Dr. Richard L. Strauss
October 7, 1979
A bus trip through modern Israel will transport you back more than 4000 years and give you a glimpse of an unusual ancient phenomenon: the black goatskin tents of Arab desert dwellers who were called Bedouin. Except for a periodic pick-up truck or tractor, their life-style has remained largely unchanged all those years—the same basic life-style as that of a Godly old nomad named Abraham.
In Genesis 12, God uprooted Abraham from his ancestral home of Ur near the shores of the Persian Gulf. Abraham wandered in the will of God (and sometimes out of the will of God) from one place to another, dwelling in tents, facing one adversity after another, never sure what tomorrow would bring. Life was filled with uncertainty and insecurity for Abraham. What he longed for was the assurance that something in life was permanent (Hebrews 11:9-10).
It was near a well in the town of Beersheba in the southernmost point of Israel that he found what he was looking for. There in Beersheba, God revealed Himself to Abraham, using a name for Himself He had never used before: El Olam, which means the everlasting, eternal God (Genesis 21:33). What an encouragement it was to learn that in spite of the unsettled, unstable and transitory character of his life, the God he knew and loved, who controlled every circumstance, had been around from eternity past, and planned to be around for eternity to come. He is the everlasting God.
Another Godly Old Testament character named Moses lived to the ripe old age of 120—considerably more than the insurance tables would predict for him if he were alive today. But as he neared the end of the road, he became deeply impressed with the impermanence and brevity of life on earth. He found his mind turning more and more to that same truth God had revealed to Abraham years before.
In fact, Moses wrote a Psalm about it—probably the clearest statement of God's eternity found in the Bible.
Lord, You have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or You brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting You are God.
(Psalm 90:1-2, NIV)
Other Biblical writers picked up the theme and we find it repeated throughout the pages of the Bible. Isaiah called Him the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15). Paul called Him the King eternal, immortal (1 Timothy 1:17).
The eternal God.
What does it mean to be eternal, and what should it mean to us that our God is eternal? What difference does it make?
We're going to learn as we progress through our study of God’s attributes that everything God is, He is to a perfect and ultimate degree. In other words, He is infinite—without limitation and without termination. Eternity is considered by some to be simply God's infinity in relation to time. True, but it involves more than that.
God is not only without beginning or end, He is also free from any succession of events. That’s difficult for our minds to grasp. Furthermore, He is sufficient in Himself because He is eternal.
Some of us haven’t thought about that. But if we really want to know God and enjoy His fellowship, it would help if we understood these truths which He has revealed about Himself.
1. God Is without Beginning or End
Moses said, "...from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."
Let's talk about that first part: "from everlasting." Periodically children will come to me and say, "Pastor Strauss, where did God come from?" It's a logical question. We've all been taught to believe that everything comes from someplace. Every physical object has a maker. Every effect has a cause.
Somebody made my watch. Somebody built my house. Somebody was even responsible for bringing me into existence, humanly speaking: a man and a woman I call my father and mother.
We believers teach our children from their earliest days of understanding that the ultimate Builder and Maker of all things is God. He created the universe, of which every other tangible thing we know about is a part. The next question is a natural one—we set them up for it so they really can't help but ask it: "Who made God?"
The answer is difficult for them to accept. They have no frame of reference for it, nothing to relate it to. They've never heard an answer like this before. It leaves them puzzled and confused at first. But there is no other possible answer. Nobody made God. He always was.
The Bible never tries to prove His existence nor explain where He came from. It simply assumes that He is there and that He always was there. He had no beginning. When we open the first page of our Bibles and begin to read, it merely says, "In the beginning, God..." He’s just there!
And look at what He is doing: creating the heavens and the earth. He existed before all things and Himself brought into existence everything else that has ever been (see Colossians 1:16-17, speaking incidentally of God the Son). If anybody existed before God and was responsible for making God, then that somebody would be God—and we would have to start our questioning all over: "Who made Him?" The buck has to stop somewhere.
What we are really saying is that because God is eternal, He is self-existent, the only being there is who does not owe His existence to somebody else. He is uncaused. He is independent of any other being or cause. He is over and above the whole chain of causes and effects. He is uncreated, unoriginated, without beginning, owing His existence to no one outside of Himself. As Jesus put it, He has life in Himself (John 5:26). And were it any other way, He would not be God.
Even our common sense tells us that behind every other cause and effect ultimately there has to be One who Himself is uncaused and self-existent. The Israelites in their Egyptian bondage, feeling oppressed and forgotten, still knew it had to be that way, that behind all their caused circumstances, somewhere, somehow, there had to be a God who Himself was uncaused, who could make sense out of what seemed to be senseless suffering. They knew that.
