Friday, November 22, 2013

Eternality of God

**I've decided to put my ladies' Bible study talks on this blog for now for the benefit of those who have to miss from time to time. We are going through Phillip Ryken's book, Discovering God In Stories from the Bible. Each chapter covers an attribute of God which we discuss together in our Bible study each month. We'd love for any local ladies to join us.

In the Andean Highlands, near Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, an elderly man walks out of his dirt floor dwelling to dimly see the sun for another day.  This former sheep and cattle herder hasn’t had an education and cannot speak Spanish, the national language.  He has buried two of his three children, and lived to have forty grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren.  The remarkable thing about Carlos Flores Laura is that he is the oldest living person alive today, if the records are accurate in Bolivia.  Carlos is 123 years old.
Maria Esther de Capovilla, an Ecuadorian woman, a colonel’s daughter lived to see three centuries.  She was the oldest person living in the world in 2006.  Maria’s daughter indicated that her mother’s calm disposition was the reason for her long life.  When Maria was 100 years old, she was read her last rites in the hospital while suffering from a stomach illness.  She got better and lived another sixteen years, dying in 2006, just eighteen days before her 117th birthday.
I did some research about long-living folks.  Experts have given the term, “centenarians,” to those rare people living to their hundredth birthdays.  Even rarer still, are the “supercentenarians,”  individuals living at least 110 years.  Supercentenarians were common in the Bible, but in the modern world, it is highly uncommon.  When interviewing supercentenarians, reporters always want to know the individual’s secrets to long life.   Some people make it their life mission and vocation to study the mysteries of aging.  
One such case, currently under much study, involves a twenty year old woman by the name of Brooke Greenberg from Maryland.   Brooke brought much joy to her parents and three sisters although her life was anything but normal.  She was very tiny and at age five, she stopped growing.  She remained the size of a small toddler, being driven in a car seat, and strolled around in an infant stroller.  Her mental capacity did not extend beyond ten months.  Scientists are studying her DNA in hopes of finding ways to stall the aging process especially with patients succombing to age related diseases.  Brooke passed away of unknown causes just a few days ago.
No matter what discoveries researchers make, no matter what formulas nutritionists devise, no matter what claims people make to the fountains of youth, one thing is certain:  we will all die sometime.  No human being or any living thing on earth is eternal.  Eternality is one of God’s mysterious attributes.  We will do well to ponder and explore His eternalness.  
Merriam Webster’s full definition of the word eternal provides some food for thought if we consider it in the sense of relation to God.  The primary definition is threefold:  having infinite duration, everlasting; of or relating to eternity; and characterized by abiding fellowship with God.  Since God is everlasting, He has no beginning as well as end.  This concept is difficult for us time-conscious people to understand.  A.W. Tozer explains, “Because God lives in an everlasting now, He has no past and no future.  When time-words occur in the Scriptures they refer to our time, not His.”  God has always been and always will be in existence.  I like how Philip Ryken elaborates on this concept:  “He is not in time at all.  He cannot be timed.  He is never early or late.  He never clocks in, and he never clocks out.  He is outside of time altogether.  He is eternal by his very nature.”
The second definition given for eternal is continued without intermission and seemingly endless.  While an intermission through a lengthy musical might be welcome, I’m so glad to report our God does not take an intermission on His existence.  In fact He doesn’t even take a nap as Psalm 121:4 says, “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”  Hallelujah that His existence in not just “seemingly endless” as the definition states but we know that it is completely endless.  The third definition is an archaic one relating to Shakespeare, thus no correlation there.  
The fourth definition presents an interesting perspective stating “valid or existing at all times,” also “timeless”.    What could be more valid than the truth of our God’s forever existence.  One of the things I enjoy is thrift shopping.  I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve run across something from my childhood.  In the past month I’ve seen the pale blue butterfly sheets I had as a child, a pillow with the exact same brown calico print of my parents’ comforter when I was in the second grade, and familiar clothing that saw better days in the 80’s.  While still in existence, the styles were clearly not “timeless.”  One day those things will cease to even exist.   Ladies, our God is timeless- in His very being, and in His very message for all the world.  Webster’s gives “temporary” as an antonym and several near antonyms for eternal, two being “outdated” and “obsolete.”  Think about it, He will never be outdated or obsolete.  He doesn’t swoop in as God in any sort of temporary way when he just happens to feel like it or isn’t too busy.  He is eternal in who he is and what he does.  I Timothy 1:17 says, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.”
There are two main points that Philip Ryken makes involving the eternal attribute of God.  First of all, because God is eternal, his judgement lasts forever.  If He were not eternal, then how would he carry out the final judgement of individuals?  Hell would hold no weight.  Furthermore, since God is eternal he has the ability to guarantee salvation.  Everyone who believes in Christ will enjoy the riches of an eternity with Him.  The saints of God aren’t sitting around in heaven wondering when it will all end.  God will last forever, thus so will heaven.  This is so wonderful, we can hardly grasp it.
As is true of all the attributes, Jesus and the Holy Spirit possess eternalness as well.  Jesus conquered death to sit at the right hand of the Father, a “permanent priesthood,”  “living forever” as mentioned in Hebrews 7:24.  The Holy Spirit is “the eternal Spirit” as found in Hebrews 13:8.  
The attributes are all so closely woven and interconnected.  If you take away the eternality of God, what would God’s glory look like?  That would have to mean at some point an end to his glory.  What about his omnipresence?  God is always present everywhere would have its limits if He was not eternal.  The immutability of God would be affected as well, because to cease to be would in fact be a change in His being.  I could go on and on but you can clearly see that if He is not eternal, at some point each of these attributes would be void.  
In studying this attribute, I am most drawn to the fact that He will always be the righteous judge, always be our Comforter, always be our Sustainer, and the great I AM.  Because He is eternal, His promises don’t have an expiration date, His love is always lavished upon his children, His mercy never ends, nor does His extravagant grace ever come to a close.  While we may not be able to grasp this awe-inspiring attribute, we must embrace it and worship him for it.  
As King Nebuchadnezzar learned after God dealt with his sin of pride, God is eternal, but we are not.  All that we have is God’s, our time is but a vapor, may we constantly evaluate our abilities in the light of the giver of good gifts.  Being reduced to a grass-eating, crazy wanderer will have a way of humbling one.  Nebuchadnezzar proclaims in Daniel 4:37, “...for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”  The restored king learned his lesson well in seeing the contrast between the who and what God is---- “with an everlasting dominion, whose kingdom endures from generation to generation” to his own reality as “an inhabitant of the earth accounted as nothing”  (see Daniel 4:34-35).  James 4:14 says, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”  Also, Psalm 144:4 says, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”  
As we focus on the eternal God, may we gain perspective in our time-driven lives.  Before we work on our discussion questions, I’d like to close this time with Psalm 90:12-17.  May this be the prayer of our hearts.  The psalmist says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.  Return, O Lord!  How long?  Have pity on your servants!  Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.  Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.  Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!  Amen.