The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God
May 15, 2012
by Peter Amsterdam
The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God
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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction)
God’s eternality is another aspect of His essential nature. God is eternal; He existed before the creation of the universe, and thus before time was created. God is without beginning and without end. As creatures who live in a world of time in which one event follows the next in succession, it’s impossible for us to fully comprehend existence without time. But God, being the Creator, existed before He created time and therefore isn’t limited by time.
Eternity is a duration without beginning and without end, without sooner and later, a “permanent now.” The essence of eternity is the absolute lack of succession.
There are numerous verses which express God’s timelessness in language that creatures of time can use to express God’s “originless, unending duration.” His existence is beyond being forever; He is forever and ever.
The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from His land.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.
Behold, God is great, and we know Him not; the number of His years is unsearchable.
To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
When God revealed His name to Moses by saying “I AM WHO I AM,” the implication is a constant present, that God constantly is. Jesus used similar language when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” He was understood by those listening to Him to be saying that He was eternal, and thus was God, and that understanding is seen in the hearers’ response.
“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.
Theologian Wayne Grudem gives the following explanation to show God’s eternal existence.
The fact that God never began to exist can also be concluded from the fact that God created all things, and that He Himself is an immaterial spirit. Before God made the universe, there was no matter, but then He created all things. The study of physics tells us that matter and time and space must all occur together: if there is no matter, there can be no space or time either. Thus before God created the universe, there was not “time,” at least not in the sense of a succession of moments one after another. Therefore when God created the universe He also created time. When God began to create the universe, time began, and there began to be a succession of moments and events one after another. But before there was a universe and before there was time, God always existed, without beginning, and without being influenced by time. And time, therefore, does not have existence in itself, but, like the rest of creation, depends on God’s eternal being and power to keep it existing.
God is the creator of time and is above, or transcends, time. In His being, God is not limited by time’s constraints. He doesn’t live in a continual succession of moments as we do. Time has no effect on Him. He doesn’t grow in knowledge as time passes, as humans do; He knows everything there is to know, and always has. In His being He doesn’t change with time; He doesn’t become more loving or wiser, because He is love and wisdom. (More on this in upcoming articles on God’s omniscience and unchangeableness.)
Our life is divided into a past, present and future, but there is no such division in the life of God. He is the eternal “I am.”
God’s being, His mode of existence, is different than ours, and part of that difference is His transcendence of time or His being unaffected by the flow of time. While we exist in time—with right now being the present moment, which then moves into the past, and with moments to come being the future—to God the past, present, and future are all seen at once.
In his book, What the Bible Says About God the Creator, Jack Cottrell expresses it this way:
To say that God is not limited by time means that He stands outside its flow, that His experience and His consciousness are not restricted to a single present moment as distinguished from past and future. He stands in a sense above time, so that His consciousness embraces the whole of time in a single act of knowing. His knowledge of the past and the future is as real and infallible as His knowledge of the present. This divine transcendence of time is mostly incomprehensible to us, though several illustrations have been suggested.
We may use the illustration of a reel of film. When a film is run through a projector, we see the frames one by one. In a sense this is the way we see events in time as such—one frame at a time. But God from His eternal vantage point can see the whole reel of time in a single moment, as if it were all present to Him at once.
God’s timelessness is expressed in the book of Isaiah. His ability to tell future events was used to challenge the false gods and idols, as it was understood that the only way to accurately predict the future was to already know the future.
The former things I declared of old; they went out from My mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, “My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.” You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known.
I am the Lord; that is My name; My glory I give to no other, nor My praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.
God’s Interaction with Us in Time
God living outside the flow of time, and not being affected by time, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t see events in time or act in time. In God’s being He is eternal, having no beginning or end, and no succession of moments. However, He acts within time when He interacts with the world. Once He created the world, and thus time, His interactions with the world were actions which were connected to time. That is different than time affecting God’s being or God being limited to time.
As pointed out in the verses above, God declares what He’s going to do, and then at some time after that, does what He declared. These are actions which are carried out within time. While God is conscious of the past, present, and future all at once, He chooses to act within time, as the following verse shows:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
James Leo Garret expresses God’s interaction with time in this manner:
God transcends and is not limited by time, but God relates to the temporal order in creation, sustenance and redemption.
How the eternal and timeless God transcends time and interacts in time is not something that we can fully comprehend, as we have no experience in timelessness. God’s Word says that He is eternal, that He is everlasting to everlasting, that He existed before the world was created, that He inhabits eternity. He is timeless and above time. It also says that He interacts with time, makes predictions of how He is going to act, and then at a later point in time acts in that manner. God entered time in the Person of Jesus, God the Son, who became incarnate and lived for decades in time on this earth. While we may not fully understand the concept of God’s timelessness, He has revealed this part of His nature through His Word.
Even though those who receive Jesus as their Savior will live forever, the Bible indicates that we won’t take on the timeless attribute of God. He is an infinite being while we are finite creatures, and as such we won’t transcend time as He does.
When speaking of heaven in the book of Revelation, John related events that require movement and change; events which necessarily have to occur through a succession of moments, one after another, such as the kings of the earth bringing their glory into the heavenly city, the trees in the city yielding fruit each month, and nations being healed. For these things to happen (the kings being outside the city and then coming into the city, trees yielding fruit each month, etc.), there must be time.
By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
On either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Revelation 10:6 has often been quoted as showing that there will be no time in heaven. The King James Version translates the verse this way:
And sware by Him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer.
However, most of the newer translations of the Bible translate the last phrase to mean that there should be no more delay. The English Standard Version renders the verse like this:
And swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay.
Other major versions translate the last phrase as that there will be a delay no longer (NAS); there will be no more delay (NIV); that there should be delay no longer (NKJV); there will be no more delay (NRS).
While we will still experience time, in the sense of a succession of moments one after another, we will live eternally.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
In reference to our living in time in heaven, Wayne Grudem says:
We will experience eternal life not in an exact duplication of God’s attribute of eternity, but rather in a duration of time that will never end: we, as God’s people, will experience fullness of joy in God’s presence for all eternity—not in the sense that we will no longer experience time, but in the sense that our lives with Him will go on forever.
In His great love, God, who has always been and always will be, has issued the invitation to humankind to live with Him forever, and has made it possible through Jesus’ death on the cross. It is our commission to pass on His invitation to as many as we can.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Other versions cited are The New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The New Revised Standard Version (NRS), The New King James Version (NKJV), and the King James Version (KJV).
 Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960), 36.
 Jack Cottrell, What the Bible Says About God the Creator (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1983), 252.
 Psalm 10:16.
 Psalm 90:2.
 Job 36:26.
 Jude 25.
 Revelation 1:8.
 John 8:56–59.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 169.
 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 60.
 Jack Cottrell, What the Bible Says About God the Creator (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1983), 255–56.
 Isaiah 48:3–6.
 Isaiah 42:8–9.
 Galatians 4:4–5.
 James Leo Garrett, Jr., Systematic Theology, Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, Vol. 1 (N. Richland Hills: BIBAL Press, 2000), 248.
 Revelation 21:24–26.
 Revelation 22:2.
 Revelation 10:6KJV.
 Revelation 10:6 ESV.
 John 3:16.
 John 3:36.
 John 5:24.
 John 10:27–28.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 173.