Doctrine of God (Part 7): Practical Application of God's EternityApril 15, 2015
Practical Application of God’s Eternity
Last time we met we were talking about the difference between a tenseless and a tensed theory of time. I suggested that your view of God's relationship to time is apt to depend upon whether you think time is tenseless or tensed. That is to say, if you think that the difference between past, present, and future is merely an illusion of human consciousness and that all events in time are spread out as it were like a line then you are probably going to think of God's eternity as a state of timeless existence, and God is related to all of the events in space and time in that timeless moment. On the other hand, if you think that time is tensed, that is to say you think that the difference between past, present, and future is a real and objective feature of the world and that things really do come into being and go out of being, then you probably are going to think that God is also in time in virtue of his real relationships to this constantly changing temporal world and in view of his knowledge of tensed facts – what time it is now. Therefore, I think that how you construe the nature of time is going to determine probably your view of God's eternity.
I suggested that for my part I think that the commonsense view of time as being tensed is the correct view of time that comports with our experience of time and there isn't any good reason to deny that experience. For that reason I think that the arguments for God's temporality are good ones – that at least since the creation of time at the beginning of the world God has been in time and experiences the succession of events as they come to be and pass away.
Student: On that tenseless view of time, my understanding is that space would also be separated by time. In other words, we are here this week and are in the same location last week. If they are both real currently then we'd run out of space possibly. Right?
Dr. Craig: I am not sure I understand why you would think we would run out of space, but you are certainly correct in saying that at any moment in time there will be a set of events in space that exist at that time. So if we think of space as represented by this disc [Dr. Craig draws an illustration on the whiteboard] – we can't make it three-dimensional because we are going to let that third dimension represent time – as our three-dimensional space. If the universe is expanding, as you go back in time, it goes back to a beginning. There will be spatial cross-sections that you can take of this entity so that at various times you will have a set of events that exist in space at that time. If we let this slice represent last week and then this is this week, it is true that there will be this entity that will exist in the same place but at different times. In that sense, the spaces are separated by time. That is why we don't run into our future selves or our past selves. Because our future selves and past selves on this view are separated by the dimension of time. We are here in the same place that we were last week but there is a separation of those places by time. Is that what you were asking?
Student: It is. I actually wanted to ask a followup question as well. Doesn't this introduce the problem of an actual infinite number of events?
Dr. Craig: Oh, I see your point. Yes. Even if space is finite so that in any cross-section of this space-time you have a finite number of events, nevertheless, unless this comes to an end, then there would be an actual infinity of events lying in the future. So even if time had a beginning, if it has no end there will be an actual infinity of events. Of course, it is possible that this could come to an end, say the expansion will reverse and everything re-contracts so the future would look like the past – it would be expanding to a maximum diameter then shrinking back again to a point. In that case you would have only a finite number of things.
Let's look at some practical application of this doctrine to our lives.
First of all, we confront what I call the paradox of time. That paradox is that on the one hand, at least from God's perspective, there is all the time in the world, and even more! God is never in a hurry. He has no deadlines to meet. He has no timetable that is pressing upon him. God is the Lord of time and has all the time he needs to accomplish his ends. Therefore, God is never pressed for time. So, for example, when God called Moses out of Egypt, Moses was 40 years old – in the prime of his life, a prince of Egypt. You would think this would be the prime moment at which God would use Moses to liberate Israel. But no! Instead, God takes this man and drives him out into the wilderness for another 40 years until at the age of around 80 he is finally the instrument that God has crafted to lead his people into Israel. God is evidently not in a hurry in order to accomplish his ends.
So 2 Peter 3:8, for example, says the following: “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” It doesn't matter to an eternal being. To an eternal being, any finite duration of time is like a drop in the bucket. God's timetable is therefore always right on schedule.
On the other hand – and this is the paradox – for us, at least, time is short. Because of our finite lives we are pressed by time. Romans 13:11-12a speaks to this. Paul says, “Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.” Here you have a sense of urgency in Paul's words. The night is almost over. Day is at hand. Therefore, there are pressing demands upon us. Using a somewhat reversed metaphor, Jesus says something similar in John 9:4. Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night comes, when no man can work.” Here in Jesus' words as well you have this sense that there is an end coming. Night is coming. Therefore we must accomplish God's work during the day that he has given us. So from our perspective then there is a kind of pressing of time upon us in view of both the finitude of our lives and Christ's return.
