God, Time, and Eternity

  • November 2017 Issue
Theology Matters

The feeling of wasted time makes waiting difficult. We even feel frustrated with God because He does not appear to be in the same hurry as we are. The Bible says that with God “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). What is God’s relationship to time and eternity?

Theologians are divided on this question. Some believe that God exists outside of time and does not experience it as we do, instead existing in an eternal now. Past, present, and future are the same to Him. Others think that God does experience time but is not limited by it as we are. He exists in time at all times and has always done so. According to this view, God’s relation to time is like that of His relation to physical space. Just as He is omnipresent, He is also omnitemporal.

Theologians and philosophers may speculate, but our finite capacity for understanding will never fully grasp the nature of God’s relationship to time and eternity. We can know only what it is like to live in a universe where time is a factor. Although we might think about the present, past, and future, we do not actually visit the past when we remember, and our memories are often faulty. We can only speculate about the future. Events always unfold in a sequence for us. We are time-bound.

Scripture says God is eternal (Gen. 21:33; Deut. 33:27; Psalm 90). He has no beginning or end. He also acts in time. He makes promises and executes His redemptive plan in what we would call on our behalf at the “right time” (Rom. 5:6). This was especially true of the birth of Jesus Christ, which occurred “when the set time had fully come” (Gal. 4:4).

The Bible is clear that God acts within time. What is more, by being born of a woman and taking to Himself a human nature, Jesus Christ entered into the experience of time as we know it. He grew from infancy to adulthood (Luke 2:52). His earthly experience and ministry were affected by the constraints of time (Matt. 26:18; John 7:6–8). Although we may not be able to explain the physics or the philosophy of God’s relationship to time and eternity, we can say this with certainty: He is the master of both.

For Further Study

To learn more about the different views of God’s relation to time, read God and Time: Four Views by Gregory E. Ganssle (InterVarsity).

BY Dr. John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies

Dr. John Koessler serves as chair and professor in the division of applied theology and church ministry at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody) and True Discipleship (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.

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