This is our third instalment on our sermon series focussing on the attributes of God. Today we focus on his eternal nature. Granted, this overlaps with his aseity, the wonderful nature of God is indivisible and wonderful but we can look at what it means to be eternal. His aseity is more so that he is existent upon Himself and as such exists eternally in joint harmony with that aseity. We will be looking at the two bodies of thought on God’s eternity, the first that God exists eternally outside of the time/space continuum. That he exists outside the rules of past, present, and future. The other body of thought we will examine is that God has existed in our linear time eternally, and yet exists at all times thus he exists constantly in the present because the past, present, and future are the same so one can say he exists only in the past, only the present, and only in the future yet all of them at the same time. With that we have the possibility that God exists outside our concept of time but exists in ours to interact with us.
God’s eternity (or existence of time) is one of the hot topics in the Bible. Literalists in the Bible believe that the world was created in literally 7 days, and other Christians believe that the concept of 7 days cannot be viewed by our current standards and with this debate comes the thought, “how does God view time?” In the 1977 film “Oh God” our Creator is portrayed by the comedian George Burns, in an OT type story he comes down to inform Jerry Landers (John Denver) that he is to be a prophecy of God and Jerry suffers much, being sued, fired, and committed. One of the key quotes I like to start of the sermon with is when Denver questions God at the beginning of the film asking him questions and when Burns tries to explain the concepts of time he says “when I woke up this morning Sigmund Freud was in medical school.” Time, as Einstein would have said, is relative. An eternal being, by whatever name, saying “time is short” probably carries an entirely different meaning for you or I. I once asked a child when I was teaching a Sunday school on an inner city mission trip what we know about God. The child responded that He was old, that’s why His beard was always white but other than that it was a miracle He looked that good for His age. And age is the question in the Bible; many literalists believe the world is 6000 years old based on the adding of the years backwards from when the last word in the Bible was recorded and summing up all the generations. It is this modern concept of traditionalist time that we will start with, both the pros and pitfalls behind it.
Our modern Gregorian calendar has only been used for the last few millennia before that varying calendars were used and they varied even more around the world. At the time the Bible was composed and over the thousands of years it was written concepts of days, time, and years varied. The traditionalist view is very much under the realm of the young earth creationist theory. These theologians believe the universe, Earth, and humans came into existence at maximum 10, 000 years ago. The opposite types of believers are called historic critical Christians. This view is not only held by Christians but also the other Abrahamic religions. The Seder Olam Rabbah, which was a reflective discourse and history of the world. It was compiled by Jose ben Halafta in 160 AD. He dates the creation of the world to 3751 BC while the later Seder Olam Zutta dates it around 4339 BC. The Hebrew Calendar (which is the calendar that 99% of the Old Testament is written in) has since the 4th century AD dated the creation to 3761 BC. If this is the case then the fall of the Lucifer (Satan) and the 1/3 angels must have occurred a short time before that. Needless to say ancient to medieval scholars date it roughly between the aforementioned 5000-10, 000 years ago. Now you may be asking well this is ok to focus on our concept of time but how does this involve God’s eternal nature? Well it comes down to how did the Lord view the timeline of creation and that is our focus.
St. Augustine once said that time exists only in this universe thus God is out of time; “In the eminence of thy ever-present eternity, thou precedest all times past, and extendest beyond all future times, for they are still to come — and when they have come, they will be past. But “Thou art always the Self-same and thy years shall have no end.” Thy years neither go nor come; but ours both go and come in order that all separate moments may come to pass. All thy years stand together as one, since they are abiding. Nor do thy years past exclude the years to come because thy years do not pass away. All these years of ours shall be with thee, when all of them shall have ceased to be. Thy years are but a day, and thy day is not recurrent, but always today. Thy “today” yields not to tomorrow and does not follow yesterday. Thy “today” is eternity.” You see brothers and sisters in Christ, for thousands of years we have been debating and pondering such things as the Trinity, the timeline of God, and miracles. We ponder at the awesomeness of all these things but to God they just are. We debate how long God took to do things such as the freezing of the sun for Joshua yet, would that seem like a full day? 2nd Peter 3:8 says “a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day with the Lord.” Many theologians believe that this is the view of time from God’s perspective and have tried to date events on the Bible based on that theory but notice Peter uses the word “like” it is a simile. He is saying that a day to God does not mean a day but some large number. In Psalm 90: 1-4 the author says the same thing. In Genesis Abraham planted a tree at Beersheba and called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. In other world religions the God’s have some sense of being they are not aseitic but have a beginning and their ends are unclear.
