As one ages, the constant trickle of time grows into a torrent. The past nips at the heels of the present, always threatening to devour it. A. W. Tozer says, “Those who are in Christ share with him all the riches of limitless time and endless years. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.” But, he continues, “For those outside Christ, time is a devouring beast.”
The relationship to time – both ours and God’s – is fascinating. Prior to Einstein, it was assumed that time was simply there. Today’s scientific orthodoxy denies that, claiming that time itself came into being with the “Big Bang.” But St. Augustine beat scientists to the punch. 1500 years earlier, he argued that time has not always existed: God created it. He is not within it, but it is within him. As Tozer put it, “Eternal years lie in his heart. For him, time does not pass, it remains; God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work.”
If God is not in time, but rather is outside it, visiting it when and where he will, then he is present not only in all places but in all times. The respective theological terms are “omnipresent” (present everywhere) and “eternal” (present every time). Something like this lies behind Jesus’s promise to be with his disciples always. The Greek word for “always” is made up of two roots: “every” and “when” – “everywhen.” God, the theologians tell us, is present everywhere and everywhen.
This idea sheds light on a variety of important biblical texts. Passages that seem paradoxical or mere legal fictions begin to make sense when seen in the light of God’s eternity. The author of Hebrews, for example, writes that “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” This seems, at first blush, to be self-contradicting. If someone is made perfect forever, how can it be that he is yet being made holy? Being made holy is a process while being made perfect forever is an accomplished fact. A person who has been made perfect forever has no need to be made holy.
The confusion clears before the truth of God’s eternity. He is not in time. He is with all those who belong to him in such a way (or at such a time) as to see them perfect forever. Surprisingly, “being made holy” turns out to be the most convincing evidence that one has been “made perfect forever.”
Other troubling enigmas begin to clear in the light of God’s relationship to time. Consider the Apostle Paul’s claim that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” I don’t feel raised up and seated with Christ. If it has happened, why can I not see it? Or is it true in a metaphorical, but not in a literal, sense? We must choose one or the other – unless we recall God’s eternity. He knows that I have been, quite literally, raised with Christ and seated in heavenly places. He is with me there – but I am not consciously with him now. I take it by faith (which is not blind at all but sees reality through the corrective lens of God’s greatness).
So with many other passages that we often think sound nice but lack practical significance. “You died with Christ and your life is hid with him in God.” That’s a nice way to look at it, we think. But God, who transcends our timeline, knows it is more than nice; it is true. The repeated assertion, “You died to sin” is another example. It is a reality, not a legal fiction, but we must take it, for the time being, by faith.
The time will come when the times will be full. When we enter into that confluence of time, God will bring “all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Then the old order of things will pass away and we will hear the words, “Behold, I make all things new.” Even now the echo of those words reaches the one “who has ears to hear.”
First published by Gatehouse Media, 2/23/2019