“Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable.” (Job 36:26)
If you could have one superpower, what would it be? If you could bend the laws of nature, what would you do? Move things with your mind like Jean Gray? Bend time like Dr. Strange? Have X-ray vision and fly like Superman? We certainly enjoy seeing our favorite heroes do these things in movies. It’s fascinating to imagine what we might do if we were free from the normal constraints of our human bodies and world. But the reality is we are all limited. We are finite.
If we are honest, we all wish we were infinite. To be infinite means to have no limit. It means having freedom from any and all boundaries of the created world. There is only one being who can make this boast. The God of the Bible is infinite in all of his being; infinitely loving, infinitely powerful, infinitely just, and infinitely merciful, to name a few. He is without constraint, without confinement, except by those necessitated by his own character (God cannot lie or do evil, etc.).
Specifically for our purposes, we will look at God’s limitlessness in relation to time. God’s infinity with respect to time is called his eternity.
Trying to understand God’s eternity is like trying to draw out every drop of water from the oceans of the world with an eye dropper and then examining them one by one under a microscope. Or trying to explore every star in the unknown reaches of the universe with a man-made telescope. These endeavors would be endless and impossible to complete. Even the analogies themselves fall short when attempting to describe what it would take to understand our limitless God. But in our finiteness we take a position of humility and awe and attempt to learn what we can about God so that we may know him and love him more.
To paraphrase Wayne Grudem, God’s eternity means:
God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his being. God is Creator and Lord over time, yet he sees all moments in time equally vividly and chooses to act within time.
As Job said, the number of God’s years is unsearchable. That is because God has no beginning and no end, so there is no way for us to quantifiably measure how “old” God is. Because God is self-existent, he has simply always existed. “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’” (Revelation 1:8). Not only does he have no beginning or end, he is the beginning and the end.
By claiming the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, God is saying that no one comes before him and no one will come after him. He spans a greater existence than anything else, for he inhabits eternity itself (Isaiah 57:15).
God also has no succession of moments in his being. In our human experience, as a being created in time, one thing happens after the other. First we wake up and drink coffee, next we take the kids to school or go to work, and finally, we drive home in rush hour traffic, throw something together for dinner, and yawn our way into bed. First, next, last.
Similarly, our bodies feel the effects of time. One moment we are learning to crawl, the next we are learning our ABCs. One moment we are learning to drive, the next we are learning how to navigate retirement plans and osteoporosis. We grow, we change, we increase in age, we decrease in time left on this earth.
Not so with God. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The passing of time cannot add to or take away from his being. He never changes.
God is not subject to the effects of time because he created time and is therefore Lord over time. In the Genesis account of creation, God made light and darkness to distinguish the existence of day and night. By establishing morning and evening, he set into motion the existence of time, thereby creating the first day (Genesis 1:3-5). He also created the sun, moon, and stars and placed them in the heavens to mark the passing of seasons and years (Genesis 1:14-19). We and all of creation cannot help but function within the confines of time for we necessarily live on a timeline that is always progressing forward. But God is above time.
Because God is above time, he sees all events in time equally vividly. We see moments in history from a street level view, never being able to see past the next few blocks, but God has the view from the mountaintop: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). This is not a mathematical formula for how God views time, but an expression to help us understand that God can see all the events of a day so clearly and precisely that it could be compared to someone stretching them out and studying them over the course of a thousand years. Conversely, all the millions of happenings of a millennium are as fresh in God’s mind as if they had occurred that day.
Although God exists outside of time, he still chooses to act within time. Ever since the beginning of time, God has intimately interacted with his creation. He used his own words to form it and provided food for every living creature. He walked and talked with the first two humans in the garden, establishing a pattern of personal fellowship with him. He gave them good, loving, and wise commands to follow to protect them and show them how to live fruitfully. He provided a sacrifice for them when they sinned and coverings for their shame and guilt. And he provided a promise that even though they disobeyed him, subjecting creation to a curse, some day one of their offspring would come to rescue them from the destruction they inaugurated on earth and from the punishment of death they brought into their own lives, also.
You see, the transcendent, timeless, triune God made a covenant in eternity to create a people whom he would redeem from sin and bring into eternal fellowship with himself. The God of unsearchable days planned every one of ours, lovingly and intimately etching them into his creation of time. The God who inhabits eternity also wrote eternity onto our hearts, so that even though we die physically, we can still live eternally with him if we trust in the sacrifice of his Son. And because he is eternal, his sacrifice will never fail or fade.
God is eternal, but our days are like grass, here one moment and gone the next (Psalm 103:15-16). When we consider our shelf life in comparison to God’s limitless existence we will begin “to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). We will be more likely to live intentionally, redeeming the time because the days are evil, and focus on what is really important—knowing God and glorifying him, and telling others about him, too.