This concept of the eternal nature of God being in the present, past and future summed up as I AM-meaning always a state of being is not a concept grounded in the Old Testament, Jesus Christ; the very reason why we do all of this he said in John 8:58 “Before Abraham was born I AM.” God reveals himself by and in his Names. The ineffable name of Jehovah in this respect is very significant, for the inner meaning of Yahweh – “I am the One who is” – emphasises God’s dynamic and active self-existence. The name Yahweh is connected with the verb meaning “to be” (Exodus 3:14).Truly God’s eternal being is also evident in “His eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph 3:10-11) So God never had an idea one day to just send Christ down as a solution He just came up with, his aseitic eternal nature always had this eternal purpose but if God’s concept of eternity is I AM thus He would not have viewed it as a long standing plan but like the air we breathe it just is. In one of the rare instances this concept of an eternal nature is in sync between the Old and New Testaments; (Deut 33:27): “The eternal God is your refuge.” (1 Timothy 1:17): “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” You see my friends eternity to God is an unchanging present, to us it is a succession of moments, an evolution of events leading to an inevitable effect, death. When we come to Christ though we are partially removed from time here and partially put into God’s realm of time, we have one foot in and one foot out for we have had a beginning but we will have no end. I believe this is why the human mind is incapable at this time to comprehend the concept of the eternal present because we have not experienced that.
The second point I would like to briefly touch upon is the difference between His eternal Being and when God uses the word eternal. For example when God establishes an eternal covenant; like us, this covenant has a beginning but no end. This is something we can easily comprehend. Even angels themselves have a “conditional eternity.” In the Bible it does not out rightly state that human spirits and souls have always existed. Many Mormon churches hold to this tenant in their doctrine however unconditional essence of an eternal being is reserved for God alone. I believe He does this intentionally; in Genesis when Adam and Eve eat from the fruit God says to the heavenly host and celestial bodies that “they have become like Us (meaning Jesus and the Spirit). If Adam and Eve had eaten of the Tree of Life they would have been transformed into celestial, free thinking beings, similar to the fallen angels. Aside from the glory of God being a reason for sole eternal nature I believe it was also meant as a safe guard for He knew what the consequences were. Nothing can share equality with God is a reason we should be happy that we are not unconditionally eternal.
The last point I would like to discuss (there is much I can say on this topic but to avoid babbling I need to restrict myself) is the concept of God’s eternal nature in the span of being in our universe and the agreed upon truths. Now in this sermon series I will most likely overlap as I have said before many times, but that just shows that God’s nature is often indivisible. One of the reasons God has an eternal nature that is outside our space/time continuum is because He created matter, time, and space. When something is created, its creator is often separate from its creation. For example if we clone a biological organism we are not bound by the same properties as it for we are separate and the creator or at least the higher life form. God is outside His creation of time, just as we are outside of a food we have created or a science experiment. Since God is the creator, He is not bound by such realities of the laws of the universe. These came to be by His own sovereign will “in the beginning.” Before that, God was and still is Blessed in Himself, lacking nothing and completely self-sufficient (aseitic-see how it overlaps). God is immanent in his universe. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” God is also transcendent, beyond the realm we now experience, beyond time and space. He is “El-Olam,” the Everlasting God. Going under this hypothesis, which is freely supported by Scripture, and then whatever was, is or will be is ever-present to God. Thus, Christ was historically crucified more than two thousand years ago (according to our modern calendar) and this is proven historically; but Scripture does not stop there. It says also that he “was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” Above that, we find: “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
Though God has created out concept of time and the thought of the before, he does not bind himself to live in time just to relate to us better, we are privileged enough to close that gap via Christ Jesus. He is fully conscious of what time is, but God is beyond it. Time brings changes to such an extent that the philosopher Heraclitus said, “You can’t jump into the same river twice,” meaning that by the time you are ready to jump the second time the river has changed. ” 10 “He also says, In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” (Hebrews 1:10-12). Now what are the implications of this body of thought and what does it mean for us as Christians, because that is why we are here to understand the nature of God and the nature of His Son. “With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17; cf. Malachi 3:6). But what does all this imply and what are the contesting theories or pitfalls of this difficult concept?
