The eternal God
The meaning and application of the word ‘eternal’
In its absolute sense, the terms "eternal" and cognates signify of infinite duration, just as omnipresence indicates of infinite presence. Eternal means a duration discharged from all limits whether actual or imagined, without succession and without end. Eternity cannot be measured; it is, so to speak, the ever-abiding present.
The human mind, experiencing the phenomenon of time only (as a succession of moments) can only conceive of eternity as duration indefinitely extended from the present moment in two directions. So we speak of eternity past and eternity future, somewhat similar to what we conceive time, as past, present or still future.
But time is limited duration, measured by succession, either of thought of motion.
Eternity, the unchanging present, without beginning or end, comprehends all time, and co-exists as an undivided moment, with all the successions of time as they appear and pass in their order.
We conceive of God only under the finite fashion of first purposing and then acting, of first promising or threatening and then fulfilling his word, and so on. This is not strictly correct, for He who inhabits eternity infinitely transcends our understanding (Isaiah 57:15). His eternity, therefore, implies his immensity and infinity, his altogether different nature from us.
However, in Scripture, the word eternal and similar terms are not always used in this absolute sense, as meaning without beginning or end, just as the word "calling" can mean an external or internal calling. The exegete must be careful to distinguish the terms, otherwise he might fall into serious error.
For instance, God's covenant with Abraham is called "an everlasting covenant," though it evidently has an historical inauguration some 4,000 years ago. Still it is not without reason that it is called "everlasting" for, being fulfilled in Christ, the son of Abraham, its effects and blessings will continue on not only till the end of time, but throughout eternity future.
Another instance is the case in Deuteronomy 15:17 where it is said that "he should be a servant for ever," but this seemingly limitless word only signifies till the jubilee, which was celebrated every 50th year.
Man is said to have an everlasting soul, that never will be annihilated, whatever his destiny might be. But every man has a beginning in time; it is once he comes into existence (in history) that he will continue to exist forever. The same applies to angels, who are created spirits, and who will continue to exist for ever.
But only God has this attribute of eternality in the sense defined above. "He who alone hath immortality." He had no beginning and will have no end. "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even FROM EVERLASTING TO EVERLASTING, thou art God" (Psalms 90:2). This could be legitimately said to no-one else, except the Triune God.
God is eternal: biblical references
Deuteronomy 33:27; Rom.1:20; Eph.3:11; 1 Tim.1:17; Tit.1:2; Heb.9:12; Heb.9:14; 1 Jn.1:2; 1 Jn.5:20; Isa.57:15; Ps.41:13; 90:2; 93:2; 100:5; 103:17; 105:10; 106:48; 145:13; Jer.10:10; Dan.4:3,34; 7:14,27; Mic.5:2; Hab.1:12; Rev.1:18; Heb.1:18; Prov.8:23; Isa.9:6; 26:4; Ezek.16:60; 37:26; Isa.40:28.
Eternity is appropriate only for God
The Bible attributes eternity only to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the one true God. This characteristic or attribute of God is peculiar to him; whereas he is good and is able to make his creatures good, whereas he is wise and is able to grant wisdom to men, it would be contradictory and absurd to think or imagine that the eternal God would make somebody else eternal like himself and to the same extent as himself. God does not deny himself. Such an idea would be like affirming that God can make a square circle.
An eternal creature (made and fashioned by God) is NECESSARILY not eternal; it must have a point of departure, a beginning, and thus lacking eternality. Eternity cannot, by the nature of the case (and not because of any deficiency in God's almightiness), be communicated to others.
Every living creature is alive because of God's goodness and will. Our existence rests continually upon God's. God aseity and independence is the foundation of all other existence.
Only God can be properly and truly described as being eternal. He is the eternal "I AM." "I am he who was, who is and who is to come..." Creatures are mutable; they go through various processes and changes; God is immutable because eternal and eternal because immutable.
All things are present to God
Since God is the creator of matter, time, and space, he is not shackled or hemmed in by such realities. 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.
God is immanent in his universe. "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" God is also transcendent, beyond the reality we now experience, beyond time and space. He is "El-Olam," the everlasting God.
Granting this premise, which is freely supported by Scripture, then whatever was, is or will be is ever-present to God. Thus, Christ was historically crucified two millennia ago (according to time calculations, i.e., human calculation) and this is abundantly testified to; 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." More than 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).
In God's eternal omniscience, His Son was the predestined offering for sin. That is exactly why he could forgive David and the patriarchs and all the Old Testament saints and justify them even though Christ was not yet dead and risen.
