Sunday, August 27, 2023

Post #11 The Doctrine of God - The Attribute Of Divine Eternity - God Without Beginning, Without End


Note: the above image is found in Wayne Grudem's "Systematic Theology", 2nd edition, page 204. 


    So far in our series on "The Doctrine of God", we have explored God's existence, knowability, and introduced His attributes. We then considered the Divine attribute of independence (a.k.a "Divine Aseity), which readers may review here  and God's attribute of Divine unchangeability (a.k.a "immutability") here 
   What we want to do today is explore God's Divine eternity. 

Exploring the four senses of talking about Divine eternity, along with some Biblical passages

       God's Divine eternity has to do with how His infinite being and life operate with respect to His other attributes, as well as in relationship to time itself. As with the other posts in this series, my aim is to attempt to sharpen our understanding of what God is in His being, how He is in His attributes, and who He is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

    As we work on improving our clarity of "Divine eternity", we need to do so step-by-step. We can put together an outline of Divine eternity by noting four main senses.

The first way or sense of Divine eternity is noting how there is no succession of moments in God. 

    Theologian Wayne Grudem gives the following crisp definition of "Divine eternity" in his "Systematic Theology, 2nd edition, page 199,

"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 He acts in time".

    This notion of "no succession of moments" in God constitutes the first part of understanding God's Divine eternity. Theologian Francis Turretin offers a rich yet succinct three-part summary of this concept of "eternity" in his "Enlenctic Theology", volume 1, page 202,

“The infinity of God in reference to duration is called eternity to which these three things are ascribed: (1) that it is without beginning; (2) without end; (3) without succession." 

    We can note that the beginning of Grudem's definition above echoes this core idea of God having no succession of moments in His life, mind, power, or presence. Eternity, in this sense, is foundational to thinking about God (see Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:16-17; 1 Timothy 1:17).

The second sense to understanding Divine eternity is how it relates to God's Divine attributes.
      As we move on, we note again Grudem's definition of eternity in how it pervades all of God's other attributes, such as God's omniscience. Grudem observes, "and He sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time, and He acts in time" (the term "see" here is equivalent to God's knowledge of all things). We could define eternity as: "without beginning, without end, fullness of being without the limitations of time." Passages such as Psalm 90:2; 102:25; Isaiah 57:15; John 1:1-3; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Timothy 6:16; Rev. 4:8 speak to us of God's eternity in this second sense. 

The third sense of Divine eternity has to do with the very life of God Himself in relationship to time.
    To then speak of Divine eternity not only refers to His experience as God (not having successive moments within Himself) but also the way He exercises Himself through His attributes. Hence we have thus far God's experience and activity as God captured by this umbrella attribute of His "Divine eternity". 

      If we then consider a third sense to aid our understanding of God's Divine eternity, we may note the very life of God Himself. Boethius, a 6th century Christian thinker, defines eternity as: 

“the complete, simultaneous and perfect possession of everlasting life.” 

    To say God is eternal means He alone has complete possession and comprehension of what He is, who He is (as Father, Son, and Spirit), and how He expresses His existence in His attributes. You and I do not have a handle on our entire life. I have memories here and there of my past, and I have this present moment, yet I do not know what I will be doing in the next moment. 

The fourth sense of talking about God's Divine eternity has to do with His relationship to time.
    Everything in our universe is either "coming" or "going" from one state of affairs to the next. The qualities of "time and space" were made by God. Time and space itself had a beginning. It started in a particular way and carried forth to another state of affairs. How our world and everything in the universe is related to the eternal God requires us to press more into trying to understand His Divine eternity. 

      The 13th century theology Thomas Aquinas described every created thing as going from a state of "potentiality" (that is, where everything is caused by something else and has the potential to become what it was created to be) to a state of "actuality" (when a created thing reaches its full potential for how it was designed). This describes all things that are time-bound and created. 

    God is different. He alone is "pure act", meaning that in God there is no potential to become a better God. God is God. He is eternal. He never had beginning, and thus never had a past. He never had to "grow up", and certainly never has to wonder about the future as well. God transcends time, which is to say, God operates and persists outside and prior to this space-time universe. Hebrews 1:8 says this of the Divine nature of the Son (quoting from Psalm 102:25-27, which speaks to God's Divine eternity in general),

"But regarding the Son He says, your throne, God, is forever and ever, and the scepter of righteousness is the scepter of His kingdom."

