“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” – Psalm 90:2
CH. Spurgeon, when preaching on Psalm 90, said, “God was when nothing else was.” Quite honestly, this sounds like a song lyric. It’s memorable, catchy even. Indeed, in my study of God’s eternal character, a more striking statement on this attribute is tough to find. But that’s to be expected when gleaning from the Prince of Preachers.
In regards to God’s eternal character, Christians may safely confess that there never was a time when God never was. There never is a time when God never is. There never will be a time when God will never be. God is truly the eternal one. Stephen Charnock puts it this way in his classic work, Discourse on the Existence and Attributes of God, “As the essence of God cannot be bounded by any place, so it is not to be limited by any time; as it is his immensity to be everywhere, so it is his eternity to be always” (349).
What does it mean for God to be eternal? Moreover, why is this doctrine not just an essential attribute of God but also a relevant attribute with bearing on how we live? In Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Wayne Grudem describes four aspects of God’s eternality, “Saying that God is eternal means that God himself is timeless, He sees all time equally vividly, He enters into history and acts within the bounds of time, and, quite possibly most applicable to ourselves, God being unlimited and unbound by time exists in contrast to his creatures who are limited and confined by time.” Francis Turretin makes this contrast vivid in Institutes of Elenctic Theology, “He is the beginning without beginning because while he is the beginning of all things, he himself has no beginning. He is the end without end because (since he is the end to which all things are referred) he can have no end” (Vol. I, 202-203). Though we are bound in this mortal life with beginning and end, God has no beginning or end.
This summary launches us into why the essential attribute of God’s eternality is so applicable to our lives; it ushers us into profound implications. To refer to Spurgeon again, when preaching on Psalm 90, he says that we are but perishing seeds of grass and “grass is sown, grown, then mown.” Thus, we put our limited persons — confined by time, having beginning and end — into the loving, caring, and merciful hands of the one who is unlimited, who sits outside of time, and who will not be bound by time. After all, the Creator cannot be limited by His creature. And time, though abstract, is nothing more than another of God’s creatures, ruled by him and sustained by him.
What is interesting about time is that time is inextricably bound to sin. You see, fundamentally, God’s creatures measure time most definitively not by sunrises and sunsets but by first sunrises and last sunsets. When you consider time, your most fundamental question is not, “Will I have enough time to get everything done that I need to today?” Your most fundamental question is, “How much time do I have?” Period. Will I have a short life? Will I have a long life? What is the span of my life? I’m not eternal like the Eternal One. I am limited. I am limited by time because I am plagued by the daunting reality of sin.
Thus, God has two important words for you in regard to His attribute of eternality and His relationship with sin, one about hell and one about heaven. God hates sin, but He does not hate sin in a temporal fashion. His wrath against sin is eternal, so He eternally punishes sinners. It’s easy for you and me to think that our sin has a limited consequence. True, sin brings you to your last sunset and final heartbeat. That’s a limitation. But that limitation is not the end; it’s a buffer or better a speed bump on the road of life. Your life continues into the afterlife, which makes that speed bump a crossroad as well: everlasting wrath from an eternal God in hell or everlasting delight from an eternal God in heaven. This is why God’s eternality has such great bearing on your life. God, being eternal, gives either eternal punishment or eternal reward to the crowning achievement of His creation, humanity.
So the question for you is this. Do you want to be in alignment and right relationship with the God who is eternal, or do you wish to be out of alignment and in wrong relationship with the God who is eternal? The consequence of one is grave; the consequence of the other is blessing. When we ponder God’s eternality and are awed by His unlimited delight in those who are His, the words of Gandalf the White to Peregrin Took, on the walls of Minas Tirith — looking down upon a hoard that signifies impending death — are not just comforting but are filled with everlasting hope and joy.
Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No. No, it isn’t.
God being eternal isn’t so bad, if you’re on the right side of eternity, which is incalculably more important than being on the right side of history.
This article first appeared in Theology for Life Winter 2016-2017 Issue. To download the rest of the issue click here.