It is very telling that God's personal name, revealed to Moses, is Jehovah, the eternal I AM.
We see one point at a time; God sees all things present, though he knows what our past and present and future is.
No succession with God
Though God made time and history, he does not live in time. He is fully conscious of what time is and what time does, but God is beyond it. Time brings changes to such an extent that 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. "And thou, Lord, in the beginning hast last the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands. They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be CHANGED: but thou are THE SAME, and thy years shall not fail" (Hebrews 1:10-12).
Time does not affect God, who is before time. So, although God knows and is aware of succession in human and all history, He himself does not change. "With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17; cf. Malachi 3:6).
The implications for the contemporary church are several:
1. To begin with we must resist "Process Theology" of Clark Pinnock and others, who erroneously assume that God changes according to man's decisions. 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 anthopomorphic language in regard to God. 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. Though living in a sophisticated civilization, we know that our only secure dwelling place is still the Eternal God (Psalms 90:1ff).
God is His own eternity.
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).
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 argument in favour of the 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 necessary
1. If God were not eternal, then neither is He immutable. 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. Eternity and immutability support and demand each other.
2. If God were not eternal, then he is not almighty. A being who can be traced to have a beginning cannot carry the title of Omnipotence, for what had a beginning was once nothing. If he was nothing, then he could not 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. The causation of things must be sought elsewhere, and there is nothing and nobody who could fit in. An effect can have a succession of causes behind it, but there must be an ultimate Cause.
4. If God were not eternal, he is not worth our worship and honour, for though he would be greater than us, he would still be "one of us," a being with a beginning, just like us.
But Scripture requires us to worship him, because by his will all things are. "Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for thou hast created all things; and for thy pleasure they are and were created" (Revelation 4:11).
The world has a beginning
It was not from eternity. Evolutionists and materialists such as Stephen Hawking maintain that the universe is all there was, all there is and all that ever will be. Against all scientific evidence (such as the second Law of Thermodynamics, that says that matter is slowly disintegrating) they still insist that the universe is eternal; it had no beginning.
This flies in the face of established science, and more than that, in the face of Scripture. "In the beginning God created (bara) the heavens and the earth." Psalm 90 speaks about the mountains being brought forth. The Bible speaks about the world having its foundation; it rests on something; it has a beginning, just as it is predicted that it will have an end (2 Peter 3).
The world owes its existence to the creating power of God
He formed it out of nothing and brought it into being. "By the world of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (Psalms 33:6). "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which de appear" (Hebrews 11:3). The word expresses God's creative will, without any expenditure of energy.
The material world that can be touched and seen was not made by pre-existent material; it was created (bara) ex nihilo. This we accept upon God's testimony who alone was there when he created.
God was in being before the world
The cause must have an effect, that word which gives being must be before that which receives being. The ultimate cause must necessarily be the uncaused cause of all things. It cannot be an unbroken and infinite chain of causes, for however back you go, there must be the ultimate cause.
The Christian knows this Cause to be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who by the agency of his Son brought this universe into being. "By him were all things created...and he is BEFORE all things" (Colossians 1).
This being was from everlasting to everlasting.
He who has omnipotence must be from everlasting. Paul, in speaking about the things clearly seen of God in his creation, speaks about his "eternal power and deity." The kind of power that brought the creation into being must be eternal, and, furthermore, according to the Scripture, will continue throughout eternity. "The Lord is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting King" (Jeremiah 10:10). "The Lord is king for ever and ever" (Psalms 10:16).
This being shall endure to eternity.
Any created thing can be dispensed with; it is not absolutely necessary. Things come and go. But God, the originator, is necessary, throughout time and eternity. He has life in himself and will continue ever. "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever."
If God's saints will reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:5), how much more their God and Redeemer? What belongs to the lesser must necessarily belong also and to a higher extent to the higher. The saints enjoy glory because they are in the presence of the ever-living God, in fellowship with him.
There is but one God, one eternal God
From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. None else but one has the property of eternity. The gods of the heathen cannot lay claim to it.
The prophets proclaim this blessed truth and in so doing lay bare the folly 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" (Jeremiah 10, whole passage, v.1-18). Psalm 115 also brings out a sharp contrast between invented and feigned gods and the everlasting Sovereign. A god that has a beginning is no god.
Accidentally, in saying this, the darkness of the Russellites is evident when they insist that the Son of God was the first created being, and thus he may be called "god." But the Lord commands, "Thou shalt have no others gods before me."