The writer of Hebrews goes on to note further information of God's relationship to time and space in Hebrews 1:10-12,

"And, 'You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; 11 They will perish, but You remain; and they all will wear out like a garment, 12 And like a robe You will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed.'"

    God's eternity (to borrow some from the 5th century writer Augustine) is likened unto a continuous, "eternal now", wherein He equally is Himself and comprehends the past, this current moment, and time yet to come. To put it another way, God operates outside time's constraints, choosing to work within its bounds by His governing sovereignty or providence. Augustine expands on this notion of God's Divine eternity or "eternal now"  in His book "Confessions", Book 11, chapter 13, section 16,

"Thou precedest all times past, and survivest all future times, because they are future, and when they have come they will be past; but You are the same, and Your years shall have no end. Your years neither go nor come; but ours both go and come, that all may come. All Your years stand at once since they do stand; nor were they when departing excluded by coming years, because they pass not away; but all these of ours shall be when all shall cease to be. Your years are one day, and Your day is not daily, but today". 

    What the quote above does is bring in the first sense we spoke of earlier (God having no succession of moments), the second sense of eternity (how His eternity relates to other attributes), the third sense (how eternity speaks of God possessing the entirety of His life and activity), and the fourth sense (God being and operating independently of time and being able to work within time, all the while remaining the same).  

How a Divinely timeless eternal God can work and interract with all He has made. 
    Such a God is not limited to the boundaries of time, whether prior to the existence of time and space itself, or with reference to whatever transpires within it. Some theologians assume that a Divine eternal God cannot interract with a time-bound world, since God's Divine timelessness outside of time is embedded within the classical definition of Divine eternity. Some observations from Scripture can serve to show the fallacy of such a reservation. 

     For starters, God's eternal decree of this actual universe and history is why He knows all things and thus can freely interract with us in time, even though He operates and carries on His life independently of it. We see this point in how the Bible talks of God freely acting and deciding things "before time" (Isaiah 46:9-10; Ephesians 1:1-5; 2 Timothy 1:9; Jude 1:25). Such a "decree" means that God freely chose from all the potential versions of history He knew about in His infinite knowledge. Since God is eternal, He didn't have to guess what the future of our actual world would be, since He knew it by virtue of His decretive choice to bring it forth from His mind into a reality of its own (i.e. the doctrine of creation out of nothing). 

     In addition to God's decree (Psalm 115; Isaiah 46:9-10; Ephesians 1:11), we can note quickly a few other examples in Scripture that alerts us to the God of eternity being able to freely move and interract with His time-bound creatures. Take for instance some of the Biblical covenants (see Jeremiah 33:20; Genesis 2:17; 8:22; 15; 2 Samuel 7:13-16; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 9:1-5); the incarnation of the Son of God (Matthew 1:21-23; John 1:14; Colossians 2:9); and the working of the Holy Spirit (Psalm 104; John 16:8-12). These illustrate how this eternal God can and does work within our world.  

Clarifying in our minds Divine eternity and its four senses
    We started with Wayne Grudem's definiton of eternity, "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 He acts in time". We discovered four senses in which we can talk about God's Divine eternity as we build our way to a better understanding (not comprehension) of this attribute. 

1. Divine eternity means God is without sucession of moments.

2. Divine eternity shows why the other attributes of God are without limitation, beginning, or ending.

3. Divine eternity includes the notion that God is in entire possession of His entire life, being, and thus attributes. 

4. Divine eternity entails God being outside of time and yet being able to act within it. 

Meditating on God's Divine eternity raises one's awareness of God.

    Author A.W. Tozer once remarked about God’s Divine eternity and the supernatural realm’s relevance to our lives:2. “A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it. God Himself is here waiting our response to His Presence. This eternal world will come alive to us the moment we begin to reckon upon its reality.”

Giving time to think about God’s eternity drives us to prayer and worship. 

    When we pray, we ought to think of prayer as “the greatest adventure”, since we are treading into the very foothills of God’s eternal presence. We could say far more, but let us live in light of this truth that God, is, eternal. In our next post we will look at the Divine attribute of omnipresence. 

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