Eternity isn’t the place where God lives. God is where eternity lives. Today, Barry Cooper considers the timelessness of God and our yearning to be in His everlasting presence.
Have you ever wondered why we’re obsessed with the idea of time travel? Back to the Future, Quantum Leap, Doctor Who . . .
Maybe it’s because the tiny speck of time that you and I inhabit feels a bit claustrophobic to us. Think about it. The only millisecond of time that we actually have access to is this very millisecond we’re living in right now. The past is closed off behind us; there’s no way back to get back there. The future is always beyond our reach, because as soon as we do reach the future, it immediately gets locked up in the same impenetrable vault as the past. The time that you and I can actually live in is about as wide as the business edge of a surgeon’s scalpel.
It’s why people become writers. Authors give themselves the exhilarating sense that they’re able to move freely backwards and forwards through time and are able to slow it down or speed it up at will.
But of course, that’s just an illusion. Real time moves on while authors are pretending to be outside it, and it continues to be lost forever, at the reliable rate of sixty seconds per minute and sixty minutes per hour. You could set your watch by it. We’re obliged to live in it as a goldfish is obliged to live in water, and there’s no way out of it, at least not in our current bodies.
By contrast, the entire sweep of history, not to mention everything either side of it, is immediately and always accessible to God. No claustrophobia here, because as the Creator of time, God must of necessity be outside time. This is what theologians call the “eternity” of God. You see it all over Scripture: God is repeatedly referred to as the eternal or everlasting God, “who alone has immortality” (1 Tim. 6).
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Ps. 90:2)
When, in Exodus chapter 3, Moses asks God His name, God says to Moses: “I am who I am. . . . Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
One of the reasons God identifies Himself as “I am” is because God always was and always will be. As it says in Hebrews, He is “the same yesterday and today and forever.” Or take Revelation chapter 1: He is the one “who is and who was and who is to come.”
The theologian Charles Hodge put it this way:
With [God] there is no distinction between the present, past, and future; but all things are equally and always present to Him. With Him duration is an eternal now.
Sometimes we think of eternity as the place where God lives and where His people will one day join Him. But as Stephen Charnock points out, “God is His own eternity.” It’s not that eternity is the place that God lives; God is the place that eternity lives.
We can also make the mistake of thinking that eternity is just like time, except, well, longer. When we hear Jesus’ promises of eternal life, we might well shudder, imagining that eternal life will be much like this one, except never-ending. But eternity doesn’t consist of a succession of “moments” the way that time does. Our experience of living in eternity will be qualitatively very different from our experience of living in time.
Now, just to return to goldfish for a moment. Given that goldfish don’t seem to be lamenting the fact that they can only exist in water, why does it seem to bother us so much that we can only exist in time?
The book of Ecclesiastes gives us a clue. It tells us that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11). That’s why human beings sense intuitively that time is a kind of confinement, and it’s the reason we yearn to transcend it.
Why does God give us homesickness for a place we’ve never been and can’t seem to access?
It’s as if our Creator has programmed His address into our inner GPS, and even when we self-consciously try to turn away from that destination, it keeps rerouting and trying to get us there.
We should listen to that eternal voice. Our frustration with time is because you and I were made to join Father, Son and Spirit in the joy of eternity. And when Jesus Christ stepped into time from eternity, He was making the way for us to return with Him.