This attribute is important to us because it puts things in the right perspective. For God it’s the long game.
This attribute is considered “incommunicable” or “unshareable” with us because God has no beginning, while we do. However, we can get a taste—or we will get a taste of it—when we die and enter his eternal state and live forever.
Let’s begin with some definitions from theologians who base them on the Scriptures in the section, below.
What do theologians say?
These definitions are deep, so you may have to read them over several times if they don’t “click” the first time or even third time.
Princeton theologian Charles Hodge says God’s infinity as it is related to space is his immensity or omnipresence (everywhere). But relative to time God’s infinitude is his eternity. Then Hodge gets to the formal definition:
As he is free from all limitations of space, so He is exalted above all the limitations of time. As He is not more in one place than in another, but is everywhere present, so He does not exist during one period of duration more than another. With Him there is no distinction between present, past, and future; but all things are equally and always present to Him. With Him duration is an eternal now. (vol. 1, p. 385)
Wayne Grudem writes:
God’s eternity may be defined as follows: God has no beginning, end or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time. (p. 168).
In other words, God is eternal “in his own being” means without his relating to us humans—he is who he is, with or without us. He is eternal. But his interaction with us means he sees all human and earth-bound events equally and vividly, and he even acts in time. Think of all the biblical events and especially the incarnation.
Millard Erickson puts God’s eternity within the attribute of infinity, but here is his more specific definition of eternity:
God is also infinite in relation to time. He was before time began and will have no end. The question “how old is God?” simply is inappropriate. He is no older now than a year ago, for infinity plus one is no more than infinity. He simply is not bound by the usual restrictions of time. … God is timeless in the sense that he does not grow or develop. There are no variations in his nature at different points within his existence. The interests, knowledge, activities, and even personalities of humans change from childhood to youth to adulthood to old age. With God there is no such change, however. He has always been what he is. (pp. 244-45)
He continues by saying God relates to our existing in time:
The fact that God is not bound by time does not mean that he is not conscious of the succession of points of time. He knows what is now occurring in human experience. He is aware that events occur in a particular order, and in biblical accounts, he knows what has already transpired, what is now the case, and what is yet in the future. (pp. 245)
Reformed theologian John M. Frame reminds of the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek words (New Testament):
The terms eternity and eternal in Scripture represent several Hebrew (‘ad, ‘olam, qedem) and Greek (aidos, aion, aionios) terms.” He goes on to say that the terms refer can sometimes refer to a finite time or long or endless duration through time. The terms refer mainly to the quality of our life or the punishments that awaits us. (p. 360)
Finally, Norman Geisler, after quoting many biblical verses, concludes:
God not only created the ages, but He was also before the ages. To be before time and to have made time is not to be in time. Therefore, the Bible teaches that is was not a creation in time, but a creation of time that God accomplished at the beginning. The Creator of time can be no more temporal than the Creator of the contingent can be contingent or the Creator of an effect can be an effect Himself (p. 455, emphasis original)
This attribute of perfection means that God is outside created time and is everlasting, without beginning or end, without a succession of moments, one after another, and all things are eternally present before him.
What do the Scriptures say?
I use the NIV. If you would like to see the following verses in many translations or in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
The biblical authors wrote for the people; they did not go deep into philosophical theology, but God’s eternity is still clear in these passages. Only a small sample follows:
There he [Abraham] called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. (Gen. 21:33)
The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, ‘Destroy them!’ (Deut. 33:27)
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Ps. 90:2)
Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity. (Ps. 93:2)
Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. (Is 26:4)
Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. (Is. 46:9-10)
But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. (Jer. 10:10)
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen (Rom. 1:20)
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:17)
… [T]he eternal Spirit … (Heb. 9:14)
In the last verse, the Spirit is also eternal, sharing this attribute with God the Father and God the Son.
God is the eternal Rock (Is. 26:4).
He lives forever (Is. 57:15).
His name endures forever (Ps. 135:13).
He is not bound by time (Ps. 90:4; 2 Pet. 3:8; Rev. 1:8).
He does not change (Ps. 102:27; Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8), which means he is not victimized or brought under the control of time, as if he grows old or deteriorates, as we do.
His love endures forever (2 Chron. 7:3-6; Ps. 136:1-26).
His righteousness endures forever (Ps. 100:5; Ps. 117:2).
His purpose for humanity endures forever or is eternal (Eph. 3:11).
His power is eternal (Rom. 1:20).
His kingdom is eternal (Ps. 145:13; Dan. 4:3; Dan. 4:34).
Christ reigns forever and ever (Rev. 11:15).
God Word is eternal (Ps. 119:89; Is. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:24-25)
If those attributes and things that belong to God last eternally, then he must be eternal—he undergirds and sustains them eternally.
Question and Answer
1.. How does God relate to time?
Wayne Grudem created an interesting illustration (p. 171), which I have adapted for this post.
Here God is above time and exists in eternity (∞), but he sees all events and moments in time equally and vividly. He even sees everything that is happening in our eternal state (the arrow pointing on the left). As Hodge said, above, “With Him [our] duration [in time] is an eternal now.” But God interacts with humans in time and reveals himself to us in time. God is eternal and personal, so we can relate to him.
2.. God made the universe and time, but who made God?
God has no beginning; therefore he has no creator. That teaching of Scripture is clear. Since they asked, let the skeptics come up with evidence and arguments for a “god” existing before the biblical God.
3.. How old is God?
He is infinite and eternal. God never gets older. No one can add a minute, day or year to him. Such is the nature of infinity or eternality.
3.. Will humans exist in time, even in the eternal kingdom?
Yes, we are finite creatures and will experience moments in sequence.
Revelation speaks of time passing in heaven. Nations “walk,” (21:24), and this means one step after another. The twenty-four elders will throw their crowns at Jesus’s feet (4:10), and this means one moment after another, as the crowns go through space. The tree of life will yield fruit each month (22:2). Clearest of all, heaven experienced a half hour of silence (8:1). And we will reign forever and ever (22:5).
How can I know God more deeply?
Let’s first quote a deep Scripture: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). God invites us to have an eternal perspective, as much as he gives us grace to have it.
To answer that question, we have to talk about human pain down here in our earth-bound existence, where accidents and disease and death happen.
In the same chapter, Paul writes that he experienced all sorts of troubles: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9). He too went through tough times.
What happens when we go through awful times? Let’s take the worst example of all—when parents have to bury their young child. They simply have to come to grips with the biblical truth that their child slipped off his earthen “pajamas” (his body) and now has a spiritual body. He lives in the everlasting kingdom. He is happy and joyous and is leaping and playing, and best of all Jesus has welcomed him. Their child is very eager to see his parents in his eternal existence and enjoy their company forever. It would be an eternal disaster if the parents became so bitter against God that they would snub him and never see their child in heaven.
Their child is currently experiencing the “eternal glory that far outweighs” all his former troubles and his parents’ present troubles. Their child is more alive and happier than he could ever be on earth.
Here is sound advice. Paul writes: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
One more verse immediately after v. 18: “For we know that if the earthly tent [our body] we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Cor. 5:1).
Our human bodies can be destroyed with disease and accidents and death, but never our heavenly bodies.
Therefore, stay close to God and keep an eternal perspective, and then we will not get bitter against the eternal God who loves us. This earthly existence is not final.
ARTICLES IN THE SERIES “DO I REALLY KNOW GOD?”
Do I Really Know God? He Is Eternal