we really do it, or did God change our choices for us? Will I have a memory of us doing that, or will I remember what I know we freely chose to do, namely watching a program together on DVD? The complexities that arise from such an issue are staggering.

It is my conclusion that God does not and cannot change the past for he does not change either what he is eternally doing. The first place ultimately to look for the answer is again, not in the world that we see around us, but in the very nature of God himself.

We shall continue tomorrow.

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One Response to “Can God Change The Past?”

  1. me Says:

    Change the past means change the past. We would not only remember it in “new” way, it would have also actually gone that new way. Doesn’t matter if we don’t know that the past changed. The question is can he do it? If God made mistakes, maybe then he would do it, but if he doesn’t make mistakes, he cannot change the past.

    “did God change our choices for us?”

    No, God would have done what he always does: change the circumstances that would have influenced our own decisions.

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