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What Does Eternity Mean?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Christians refer to eternity all of the time, but rarely stop to think about what it means.  Many think that eternity means “a really long time” or “endless time.”  These concepts are helpful to some, but they are not really accurate descriptions of eternity.

The difficulty we have is that we are time-bound creatures trying to describe a timeless God.  Our words cannot comprehend eternity, but we can make claims about what eternity is not.

Eternity literally means “timelessness” or “nontemporality.”  It refers to the nonexistence of time.  God lives outside of time  and is not limited by time.  Although the universe he created is in time, God is not.

A. W. Tozer comments, “Time marks the beginning of created existence, and because God never began to exist it can have no application to him.”  He continues, “Time is known to us by a succession of events.  It is the way we account for consecutive changes in the universe.”

God does not experience anything as a sequence of events.  He does not think or act or terms of step 1, then step 2, then step 3.  He experiences everything as one eternal Now.  He sees our entire earthly existence in one eternal “instant.”

An interesting footnote to this issue of eternity.  Modern science claims that time, space, and matter are co-relative, meaning they exist in relation to each other.  If God is in time, then he must also be made of matter and take up space.  This would necessarily entail a God who is limited by time, space, and matter – hardly the God described in the Bible.


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Comments

  • olumuyiwa akin-ogundeji

    This is a really good article… The God of the Bible is the Eternal God, a being who exists beyond Space and Time, He created space and time and can therefore interact with space and time but HE is not bound by space and time.

    Humans can understand the concept of Immortality, but our minds can’t grasp the concept of Eternity. This is because Immortality is bound by time – it has a beginning and lasts as long as time endures; but Eternity, being beyond space and time is a concept which is literally mind boggling!!!

  • Paradox

    I think you should remove your finishing remark.
    An interesting footnote to this issue of eternity. Modern science claims that time, space, and matter are co-relative, meaning they exist in relation to each other. If God is in time, then he must also be made of matter and take up space. This would necessarily entail a God who is limited by time, space, and matter – hardly the God described in the Bible.

    Yes, science makes this claim, but it is arguable over whether science can really make reliable claims about this subject. Science treats time in a purely physical way, with only an Earlier Than direction, and a Later Than direction. So understood, all moments of time are equally real (which supports the Augustinian contention that God transcends time). However, metaphysicians realize that time has a richer structure than what science can envision. Time is divided into past, present, and future. Depending on what theory of time is held, the Christian God is either timeless, or temporal. The Augustinian maintains that because God transcends time, God can influence all moments of history in a single timeless act.
    I am trying to devise a theory of time that allows for God to interact with the universe in multiple acts, without drawing Him into time, thus preserving the undeniable fact of tense, God’s transcendence, and God’s eternality (rather than sempiternality, etc.). Unfortunately, it is running into a problem that seems insoluble.

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