It’s just going to take some time. Time will heal. Or simply: with time my dear, with time.
Time is powerful. It heals, transforms, renews, dulls, and decays. It raises rulers and silences them. It turns infants into the aged. It chisels the face of mountains and then turns them to dust. And as humans, we are all its subjects. We feel its effects and are subject to its demands.
One of the most tangible tolls of time is the manner in which it weighs upon our relationships. I don’t relate to my parents the way I did when I was in elementary school. In the same way, I won’t be able to relate to my one-year-old daughter the same way I do today in several months from now. Time demands relationships to change—the change being characterized less by goods and bads and more by difference.
Thus, the question needs to be asked: How does God relate to time? In what ways does time affect our relationship to Him?
One of the loftiest and, admittedly, most puzzling doctrines for us as temporal creatures is the timeless and eternal nature of God. We often assume that the eternality of God refers to God’s immortality, but this fringes on over-simplicity. Stephen Charnock defined eternity as “a permanent and immutable state . . . a perfect possession of life without any variation; it comprehends in itself all years, all ages, all periods of ages; it never begins; it endures after every duration of time, and never ceaseth; it doth as much outrun time, as it went before the beginning of it: time supposeth something before it; but there can be nothing before eternity.”1
Jonathan Edwards masterfully explains, “The eternity of God’s existence is nothing else but his immediate, perfect, and invariable possession of the whole of his unlimited life, together and at once.”2 In other words, in respect to time, there is no change in God whatsoever—no growth, no diminishment, not a trace of alteration. He remains untouched by the winds of time. He is without beginning or end, and He has no temporal succession—that is, He doesn’t move through time as we do.3 The eternality of God is simply the infinitude of God applied to time. By His eternal essence, God is the only being completely unaffected by the passage of time—He gains and loses nothing through the span history.
God even sees time in a unique manner. While the creature understands time sequentially—present slipping into past just as future slips into present—the eternal God views past, present, and future in a single, divine instant. He sees past and future with equal vividness, as if all of time were at once before Him: “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4). In the New Testament, Peter aptly explains, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
God’s Actions and Relationships
We, who are tethered and bound to time in every conceivable manner, are often confused and disoriented by this lofty view of God. God is categorically other in His relationship to time. As a result, many have questioned the ability of an eternal, timeless God to have meaningful relationships with His creatures. If God is timeless, how can He hear, let alone answer, the cries of His time-bound creation?
The concern is that a genuine relationship is nullified between a time-bound creature and a timeless God. But this is simply not true. God acts in time—He is the author of time, is the governor of time, and has relationships with His creatures who are bound by time. The Lord executes His decrees in time. But God does not undergo temporal succession—He does not in Himself experience the passage of time—even though the works of His hands are very much in time and space. The actions and relationships of the Lord are a product of His eternal will—His eternal will exists outside of time, and then it breathes numerous temporal effects into being.
Those who claim that God’s relationships are less real because He is atemporal simply do not understand the depth of God’s relationships as an eternal being. As mentioned earlier, human relationships evolve based on the various temporal seasons of earthly life. Your relationships are limited by and subject to change. They grow stronger and weaker in intimacy with the passage of time, distance, and communication. They wane and are complicated by years and moves.
So when we consider God’s relationship with temporal creatures, remember that He at once possesses all of time. Thus, God has all of your life before Him every time you kneel in prayer. He can relate to you in a more real manner than you can even relate to yourself—He can relate in complete fullness. He can be closer and more intimate with a temporal creature than a time-bound creature could ever hope to be. Your spouse can relate only to who you are in this moment, but God looks behind and before you and can love you in the entirety of your being. Because His relationships are not determined, affected, or limited by fleeting moments, He does not possess the limitations in relationships humans experience.
Implications of Divine Timelessness
But eternity is not withheld from mankind. Christians are said to have eternal life: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24). This eternal life is a reflection of the eternal will of God for His elect, accomplished by Christ in the dust and tears of the temporal realm, producing ongoing results for believers—namely, life eternal that has a beginning but no end. It is eternity enjoyed with the Eternal Being—a relationship more genuine, constant, and informed than time could ever promise.
This is not, however, the only promise in the hand of the eternal, timeless God. Hell is the other (Matt. 25:46). It is no coincidence that Scripture speaks of an eternal God and an eternal hell. An offense against a temporal being can rest with time-bound consequences. But an offense against a timeless, eternal God necessitates an eternally drawn-out consequence. This is why hell is said to contain eternal fire (Matt. 25:41; Jude 7), reserved for those who offend Him forever (Jude 13), why their punishment is never quenched (Mark 9:48), and why they will be tortured day and night forever and ever (Rev. 20:10). Thomas Goodwin writes, the “wretched soul in hell . . . finds that it shall not outlive that misery, nor yet can it find one space or moment of time of freedom and intermission, having forever to do with him who is the living God.”4 Hell simply is to bear the wrath of the One who sees the moments and years of your rebellion and treason before Him as if they were all now.
The knowledge of a timeless, eternal God should elevate our love for Him, and it should infuse desperation into our pleas to those wandering from Him. This attribute is no small quarrel or a bit of academic minutiae. Tampering with timelessness triggers a ripple effect through many of the other forgotten attributes of God. Evangelicals who deny timelessness must account for the implications that denial has for immutability, simplicity, and God’s eternality. If you change, redefine, or alter these doctrines of God, you have created a different God. This is why Herman Bavinck writes, “One who says ‘time’ says motion, change, measurability, computability, limitation, finiteness, creature.”5 So if we serve a temporal God, we serve a creature of our own imagination, created after our own likeness—a God who will be changed and weathered by time. This is not the God of the Christian faith.
- The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, vol. 1, The Existence and Attributes of God (1864; repr., Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2010), 175. ↩︎
- The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 172 ↩
- Geerhardus Vos explains, “The attribute of God whereby He is exalted above all limitations of time and all succession of time, and in a single indivisible present possesses the content of his life perfectly (and as such is the cause of time).” Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, Theology Proper, trans. and ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham, 2014), 10. ↩︎
- Thomas Goodwin, Two Discourses (London: J.D. for Jonathan Robinson, 1963), 195. ↩︎
- Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, God and Creation (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008), 163. ↩︎