Unbound by Time: God’s Eternity

Having the right perspective on time is important, both in ease and in a trial. In both seasons, it is important to see that time is finite. We need to treasure the joys and endure the trials with patience. Ultimately, to think rightly about time and to have the right perspective on the seasons of life we need the perspective of eternity. If we do not understand eternity—which is an attribute of God Himself—we will become over-immersed in our finite joys and overburdened by our time-bound trials.

Psalm 90 opens with a resounding affirmation that the God of Israel is the eternal God. The God whom His people have known for generations is the God who has always been, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (v. 2). God’s eternal being stands before and above the creation itself, and for Moses (who wrote the psalm), it is the eternity of God that gives the proper perspective on the brevity of life and on the suffering it brings. Having remembered the eternity of God, Moses turns to the brevity of the life of humanity, “The years of our life are seventy, or even because of strength eighty, yet their span is but toil and trouble” (v. 10). Moses then prays for the right perspective on time. A perspective, he says, that brings wisdom: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (v. 12) 

At its core, God’s eternity means that He is unbound and unlimited to time. You and I are time-bound creatures, always living between an unchangeable past and an unknowable future. We are unlikely to often think about it, but it is essential to who we are. That is not so for God. Time is part of His creation, and as Maker of all things, He cannot be bound by time.1 Consider how the book of Genesis opens: “In the beginning God created . . .” It makes sense to assume that “the beginning” to which the writer refers is the beginning of time. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Gen. 1:3–5) It takes days and nights, light and darkness, and the rotation of the earth for time to be counted. Time, as we understand it, only began with the creation events recorded here. And so, if time itself is part of God’s creation, then His existence as Creator must stand above and before the creation. His eternal existence must be timeless itself.

The idea of time is something we struggle to grasp. By that, I do not mean that some people are bad at timekeeping or poor at punctuality, but rather that all of us struggle to understand the notion of time and to articulate what it means. But as time-bound creatures, we struggle all the more with the notion of eternity. We cannot imagine any kind of experience or reality that is not defined by time. The very concept almost overwhelms our rational capacity. Yet that is exactly who God is: He is eternal. This is why God’s eternity is central to our understanding of Him and why it is at the heart of His revelation of Himself. When Moses asked God how he should refer to Him before Pharaoh, the Lord said to him, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). God is the Great I AM. There is nothing to add, nothing to take away. He is the absolute existence—no development, no change, no growth, no reduction. There is nothing relative about God. He is in no sense constrained. He simply is. Therefore, when God came to earth and entered human history through the incarnation, Jesus the Son of God declared this same identity for Himself. John recorded it clearly in his gospel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Abraham had a beginning, but before him, says Jesus, “I am.” Absolute existence unbound by time.

Part of the reality of being time-bound creatures is that we experience everything in a progression. We move from one moment to another, encountering new things and new experiences all the time, and changing all the while as we pass through time. But it is not like that for the unchanging, eternal God. He, at once, holds time in its totality and sees history as a whole. God stands above time as the eternal One and as its Creator, but it is also true that He interacts with us in time. He is present and involved in the world, engaging with us as time-bound creatures. More than that, in the person of His Son, has entered into human history. God speaks in history; reveals Himself in history; makes promises, gives warnings, and responds to the sin and repentance of His people. He is patient in the unfolding of His will. All that is true, but at the very same time, He remains the eternal One.

C.S. Lewis writes of the “surprise” of the passing of time, “Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. (‘How time flies! Fancy John being grown-up and married? I can hardly believe it!’) In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something in us which is not temporal.” Most of us have experienced surprise at the passing of time. Something within us even mourns it. It means getting older, it means change, and it often means loss. The Scriptures tell us why we feel this way. We find the passing of time hard because “he has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11). We feel we were not made to die and we long for eternity. We long for a life that lasts and for a reality that will endure beyond this passing world and its variation, loss, and decay. And the answer to this longing is not found in the sports car or plastic surgery of the midlife crisis. It is not found in success or wealth or fame. It is not found anywhere in this world. It is found only in the eternal God who holds time in His hand. You and I had a beginning, and we are bound by time. But here is what we can do in the face of our temporality: we can know and relate to the eternal God who has the power to give us life that will not end. Jesus tells us that eternal life is tied to knowing the eternal God. “And this is eternal life,” he says, “that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). 

Adapted from God Alone by Jonathan Griffiths (© 2023). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.