We’ve been thinking about God’s attributes in order to answer the question: What is God like? We thought about how he’s the Triune God so that he’s one God in three persons. We thought about his aseity and how he doesn’t rely on anything outside of himself for anything. We thought about his simplicity and how he is without parts and there’s no difference between his nature and his attributes. We thought about his goodness and his holiness and about his omnipresence which means he is present everywhere all at once. We thought about his immutability and how he cannot change. Then there was his impassibility which means he does not experience changes of emotion the way we do, nor can he suffer. Instead he’s eternally in a state of blessedness. Then we thought about his knowledge and how he knows all things perfectly and his knowledge does not change as ours does. We also thought about his omnipotence and how he is all-powerful so that nothing is too hard for him. And the last time we thought about his will which is the ultimate cause of all things. He has planned all things.
Today we’re going to think about God’s eternity. We exist in time and our life is made up of a succession of moments which can be measured and counted as seconds and minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years and decades and so on. Our life is divided into past, present and future and our present becomes our past and our future becomes our present. We keep track of how many years we’ve already lived and we celebrate each year we’ve been alive with a birthday cake. On the 31st December of each year people celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of a new year. And as we think about the passing of time, we wonder how many years we have left to live, because we know our life in this world is not everlasting and our time will one day run out and it will be time for us to die.
But God is unlike us because he is eternal, which means he does not have a beginning or an end and his existence is not a succession of moments which can be divided up into past, present and future. He does not exist in time, because he made time and he’s exalted above time. He’s not limited by time in any way. We talk about before and after, but there is no before or after with God. His eternity, the theologians say, is an eternal present: everything is present to him and nothing is past and gone and there is nothing that is yet to come and for which he must wait.
According to Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1, he existed before the world was made. In Genesis 21:33 we’re told that Abraham called on the name of the Lord who is the Eternal God. At the burning bush in Exodus 3 God revealed his special name to Moses: I AM WHO I AM. When we refer to ourselves, we not only say ‘I am’, but ‘I was’ and ‘I hope to be’. But God is the eternal ‘I am’. Deuteronomy 33:26 refers to him as the eternal God and it refers to his everlasting arms. Job 36:26 refers to him as the great God who is beyond our understanding and the number of his years is past finding out. So, while the length of our life can be measured, we cannot measure God’s life.
In Psalm 29:10 the psalmist refers to the Lord as the one who is King forever. In Psalm 45:6, the psalmist says that his throne will last for ever and ever. In other words, he rules for ever. The psalmist confesses in Psalm 48:14 that the Lord is our God for ever and ever and he will be our guide even to the end. In Psalm 90:2+4 the psalmist declares that the Lord is God from everlasting to everlasting and that a thousand years in his sight is like a day that has gone by. According to Psalm 102:25–27, he laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning and while the earth will perish, he will remain and his years will never end. So, he was before all things and he will outlast all things.
In Isaiah 40:28 he is known as the everlasting God who does not grow tired or weary the way we do with the passing of time. In Isaiah 41:4 he says he is the first and the last and in Isaiah 57:15 he tells us that he lives for ever.
In Romans 1:23 Paul refers to him as the immortal God. And in 1 Timothy 1:17 he is praised as the King eternal who is immortal and in 1 Timothy 6:16 Paul says he alone is immortal. In Revelation 1:4 he is the one who is, who was, and who is to come which means he fills all of time and his existence never ceases.
We’ve noticed before how the Bible uses human language to convey to us truths about God. For instance, the Bible refers to God’s mouth and ear and arm, not because he has a mouth or ear or arm, but to convey to us that he speaks and hears and is powerful. And we sometimes find the same thing when it comes to what the Bible says about God’s eternity. Since we are time-bound, and since we cannot help but think in terms of time, then the Bible uses time-bound language to refer to God, when it is not — strictly speaking — appropriate. So, Job 36 and Psalm 102 both refer to God’s years, which strictly speaking doesn’t apply to God, because he is exalted above time and his life is not measured in years. In Daniel 7 he’s described as the Ancient of Days. But since God is timeless, he cannot be ancient. He doesn’t get old. The Bible frequently says about God that he is everlasting, which might give the impression that he exists in time like us, but that he just keeps going on for ever and for ever. But when the Bible speaks this way about God, the Lord is only accommodating himself to us and to our way of thinking. And so, in order to convey to us the idea of his eternity and how he is without beginning and without end and how he has always existed, and how there has never been a time when he did not exist, he tells us that his years are without end and he is everlasting and ancient. But we shouldn’t think of God’s eternity as endless duration, because he is beyond time.
