In yesterday’s blog (I Don’t See Ghosts. But God Does) I mentioned eternity and that it was the fullness of time wherein the past present and future were all at once for God. God does not have to wait for things to happen nor does he have to reminisce about the past. It is all before him as one moment.
I would like to say a little more about this. First, I would like to attempt to better define eternity. And then I’d like to ponder some possible implications and see what you think.
“Defining” The Mystery of Eternity – I have put the word “defining” in quotes purposefully since, simply defining eternity is quite impossible. By analogy, what if I were to ask you to “Define the universe and give three examples.” Such a request would be silly since the universe cannot simply be defined. It is just too big to be contained by words. And so it is with eternity. Ultimately eternity is a mystery in that, whatever we can say about it, more remains un-sayable. So, in proposing to “define” eternity I am not arrogantly thinking I can contain the concept in the mere confines of words. But since we need some parameters for our discussion, some definitions, (parameters) really are needed.
What Do we mean by Eternity? Most people misunderstand the word eternity simply to mean “a long, long, time.” But that is not what is meant by the word. When the Greeks coined the word eternity, (Aeon) they meant by it “the fullness of time.” That is to say, Eternity is the past, present and future all being experienced at once.
I cannot tell you what this is like, but I can illustrate it. Look at the clock to the upper right. The time is 1:15 in the afternoon. That means that 10:00 AM is in the past and 6:00 PM is in the future. But consider the dot at the center of the clock and see that, at that spot, 10 AM, 1:15 PM, and 6 PM are all the same, they are equally present to the dot in the center. In fact every possible time that can be registered on the outer edges of the clock is equally present to the center dot. At the center dot there is no substantial difference to any outer edge time indication. There is no future, no past, all is present, all is equally accessible to the center dot. This is eternity and this is where God lives.
God Lives in eternity – We live our life in serial time, on the outer edge of the clock. But God does not. God lives in eternity. God lives in the fullness of time. For God, past, and future are the same as the present. God is not “waiting” for things to happen. All things just are. God is not waiting and wondering if you or I will get to heaven. He is not watching history unfold like a movie. In eternity, 10,000 years ago is just as present as 10,000 years from now. Eternity includes all pasts and futures in the living present.
[If you wish to read more on this you might read Peter Kreeft’s Book Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven (esp. pp. 151-171)].
Scripture hints at God’s eternity in numerous passages. For example,
- But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. (2 Peter 3:8).
- Psalm 139 says, Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. (Ps 139, 15).
- Psalm 90 says, For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. (Ps 90:4).
- And then there is simply the God’s name: “I AM” In this Name, there is no past, no future, just an eternal now, the present tense.
- Jesus declared to the crowds, “Before Abraham ever was, I AM.” (John 8:58).
So here is the most awesome mystery of time, the fullness of time, eternity. Some implications from this are interesting to ponder.
1. God is not waiting for anything. He did not wait for you or me to be born, he is not waiting for us to die. He is not waiting to judge us. He is not waiting for us to enter heaven (or Hell!). He is not waiting for us to emerge from purgatory. He is not waiting for the end of the world. Everything is accomplished. Everything is done. And yet every thing is also underway. The day of my birth is present to God. They day of my death is present to him. The full sweep of history is before God in one glance, one comprehensive NOW. We may say, “Why is God taking so long to answer my prayer?” The fact is he has already provided. The Lord answers prayers, sooner than right now, faster than immediately.
2. This does not mean that everything is predetermined in such a way as to make our freedom meaningless. That God already knows and and has always known every decision we make does not mean that we do not in fact freely make it. God’s knowledge does not cancel our freedom.
3. At some point we will move to the eternal center with God. It does not seem likely that we will ever comprehend time and things as comprehensively as God. And yet the fact that we move to eternity, to the fullness of time, would suggest that the whole course of our life will somehow, mysteriously be present to us. I say “suggest,” since none of this is perfectly laid out for us to know here. This is speculation based on what eternity seems to be. Since, by definition the past will be present, some how it would seem that the whole of our past life will be present and available to us in heaven. Somehow my high school graduation, my first date 🙂 , my ordination, even this typing session will be present. How and it what manner or mode it is experienced is not clear. Sometimes people ask if their pets will be in heaven. If the past is accessible it would seem that pets somehow are with us there. How and to what degree we would want to go back and “visit” the past is not possible to say. Saying what eternity seems to include is one thing, describing how it is experienced there is something altogether different and beyond the realm of what we can likely know here.
4. Why bother praying? Some my say if everything already is, what difference does prayer make? But this question presumes that God has not always known you would pray and already set forth the answer based on that. For us, time and decisions must unfold. Though God has always known what we would do or not do, we are NOT in that position and thus must decide to pray. That God has always known what we would do is beside the point from our perspective. We must decide to pray and know that God has always known if we would pray and had already acted accordingly.
5. Are the Souls in heaven waiting for anything? – If eternity is the fullness of time and if past and future are contained in a perfect now it would seem they are not waiting. My parents, who have both died are not likely waiting for me to join them since the future is already present to them. They are not waiting for their bodies to rise for in eternity that is accomplished. From our perspective these things are not accomplished and must unfold, but in eternity it would seem that they are already present. Or so it would seem.
Please note that I offer these implications (speculations really) very humbly. Note how often I have used the word “seem.” That is intentional. Eternity is a very deep mystery. We can define it (sort of) but grasping how it is experienced is quite another matter. I’d like to know what you think. Analogies are always appreciated and large doses of humility are necessary. We must remember that we are talking about something we have never experienced. Further we are using mere words to describe what cannot really be reduced to words. Words are necessary, but remember, they are inadequate.
This song says, “God don’t ever change.”