When God told Moses to go back to Egypt and deliver them, Moses hedged. "Who shall I say sent me?" he asked.
"God said to Moses, 'I am who I am.' This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I am has sent me to you'" (Exodus 3:14).
When the children of Israel would hear that it was the self-existent God who simply is, they would recognize Him and follow Moses' leadership. That would make sense to them.
Not everyone is that sensible, however. Some philosophers and scientists reject an eternal self-existent God because they can’t explain all His ways or put Him in a test tube and examine Him. But that's just a subterfuge. If they could explain Him fully or examine Him scientifically, then He wouldn’t be God and they know it.
Their real problem is pride. To believe in the eternal, self-existent, uncaused cause, we must admit that everything and everyone else owes its existence to Him, including us, and that we are totally dependent on Him for everything—right down to life and breath itself. Egotistical, self-sufficient, self-made men are not willing to admit that. They like to believe that they don't need anybody but themselves.
They need to be reminded that the God who has no beginning also has no end. "From everlasting, to everlasting." And He has brought some other things into existence that will have no end, such as angels, and human souls. That's great news for believers. We shall someday enter fully into the eternal life we possess in Christ. All time pressures will be gone and we shall be able to relax with total joy and delight in the presence of the eternal God who made us for Himself. People who are rightly related to an eternal God will obviously enjoy Him eternally.
"For this God is our God forever and ever" (Psalm 48:14a).
But eternity is not such good news for the unbeliever. The eternal God who made people with no end also made some places with no end. One of them was prepared especially for the devil and his angels, a place of "everlasting fire" (Matthew 25:41), a place of torment "day and night, forever and ever" (Revelation 20:10).
And while God didn't make it for people (He made it for Satan), unbelieving people who reject His gracious offer of salvation through faith in His Son will spend eternity there (Revelation 20:15, Revelation 21:8). There is no way to escape it, other than bowing before the eternal, self-existent God admitting that we are unworthy of His favor, acknowledging our sin and our need for His forgiveness, and accepting the salvation He provided when He sent His Son to the cross. We are totally dependent on Him, totally at His mercy. It could not be otherwise with a God who has no beginning or end.
There is one other thing about eternity that we need to understand. You see, one characteristic of time is the succession of events. God is free from the succession of events.
2. God Is Free from the Succession of Events
One of the basic characteristics of time is the succession of events: past, present, future; yesterday, today, tomorrow. We are bound to a fleeting succession of present moments. The ones before are but a memory with lingering results, and the ones to come are still an expectation which we cannot fully predict. We measure these succeeding moments by the rotation of heavenly bodies. We use clocks and watches to help us, and on some occasion such as a hundred yard dash in the Olympic games, be break the succession of moments down into hundredths of a second. But we cannot escape the limitations of time—our bondage to the succession of moments and the events that fill them.
Need to understand that eternity is more than the endless extension of time backward and forward. For convenience we speak of eternity past and eternity future, but actually eternity supersedes time. It is a mode of existence that is not bound by this succession. There is no past, present and future with God. He created time and He can work within its framework, but He Himself is over and above it. He lives in one eternal NOW. Our tomorrows are just as real and present to Him as our yesterdays and todays because He has already experienced them.
Any human illustration of this truth will break down somewhere, but let's try one. Imagine yourself watching the Rose Parade on a street corner in Pasadena. You view the parade one float and one band at a time—a succession of events. When it is finished you can look back and say, "I saw the parade." Now imagine yourself in the Goodyear blimp, viewing the parade from start to finish. You are aware of the sequence but you can see the end from the beginning. It's all part of your consciousness at once, rather than merely a succession of events. That's the way God can view our lives, and, in fact, all of human history from the beginning to the end of time.
Look at Isaiah 46:9-10a. I'm going to read these verses in a few weeks when we talk about the sovereignty of God, but they have relevance right here.
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.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, "My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please."
You see, God doesn't acquire His knowledge like we do, from a succession of events (float by float, band by band). He knows the future because it's part of His consciousness right now. He has already lived it. It is eternally present with Him.
That's a great truth for believer to rest in. God knows all our tomorrows. There are no surprises with Him. We get lots of surprises in life. But none with God. He already knows the pleasures that are in store for us. He knows the tragedies we will face. He knows the sins we are going to commit, and those sins already grieve Him. But He has a plan that will use everything He knows for good. Knowing a God like that not only makes us want to please Him, but it helps us face our future with confidence and courage.