Since God works out his eternal plan in history, we might think that he is working his way through a sequence of actions. For instance, think of what it was like for us to get here this evening. We had to wait for the right time to leave the house. And when the time was right, we put on our jacket and then we opened the door and then we stepped through the doorway and then we closed the door and we locked the door and then we open the door of the car and we got into the car and closed the door and then we started the engine and so on. For us, one thing happens after another in sequence and we have to do one thing before we do another thing. And we think that’s the way it must be for God, because in the Bible we read how he made the Garden of Eden and he called Abraham and he appeared to Moses in the burning bush and he led his people through the Red Sea and he sent Samuel to anoint David and he sent his people into exile and he brought them back from exile and he sent his Son into the world as one of us and so on. All of these things are separate events in God’s great plan for the world and for our salvation. And we imagine he did each of these things one by one in sequence. And so, first he did one thing. And then, after waiting a while, he did another thing. And then, after waiting a while, he did another thing. And so, bit by bit or step by step, he’s working out his plan in sequence.
That’s the way it may seem to us, but the theologians say that since God is timelessly eternal and since he is not bound by time in any way, then he does not work in sequence and he is not going through each part of his plan step by step over time. Perhaps we can put it like this: God performs one eternal act, but that one eternal act produces many different things in time. And among the many different things which his one eternal act has produced in time is the whole history of the world including our salvation. So, his one eternal act produces all of history. From God’s perspective, it all happens at once, because everything is eternally present to him. But from our perspective, it all happens bit by bit.
This, of course, is hard to grasp, isn’t it? And, in fact, there have been some modern theologians who have said this cannot be right. How can God be eternal? How can he be above time? Surely he must exist within time, because how else could he relate to us? For instance, when he answers our prayers and sends us help, then he must be with us in time. We’re praying to him today; and so, he must hear our prayers today. Therefore he must be with us in time.
And so, some theologians have denied that God is timelessly eternal. And others have said that while he was once timeless, he is not timeless any more, because he must have entered time when he made the world. And still others say that he remains timeless in one sense, but in another sense he is in time.
So, some say he was never eternal. Some say he was once eternal but not now. And some say he is both eternal and time-bound. But we must always resist these new ideas, because to say that God is in time means that his life can be divided up into past, present and future. And that means God would be made up of parts: part of him is past and part of him is future. Or part of God is eternal, but part of him is not. However we believe that God is simple and without parts. He cannot be divided up in any way.
And we believe God is immutable and that he cannot change. And that means that we cannot say that he was once timeless, but now he has changed and become time-bound. That would mean he changed from being one thing to being another thing.
And we believe that God is infinite. That means he cannot be limited or measured in any way. But if God existed in time, then we’d be able — in theory — to measure the length of his life. But he is infinite and cannot be measured.
And so, this is our God. And the more we learn about him, the more we see how much greater he is than us. The past slips away from us and we can never get it back. And we can’t speed up the passage of time, but we must wait for it. We’re controlled by time, because we’re always checking the time to see how much of it is left. And if the time is short, we have to hurry what we’re doing. And when we’re enjoying something, we know that soon it will end and it will be time for something else. We’re controlled by time. But our God is timelessly eternal. For God there is no past which slips away from him. For God there is no future which he must wait for. Everything is present for him, because he is the eternal I AM. In fact, as Herman Bavinck says, whereas we are controlled by time, God is able to use time in order to display to us his eternal glory and in order to make known to us in time his eternal thoughts and perfections. He is not ruled by time, the way we are, but he is the one who uses time as his servant and he ensured that at just the right time his Son would die for us and for our salvation in order to save us from everlasting punishment and to give us instead everlasting life in his presence. He is indeed the King of the Ages, because he rules over all of time for his glory and he’s able to use everything that happens in time for our good. And so, since we are time-bound creatures who are subject to time and change, we ought to humble ourselves before the Lord and worship him alone, because he alone is the Eternal God.