I think that this paradox of time can be both a comfort to those who are exhausted in the Lord's work, and also an admonition for those who are lazy. On the one hand, it is a comfort to those who are tired and pressed in the Lord's work. They need to understand that God's timetable is right on schedule. Although they may feel harried and pressed by the demands of ministry and of life, from God's perspective it is OK. It is all on schedule. We can trust him to accomplish his work through us. There is enough time in every day to accomplish all the will of God for you for that day. Therefore, you need not feel pressed.
On the other hand, for those who are lazy and indolent, who aren't involved in Kingdom work, and who are just sort of coasting through life, I think this is a real admonition. You don't know how much time you've got left. The end is going to come. Therefore, you need to be sure that your life counts for Christ. It has been rightly said, There is only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. We need to be sure that we are investing the time that we have, however brief it might be, in the Lord's work. So this paradox of time, I think, is a lesson for us – a comfort to those who are exhausted, but also an incentive to those who are lazy.
Secondly, God's eternity means that we must live in light of eternity. We don't want to live in light of our temporal existence, but in light of God's eternal existence. I think this cashes itself out in three ways.
First of all, it is an incentive to right living. In James 4:13-16, James explains that we have no claim upon the future. We cannot presume about what tomorrow will bring because we don't know that we are going to be here tomorrow. In James 4:13-16 he says,
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain”; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Here James compares our life to a morning mist which is soon dispersed as the sun rises. He says our lives are so evanescent in the same way. Certainly I think in this class we've seen that over and over again – haven't we? As people have in our midst died, been taken from us suddenly, sometimes almost without warning. We've seen how tenuous our grasp really is upon this lifetime. Therefore we need to be living in light of that; not to be presumptuous about what tomorrow brings but to say, as James says, if the Lord wills this is what we shall do. And to make sure that we are living properly now. That is Paul's emphasis in that passage from Romans 13:12b-14. In Romans 13:12, having said that the night is far gone, the day is at hand, the conclusion Paul draws from this is the following:
Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
In light of the finitude of our lives here and our soon going to meet the Lord, we need to be sure that we are living righteous lives before him such that if our lives should terminate tomorrow or tonight we will be ready to meet the Lord because we are walking in the fullness of his Spirit and clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ and his righteousness. So it is an incentive to right living, living in light of eternity.
Secondly, it is a comfort in suffering. This life, as we are so often reminded, is full of suffering. The shortcomings of this finite existence are evident to us all the time – in disease, in accidents, in the other disadvantages of finite life. But the truth of Scripture is that in light of eternity this life is just like a cramped and narrow foyer in which we are now but it leads into this great banquet hall of God's eternity. All of eternity awaits us. This can make our trials bearable because in comparison with the eternal life we have with God these trials are short and transitory indeed. In 1 Peter 5:10 we read, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.” Peter recognizes that we are going to suffer as Christians in this life, but he says after you've suffered a little while then God will call you into this eternal glory that will make the sufferings of this life seem short by comparison. The apostle Paul recognized the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul is reflecting upon all of the sufferings of this finite existence. In verses 16 through 18 he writes as follows:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature [our body] is wasting away, our inner nature [our soul, our spirit] is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Here Paul compares the sufferings of this life to the eternal glory that God is going to bestow upon us in heaven. He says in comparison with the eternal glory that God will give us the sufferings of this life shrink by comparison to literally an infinitesimal moment. That is why Paul could call them a slight momentary affliction. He wasn't being insensitive to those who suffer terribly. On the contrary, Paul himself bore both natural suffering (he had some sort of physical infirmity or disease that he carried with him) as well as terrible moral evils perpetrated against him as he was persecuted, stoned, beaten, and suffered other disasters. Yet, in spite of all that, Paul lived in light of eternity and so he understood that whatever we go through in this finite life, however painful and however horrible and terrible, nevertheless in comparison with the eternal weight of glory that God will bestow upon us these transitory afflictions are just a slight and momentary affliction that we have to bear until we go to be with him. So living in light of eternity, I think, can give us comfort in our suffering as we go through it as we certainly shall.
