This day our hearts approve with gladness what our reason can never fully
comprehend, even Thine eternity, O Ancient of Days. Art Thou not from
everlasting, O Lord, my God, mine Holy One?
We worship Thee, the Father Everlasting, whose years shall have no end; and
Thee, the love-begotten Son whose goings forth have been ever of old; we also
acknowledge and adore Thee, Eternal Spirit, who before the foundation of the
world didst live and love in coequal glory with the Father and the Son.
Enlarge and purify the mansions of our souls that they may be fit habitations
for Thy Spirit, who dost prefer before all temples the upright heart and pure.
The concept of everlastingness runs like a lofty mountain range throughout the
entire Bible and looms large in orthodox Hebrew and Christian thought. Were we
to reject the concept, it would be altogether impossible for us to think again
the thoughts of prophets and apostles, so full were they of the long dreams of
Because the word everlasting is sometimes used by the sacred writers to mean no
more than long-lasting (as ”the everlasting hills”), some persons have argued
that the concept of unending existence was not in the minds of the writers when
they used the word but was supplied later by the theologians. This is of course
a serious error, and, as far as I can see, has no ground in serious scholarship.
It has been used by certain teachers as an escape from the doctrine of eternal
punishment. These reject the eternity of moral retribution, and to be consistent
they are forced to weaken the whole idea of endlessness. This is not the only
instance where an attempt was made to slay a truth to keep it quiet lest it
appear as a material witness against an error.
The truth is that if the Bible did not teach that God possessed endless being in
the ultimate meaning of that term, we would be compelled to infer it from His
other attributes, and if the Holy Scriptures had no word for absolute
everlastingness, it would be necessary for us to coin one to express the
concept, for it is assumed, implied, and generally taken for granted everywhere
throughout the inspired Scriptures. The idea of endlessness is to the kingdom of
God what carbon is to the kingdom of nature. As carbon is present almost
everywhere, as it is an essential element in all living matter and supplies all
life with energy, so the concept of everlastingness is necessary to give meaning
to any Christian doctrine. Indeed I know of no tenet of the Christian creed that
could retain its significance if the idea of eternity were extracted from it.
”From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God,” said Moses in the Spirit. ”From
the vanishing point to the vanishing point” would be another way to say it quite
in keeping with the words as Moses used them. The mind looks backward in time
till the dim past vanishes, then turns and looks into the future till thought
and imagination collapses from exhaustion: and God is at both points, unaffected
Time marks the beginning of created existence, and because God never began to
exist it can have no application to Him. ”Began” is a time-word, and it can have
no personal meaning for the high and lofty One that inhabited eternity.
No age can heap its outward years on Thee;
Dear God! Thou art; Thyself, Thine own eternity.
Frederick F. Faber
Because God lives in an everlasting now, He has no past and no future. When
time-words occur in the Scriptures they refer to our time, not to His. When the
four living creatures before the throne cry day and night, ”Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come,” they are identifying God
with the flow of creature-life with its familiar three tenses; and this is right
and good, for God has sovereignly willed so to identify Himself. But since God
is uncreated, He is not himself affected by that succession of consecutive
changes we call time.
God dwells in eternity but time dwells in God. He has already lived all our
tomorrows as He has lived all our yesterdays. An illustration offered by C. S.
Lewis may help us here. He suggests that we think of a sheet of paper infinitely
extended. That would be eternity. Then on that paper draw a short line to
represent time. As the line begins and ends on that infinite expanse, so time
began in God and will end in Him.
That God appears at time’s beginning is not too difficult to comprehend, but
that He appears at the beginning and end of time simultaneously is not so easy
to grasp; yet it is true. Time is known to us by a succession of events. It is
the way we account for consecutive changes in the universe. Changes take place
not all at once but in succession, one after the other, and it is the relation
of ”after” to ”before” that gives us our idea of time. We wait for the sun to
move from east to west or for the hour hand to move around the face of the
clock, but God is not compelled so to wait. For Him everything that will happen
has already happened.
This is why God can say, ”I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end
from the beginning.” He sees the end and the beginning in one view. ”For
infinite duration, which is eternity’s self, includeth all succession,” says
Nicholas of Cusa, ”and all which seemeth to us to be in succession existeth not
posterior to Thy concept, which is eternity.... Thus, because Thou art God
almighty, Thou dwellest within the wall of Paradise, and this wall is that
coincidence where later is one with earlier, where the end is one with the
beginning, where Alpha and Omega are the same.... For NOW and THEN coincide in
the circle of the wall of Paradise. But, O my God, the Absolute and Eternal, it
is beyond the present and the past that Thou dost exist and utter speech.”
When He was a very old man, Moses wrote the psalm from which I have quoted
earlier in this chapter. In it he celebrates the eternity of God. To him this
truth is a solid theological fact as firm and hard as that Mount Sinai with
which he was so familiar, and for him it had two practical meanings: since God
is eternal, He can be and continue forever to be the one safe home for His
time-driven children. ”Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all
generations.” The second thought is less comforting: God’s eternity is so long
and our years on earth are so few, how shall we establish the work of our hands?
How shall we escape the abrasive action of events that would wear us out and
destroy us? God fills and dominates the psalm, so it is to Him that Moses makes
his plaintive appeal, ”So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our
hearts unto wisdom.” May the knowledge of Thy eternity not be wasted on me!
We who live in this nervous age would be wise to meditate on our lives and our
days long and often before the face of God and on the edge of eternity. For we
are made for eternity as certainly as we are made for time, and as responsible
moral beings we must deal with both.
”He hath set eternity in their heart,” said the Preacher, and I think he here
sets forth both the glory and the misery of men. To be made for eternity and
forced to dwell in time is for mankind a tragedy of huge proportions. All within
us cries for life and permanence, and everything around us reminds us of
mortality and change. Yet that God has made us of the stuff of eternity is both
a glory and a prophecy yet to be fulfilled.
I hope it will not be found unduly repetitious if I return again to that
important pillar of Christian theology, the image of God in man. The marks of
the divine image have been so obscured by sin that they are not easy to
identify, but is it not reasonable to believe that one mark may be man’s
insatiable craving for immortality?
Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why;
He thinks he was not made to die
And Thou hast made him: Thou art just.
So reasons Tennyson, and the deepest instincts of the normal human heart agree
with him. The ancient image of God whispers within every man of everlasting
hope; somewhere he will continue to exist. Still he cannot rejoice, for the
light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world troubles his
conscience, frightening him with proofs of guilt and evidences of coming death.
So is he ground between the upper millstone of hope and the nether stone of
Just here the sweet relevancy of the Christian message appears. ”Jesus Christ
... hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through
the gospel.” So wrote the greatest Christian of them all just before he went out
to meet his executioner. God’s eternity and man’s mortality join to persuade us
that faith in Jesus Christ is not optional. For every man it must be Christ or
eternal tragedy. Out of eternity our Lord came into time to rescue His human
brethren whose moral folly had made them not only fools of the passing world but
slaves of sin and death as well.
Brief life is here our portion,
Brief sorrow, short-lived care;
The life that knows no ending,
The tearless life is there.
There God, our King and Portion,
In fullness of His grace, We then shall see forever,
And worship face to face.
Bernard of Cluny