This is the third of the series on Preaching the Divine Attributes.
Often God is depicted as an old man—but is he really old? Over all these centuries, has God aged? Christian prayers do not mention God as old, but instead as eternal. But what does that mean? It means that God is not in time—God does not think back on what he did yesterday, nor ponder what he will do tomorrow, for such temporal concepts simply do not apply to him. This does not mean that God is stuck in time, like a bug in amber or a caveman in a block of ice—God is not frozen in time, but beyond time itself.
God is beyond time because he is not a part of the created world. The world we see around us is subject to time—these things can have a past, present, and future, or they can simply not exist at a certain time. But God is not one of those things; instead he created those things. If God were just another thing in the created world, then the obvious question arises: ‘how did God create himself?’ But God is not one of those created things, rather he is above and beyond them—they depend upon him but he doesn’t depend on them. That’s why it would sound strange to say, “I see a tree, and a squirrel, and a bench, and, oh, there’s God!” God just isn’t that type of “thing.” There is a great chasm between God and those things he created.
Think of Tolkien and his book The Hobbit: Tolkien created The Hobbit, but is not himself subject to the time within his novel. Thus as Bilbo ages within the book, Tolkien does not age accordingly. But Tolkien is still within time—he was once living and now has already grown old and died. He was not in the fictional time of The Hobbit, but was in the real time of this world. However, God is not in a different time than us, but in eternity instead.
Things in this world of time are spread out over time. I am not the same today as I was yesterday, nor as I will be tomorrow. The Hobbit is similar—it cannot be entirely present in a moment, but must be read over time. To read the first chapter is to not be reading the second or third, and so the book can only exist spread out over time. But God is not spread out like that, rather he is always fully present. It would be as if one could read all of The Hobbit in an instant rather than line by line over time. Because God is in eternity rather than time, he is always fully present and fully alive in a way that the things of this world are not.
As the author of time itself, God rules time from eternity: God is the Lord of time. As Tolkien created and determined the plot in The Hobbit, so God does for the real world. While we often do not understand the meaning of what happens around us or know how things will turn out, God does. We do know that this world is not written as a tragedy—God is good and his love prevails. We know this because he has told us—he has given us the cliff notes for our world. He has given the Bible. Because God is the author of this world and because he is good, we can trust him to guide us even when difficulties seem insurmountable. We know that he can and will turn everything toward the good in the end. Unlike an old man, God will not forget about us.
Image: Jackson Pollock, Galaxy