Finally, it reminds us of the wonderful prospect of eternal life that we as Christians have in Christ. For those of us who are in Christ – who are united with him in his death and resurrection – all of eternity awaits us. That is what we have to look forward to. John 3:16 says that God has given us everlasting life. We shall not perish, but have everlasting life. In Ephesians 2:7 Paul says, “in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” What an interesting description of what God will do in the afterlife. In the coming ages, he is going to spend eternity showering upon us the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. What a wonderful prospect we as Christians have.
By contrast, for those who are outside of Christ, time is a devouring beast. Every day eats away at the finite existence that they have left, however long it might be. So in 1 Corinthians 15:32b Paul, I think quite rightly, says, “If the dead are not raised [if there is no immortality], let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” There is no overriding purpose for life, so just enjoy what you can while you can. That removes, I think, any significance or meaning to your finite existence. It puts a question mark behind any sort of ultimate significance to the existence that we do have.
Shakespeare's Macbeth cries out in that play,
Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
What a description of life apart from God, apart from Christ. The book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament similarly says, “All is vanity and a striving after wind.” (1:14) “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher…All is vanity,” according to Ecclesiastes (1:2).
So for those who are outside of Christ, time is a terrible enemy, not bringing a wonderful prospect but removing any significance and meaning that life might have. Then, of course, after this finite existence there awaits them the terrible prospect of God's righteous judgment.
In Matthew 25 Jesus describes the judgment of this world that will come after this life is over. In verses 34, 41, and 46, he describes the judgment of these two groups of people. Jesus says,
Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” . . . Then he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
I think nothing so contrasts the wonderful prospect of eternity for those who are in Christ with the terrible horror that eternity is for those outside of Christ, more than the judgment of God that will come after this life is over.
So God's eternity, I think, has great practical application in our lives. On the one hand, it brings this paradox of time that reminds us to be busy in the Lord's work and yet not harried and pressed by it, and then also to live in light of eternity. To be living rightly, ready to die at any moment. To find comfort in suffering by the prospect of eternal life, and to enjoy this wonderful prospect of eternal life that does await us. He who is from everlasting to everlasting is our hope for everlasting life.
Student: Once again, as it often strikes me, I just want to compliment you on your articulation and also just add that this is a place for a gigantic “Praise the Lord!”
Dr. Craig: Amen! I agree. Certainly. Thank you.
Student: Again, amen. I love everything you said. It is great. One thing though. The quote about Jesus saying walk while you have the light – he is speaking to us. I think when he comes there will be many that say “Lord, Lord” but didn't know him. There are times of refreshing, not just one. So he is saying while you have the light now, Christ's Holy Spirit testifies to us. The way you can not be one of those who say “Lord, Lord” is to walk, listen internally. When God convicts you of something, we all walk at different places, but God is always telling you. You can be a little better with me if you trust me a little more. That walking in the light is not talking about the brevity of this life, it is talking about judgment comes and we need to listen to him as we rest in him and have joy and thankfulness and love.
Dr. Craig: I think it is both. He says, Night is coming when no man can work. So we have to work the works of righteousness while we have time. But then you are certainly correct in saying that therefore during this time we as Christians need to walk in the light. This is what it says in John's first epistle where he says,
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).
We certainly need to be walking in the light as long as we continue to live.
Student: What I was thinking is there is also the passage where it says, If you said you did not see, your sin would be removed but because you say you see. He is talking to the Pharisees who thought they were walking in the light. He said I've come to make blind those who say they see and give sight to those that don't. A second thing is when Elijah comes again. It is not a day of darkness. It is going to be tribulation. He is going to do that. He is going to let you see the truth about when you've not really rested with him and loved him and yielded the rest of yourself to him.
Dr. Craig: OK.
I am tempted to go on to our next section, which is the divine attribute of omnipresence. As we've been talking about God's relationship to time, now we want to turn to a discussion of God's relationship to space. That will be the attribute of God's being omnipresent, or all-present. But I think in view of the lateness of the hour we will let out early today and we will break at this point and take up the discussion of God's omnipresence when we meet next week.
 Total Running Time: 28:08 (Copyright © 2015 William Lane Craig)