A bus trip through modern Israel will transport you back more than four thousand years and give you a glimpse of an unusual ancient phenomenon—the black goatskin tents of Arab desert dwellers known as Bedouins. Except for a periodic pickup truck, tractor, or television antenna, what you see has remained largely unchanged through the centuries. It is the same basic lifestyle as that of a godly old nomad named Abraham.
Uprooted from his ancestral home in Ur near the shores of the Persian Gulf, he wandered from one place to another, dwelling in tents, facing one adversity after another, never sure of what the next day would bring. His life was filled with uncertainty and insecurity, and he longed for something permanent (cf. Hebrews 11:9-10). It was near a well in the town of Beersheba that he found what he was looking for. There God revealed Himself by the name of El Olam, which means “the eternal God,” the first time that name is mentioned in Scripture (Genesis 21:33). What an encouragement it was for Abraham to learn that in spite of the unsettled, unstable, and transitory character of his life, the God whom he knew and loved, who controlled every circumstance of life, had been around from eternity past and would be around for eternity to come.
Another godly Old Testament person 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 his life, he became deeply impressed with the impermanence and brevity of life on this earth. He found his mind turning more and more to the same truth God had revealed to Abraham years before. He wrote a psalm about it, probably the clearest statement of God’s eternity found in the Bible.
LORD, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were born, Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God (Psalm 90:1-2).
Other Biblical writers picked up the same theme and we find it repeated throughout the pages of Scripture. Isaiah called God “the high and exalted One who lives forever” (Isaiah 57:15). Paul referred to Him as “the King eternal” (1 Timothy 1:17). What does that mean? What are the implications of God’s eternity? What difference should it make to us that our God is eternal?
We shall learn as we progress through the 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. Some consider eternity to be simply infinity in relation to time. That is true, but it seems to involve more than that. An eternal God is not only without beginning or end, but is also free from the succession of events and is totally sufficient in and of Himself. If we really want to know God and enjoy His fellowship it would be helpful for us to understand these truths which He has revealed about Himself.
Moses said, “. . . from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” Let us examine the first part of that statement, “from everlasting.” Periodically, children will come to me and ask, “Where did God come from?” We have 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. Humanly speaking, somebody was even responsible for bringing me into existence, a man and a woman I call my father and mother. We 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. They are surely going to ask it. They really cannot help themselves. “Who made God?”
The answer is difficult for them to accept. They have no frame of reference to which they can relate it. They have never heard an answer like this before. It may leave them puzzled and confused at first, but there is no other possible explanation. Nobody made God. He always was. The Bible never tries to prove His existence or explain where He came from. It merely assumes that He is there and that He has always been there. He had no beginning.
When we open the first page of the Bible, we read simply, “In the beginning God.” He is just there! And look at what He is doing—creating the heavens and the earth. He existed before all things and He Himself brought everything else into existence. If anybody existed before God and was responsible for making God, then He would be God, and we would have to begin our questioning all over again. Who made Him?
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 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 Himself. He has life in and of Himself. As Jesus put it, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26). Were it any other way He would not be God. An eternal being must be self-existent.
Even our common sense tells us that ultimately, behind every other cause and effect, there has to be One who Himself is uncaused and self-existent. The Israelites in their Egyptian bondage, feeling oppressed, forgotten, and hopeless, knew that in spite of their distress it had to be so, 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. When God told Moses to go back to Egypt and deliver them from their bondage, Moses hedged. “Who shall I say sent me?” he asked. “And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM; and He said, Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). When the children of Israel would hear that the One who sent Moses 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 cannot put Him in a test tube and examine Him or explain all His ways. But that is just subterfuge. If they could examine Him scientifically or explain Him fully, then He would not be God, and they know that full well. Their major problem is pride. To believe in an eternal, self-existent, uncaused cause, we must admit that everything else owes its existence to Him. And that would include us. We too are then 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 they need nobody but themselves.
Maybe they need to be reminded that the God who has no beginning also has no end. He is not only “from everlasting” but also “to everlasting” (cf. Psalm 102:25-27). He has brought some other things into existence as well that will have no end, such as angels and human souls. That is great news for believers. We shall someday enter fully into the eternal life we already 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. As the Psalmist put it, “For this God is our God for ever and ever” (Psalm 48:14 KJV).
But eternity is not such good news for the unbeliever. The eternal God who made people with no end also made places with no end. One of them was prepared especially for the devil and his angels, a place of “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41), a place of “torment day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). While God did not make this place for people, unbelieving people who reject His gracious offer of salvation will spend eternity there. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). There is no way to escape it other than by 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 cannot be otherwise with a God who has no beginning or end.