There is one more element of an eternal being we need to discuss. If He is eternal and therefore existed before time and space, before any created thing or created being, then obviously He can exist without anything or anybody outside Himself. We know He can because He did. God doesn't need anything or anybody. He is in Himself, and has within His own being, all He needs. He is not only self-existent, He is totally self-sufficient.
That's not true of any other living organism. We need things outside ourselves: air, food, and water, for example. Not God. If He needed anybody or anything outside Himself, then He wouldn't be complete, and if He were not complete, He could hardly be God. But He is complete, and He needs absolutely nothing.
Let's look at what the Apostle Paul told us in his famous sermon in Athens from Mars Hill:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
It came as somewhat of a shock to me when I realized that God didn’t need me. And you might as well face it, too. God doesn't need you either. Doesn't need our worship, our fellowship, or even our witness. Now I'm not saying you shouldn't worship Him, or fellowship with Him, or tell others about Him. I'm saying He doesn't need you to do those things.
He loves us and He wants us. He wants to use us. In His grace He wants us to enjoy the excitement of being part of His eternal plan. But He doesn’t need us. He could reach the world in some other way if He so chose.
He didn't create us because He needed us. He made us because He decided in His sovereign wisdom and good pleasure that making us would be the best way to demonstrate His glory and grace (Isaiah 43:7). He doesn't need us—we need Him. We are incomplete and unfulfilled apart from a personal relationship with Him. We find true joy and satisfaction only by allowing Him to have His way in our lives. We need God.
Only God is complete in Himself. Only God is self-sufficient.
That has application to our lives as well. If He is complete and has all He needs, and He has offered to come into our lives and share Himself with us, then we can find all that we need in Him. That is exactly what Paul said about Him in Colossians:
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.
Paul is talking about Christ: God the Son. He is eternal, too, you know. Micah 5:2 says Christ's origins are from ancient times. And He wants us to find our completeness in Him. But how foolish we are. We scrape and claw and fret and stew, and cry and flatter and manipulate a thousand different ways to get other people to meet our needs. We want $100,000 in the bank. Or we want that person who doesn’t love us to love us right now. But God alone is all we need. We are complete in Him.
Well, that's our eternal God: without beginning or end, free from the succession of events, and sufficient in Himself. The eternal life He possesses is far more than just an endless extension of life in time as we know it. It is life above time—a different quality of life, boundless life, all-encompassing life, life marked by infinite richness, completeness and satisfaction. And God offers that life to us; we can have it right now. We shall enjoy it in its fullness when we enter heaven's glory, but the fact remains: believers are the present possessors of God's eternal life because God's eternal Son lives in them (see 1 John 5:11-12a).
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Does God’s Son live in you? It’s a matter of admitting your sin and placing your trust in Christ as the only One who could pay sin’s penalty. If we’ve done that, then we know an eternal God, and we have eternal life. Not just an extension of life but a different kind of life. And we have something far bigger and better to live for than the temporal things of this world. We can live with eternity’s values in view.
Mankind is striving for immortality. Politicians want to etch their names in the history books. Athletes want to memorialize their feats in the record books. Businessmen want to build a financial empire that endures for generations. But it seldom works that way. Politicians are forgotten; records are broken; money has a way of evaporating. It’s futile to live for the things of earth. Only what we build into people’s souls (our own and others) will endure for eternity.
But some people have higher ideals than those. They want to make the world a better place in which to live, to improve the quality of life on earth. That’s commendable. But God says that someday this whole world is going up in smoke (2 Peter 3:10). It’s futile to live for things of earth. Only what we build into our souls and those of other men and women endure for eternity.
If God is eternal, then there is no endeavor on earth that has higher priority than knowing Him, loving Him, worshipping Him, serving Him, and sharing Him with others. That would be the most profitable way to spend our fleeting moments on earth. That has eternal value. As Moses put it when he contemplated the eternity of God:
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Let's ask God to help us do that, shall we? Let's bow together in prayer.
Father, life is so very short. And eternity is so very different and permanent. God, remind us of the brevity of life and the meaning of eternity. Help us to live our lives with divine wisdom, pouring ourselves into that which counts for eternity.
I pray that if there are some who have never acknowledged their sin, who have never put their trust in Jesus and His sacrifice for their sins on Calvary, that this concept of eternity would make them consider the brevity of their own lives and cause them to put their trust in the eternal God. Help them acknowledge their dependence on you for the forgiveness of their sins. Call them to be born anew. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
God Is Eternal
Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.
Psalm 90:2 NIV
Continue to AT-05: I Change Not