1. To begin with we must resist “Process Theology” of Clark Pinnock and others, these theories put forth the thesis that God changes according to man’s decisions and unfortunately because of our conflicting understanding of pre-destination and free will this is a common struggle amongst Christians. God’s independence must be kept in mind. From him and through him and unto him are all things; he is the source, the agent and the end of all existence.
2. We should continue using the traditional method of interpretation, in recognising the differing language in regard to God (for example God using the word eternity to describe something as opposed to the word eternity being used for Him). Though years are ascribed to God, yet they cannot be numbered or finished, since there is no proportion between the duration of God, and the years of men.
3. We cannot fully comprehend these topics until we are fully recreated before God. God is eternity; it is not a separate concept-He is it. Those who please God must believe that God “is” (Hebrews 11:6), the ever-present reality. God is not dead and irrelevant; he is not coming to become. He Is.
The ontological (study of the nature of existence, nature, and reality) argument in favour of the eternal existence of God argues from the premise that “we can conceive of a Most Perfect Being. But a most Perfect Being must exist and ever exist, otherwise he is not Perfect, for non-existence detracts from perfection.” Therefore God must exist, and that from eternity. For God to be God “he must be from eternity; eternity is an integral attribute of God, not something appended or added to him.”
God’s eternity is fundamental:
1. If God were not eternal, then neither is He immutable (unchanging, we will discuss this in 3 sermons from now). He must be a changeable God, for better or for worse. If for better, then he is not perfect and therefore not God. If for worse, then he loses his perfection and therefore cannot be God. All of God’s attributes as said before are interconnected and indivisible and only can be partially analysed separately.
2. If God were not eternal, then he is not almighty. A being that can be traced to have a beginning cannot carry the title of totally omnipotent, for what had a beginning was once nothing. If he was nothing, then he could act, neither to a larger nor to a smaller extent. “Nothingness spells powerlessness.”
3. If God were not eternal, then he is not the Alpha and the Omega. Then the cause of all things must be somewhere else but since nothing could fill that possibility. The issue with that is an ultimate cause must exist, while it can have a series of causations it cannot exist randomly, even the universe according to sceptics had a cause.
4. If God were not eternal, He would be robbed of His glory, as said before an unconditional eternal nature is a reason for glory to God and that can never be shared with man;, for though he would be greater than us, he would still be “one of us,” a being with a beginning, just like us and we “just like Him”-Gen 1
Let us sum up the points that you want to take from this and use the above information to support your beliefs about the eternal nature of God:
1) The world has a beginning as does all matter, time, and energy.
2) The world could not exist if God is not (remember eternal present) eternal because He would have a beginning as well.
3) God was in being and present at the creation of the world.
4) His being is everlasting to everlasting; in a circle; constant.
5) This being known as God shall endure time and space.
6) There is only one God that can claim I AM.
The prophets understood this truth and avoided that greatest sin of idolatry. “Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O king of nations? But they are altogether brutish and foolish…But the Lord is the true God, he is the living God and an everlasting king” (Jer 10). Psalm 115 also shows the clear differences between gods of wood, stone, gold, and man’s imagination as opposed to an eternal God. A god that has a beginning is no god. Brothers and sisters I know I have thrown a lot at you today and truly there is so much more. This seems like a deep discussion but it actually only touches on the foundations of theological and apologetic studies that have existed for thousands of years. What I want you to take from this sermon, this entire series is to dig deeper so we can discuss, debate, and profess eloquently the deeper understanding of God to do honour to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Our next sermon will be an interlude to this 2 months series and will focus on something I could do a sermon on every day; the holy time of prayer, fasting, and devotion-the time of Advent. Let’s pray.
I will now give the benediction: I take this from the book of Psalms with the concept of the evermore; I take it from Psalm 21 verse 6: “Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.” God bless you have a great week!