One of the basic characteristics of time is the sequence of events: past, present, and future; yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We are bound to the fleeting succession of present moments. The moments before are but a memory with lingering results, and the moments 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 to help us and on some occasions, such as a hundred meter dash in the Olympic games, we 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.
We 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 in actuality eternity supersedes time. It is a mode of existence that is not bound by this succession. There are no such things as 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 it might be helpful to 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 on your experience 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 is all part of your consciousness at once rather than merely a succession of events. That is the way God views our lives and, in fact, all of human history from the beginning to the end of time.
Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done (Isaiah 46:9-10a).
He does not acquire His knowledge from a succession of events as we do, (float by float, band by band). He knows the end as thoroughly as the beginning because He has already lived it. It is eternally present with Him.
This is a truth for believers to rest in. God knows all our tomorrows. There are no surprises with Him. We may experience a great many surprises in life, but there are none with God. He already knows the pleasures that are in store for us. He knows the tragedies we shall face. He even knows the sins we shall commit and He is already grieved over them. But He has a plan that will work them all together for good. Knowing a God like that not only helps us want to please Him, but it helps us face our future with confidence and courage. God is going to be there tomorrow, whatever it holds, with the next page of our lives open, ready to reveal the next step He wants us to take in the perfect plan He has arranged for us.
There is at least one more element of an eternal being that we need to discuss. Since He existed before time and space, before any created thing or created being, then obviously He can exist without anything or anybody outside of Himself. We know He can do it because He did it. He existed when there was nothing else in existence. God does not need anything or anybody. He is totally self-sufficient. He is in Himself and has within His own being all that He needs.
That is not true of any other living organism. For example, we need things outside ourselves, things such as air, food, and water. Not God! If He needed anybody or anything outside Himself then He would not be complete, and if He were not complete He could hardly be God. But He is complete and He needs absolutely nothing. When Paul preached to the philosophers in Athens he declared, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24-25). God needs nothing outside of Himself.
It came as somewhat of a shock to me when I first realized that God did not need me. And you might as well face it too. God does not need you. He does not need our worship, our fellowship, or even our witness. He loves us and He wants us. In His grace He desires to use us and allow us to experience the satisfaction and excitement of being part of His eternal plan. But He does not need us. He did not create us because He needed us, but rather because He decided in His sovereign wisdom and good pleasure that creating us would be the best way to demonstrate His glory and grace (cf. Isaiah 43:7). That is no affront to our worth. Loving us and wanting us gives us more significance and security than needing us could ever provide. Rather than God needing us, we need Him. We are incomplete and unfulfilled apart from a personal relationship with Him. We can find true meaning only when we allow Him to have His proper place in our lives. We need God, but only God is complete in Himself.
God’s self-sufficiency has practical application to our lives. If He possesses everything needful, and He has offered to come into our lives and share Himself with us, then obviously we can find all that we need in Him. That is exactly what the Apostle Paul stated about Him. Speaking of God the Son, he said, “For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete” (Colossians 2:9-10). Jesus Christ is the God-man, and thus is eternal as well. The prophet Micah declared,
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity (Micah 5:2).
The child who was born in a Bethlehem stable was the Son who existed from all eternity complete and self-sufficient. And we can find our completeness in Him. How foolish we are to scrape, claw, fret, stew, cry, flatter, and manipulate a thousand different ways to get other people to meet our needs when the God who dwells within us in the person of His Son is all that we need. We are complete in Him.
Well, there He is—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 an endless extension of life in time as we know it. It is a different quality of life, boundless life, all-encompassing life, life marked by infinite richness, completeness, and satisfaction. And it is ours to enjoy, now and forever, through the person of His Son. “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 John 5:11-12).
Does God’s Son live in us? It is a matter of admitting our sin and placing our trust in Jesus Christ as the only one who can pay sin’s penalty. If we have done that, then we know an eternal God and we possess eternal life. We have something far bigger and better to live for than the temporal things in this world. We can live in the light of eternity’s values.
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, and businessmen want to build a financial empire that will endure for generations. But it seldom works that way. Politicians are forgotten, records are broken, and money has a strange way of evaporating. It is futile to live for the things of earth. Only what we build into people’s souls, our own and others, will endure for eternity.
Some people have higher ideals and nobler goals than mere fame or fortune. They want to make the world a better place in which to live, to improve the quality of life on earth. That is commendable. But God has warned us that this entire world will eventually be consumed by fire (cf. 2 Peter 3:10). It seems futile to live for the things of earth when someday they will all be destroyed. It bears repeating: only what we build into people’s souls, our own and others, will endure for eternity. If God is eternal then no endeavor on earth has higher priority than knowing Him, loving Him, worshiping 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.
Sit down right now, while it is fresh on your mind, and write out some goals for your life that reflect your knowledge of God’s eternality.