The Eternal God
Minister: Revd Dr. Ian Tutton
‘…He has put eternity in man’s mind…’ (Ecclesiastes 3, 11)
We are creatures, created beings. As such we exist, we live according to the constraints of the created order; the most fundamental of which are space and time themselves to be understood as ‘spacetime’. The creation is vast, and every horizon is expanding to such an extent that it is barely comprehensible. We talk of an instant when it all began, ‘a big bang’ moment. And when was this? Scientists tell us it was at least 13 thousand million years ago. From this, they extrapolate that at present the edge of the universe is 46.5 billion light years, i.e. the distance light travels during that time, given that light itself travels at 186,000 miles per second, from the earth, that distance understood as the radius of a sphere, and of course it is continually expanding. Sooner or later, apparently, the expansion will cease, but that is quite some way off into the future, or will it? Is the universe finite, or infinite? This is the ‘world’ we inhabit, the ‘world’ with which we are blessed with the intellectual capacity to observe, to describe, to make sense of, to understand, to predict and it is a most wondrous ‘world.’ But because we are part of it, this intellectual capacity of which we speak cannot take us beyond it. This is why for so many it is better to conclude that it is as it is and this is all there is. Yet religion dares us to be different. Religion dares us to believe in God. To believe in a God whose existence cannot be fathomed by reason, a God of whom we can know nothing, a God who by faith we can relate to in a way that is unique, quite unlike any other relationship into which we might enter. In order to contrast the creation from its creator, we use the term ‘eternal’ – ‘that which is without beginning or end.’
“Eternity is said not to be an extension of time but an absence of time.”
(Graham Greene, The End of the Affair).
God, to be God must be ‘eternal’. The Christian faith contends that the eternal God has entered into time and space in and through Jesus the Christ, His life, death and resurrection that we, creatures of time and space, might relate directly to the eternal God. The giving of the Holy Spirit is the way the eternal God remains in constant touch with the created order. Eternity is not the same as infinity – that which, potentially, goes on forever and forever, a sort of everlastingness – and yes the Psalmist tells us that, ‘From everlasting to everlasting You are God’, he is reminding us that for as long as there has been and for as long as there will be those to whom God might relate, God will be willing to enter into such a faith based relationship. But how then are we to describe the relationship that each one of us, creatures of spacetime, has with the eternal God? Eternity And spacetime intersect in the present moment. From within spacetime God is to be perceived as the ‘ever present’ God – ‘an ever present help in trouble’ – ‘tell them “I am” sent you’, was God’s word to Moses, spoken out of the burning bush.
“For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)
or as one of the early church theologians so aptly described it,
“How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.”(Augustine of Hippo:Confessions).
To God every moment in time is a present moment. God is present in every moment. God does not know the future because the future is not yet. From this somewhat ‘dry as dust’ philosophical construct emerges that which is mot crucial to our appreciation of what it means to live life in relationship to and with God. God does not know what will happen to us in the future. But when it happens God will be there. And so, most poignantly of all, God does not know when any of us will die, the circumstances surrounding our death, whatever but faith demands that we be sure of this, that when the time comes, God will be there in that moment as God would have been there in every other moment of out lives. Or take what still is the most shocking moment in our recent history – what we refer to as 9/11 – God did not know that the planes would be crashed into the Twin Towers, but at the moment of impact God was both on the plane and in the Towers. We are not to regard God as being on a par with Madam whoever, the fortune teller at the local fete who, if we cross her palm with silver will tell us what our future holds. Foresight is only possible with the benefit of hindsight. Predestination is to be understood as God’s determination that those who live the life of faith, those who die in faith will receive their reward, a reward that was predestined for all who so lived regardless of who they were; whether they came to the party early, or whether they came late. The Lamb’s Book of Life is Chronological, not Alphabetical. So then, what of eternal life as spoken of in the Bible? The writer of Ecclesiastes put it most succinctly, ‘God has put eternity in our minds’…John records Jesus has having said that ‘This is eternal Life, that they know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.’
“If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration, but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein).
And so, eternal life, is life lived in the present moment, a way of living only made possible if we are in a relationship with the eternal God. ‘Now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation’…right here, right now…don’t put off until tomorrow what needs be done today…there is no tomorrow with God.