"Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night." Psalm 90:1-4
The above passage instructs us in another of the divine virtues or adorable attributes called God's eternity. This is an attribute of God which is true of Him alone. The God of our salvation does not share this quality with us in any sense. God alone is eternal; we are not, nor do we become, eternal. We ought, therefore, to be more careful when we speak of heavenly glory in Christ. In the risen Savior we have endless or everlasting life, but we do not actually have eternal life. Even in heaven we are creatures who do not become eternal. God's eternity belongs to those attributes which are designated by the word infinity or immensity. Infinity applied to space is omnipresence; God is omnipresent in that He is exalted above the limitations of space. Infinity applied to time is eternal; God is eternal in that He is exalted above the limitations of time. the eternity of God is closely related to several other attributes of God. Only the eternal God can be independent and free. Only God eternal can be sovereign over all things. Only the eternal God can be immutable to without any change whatever. The close relationship between these attributes is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the great name Jehovah (I am that I am) clearly reveals that God is independent, sovereign, and for ever the same.
The fact that the Scripture quoted above is found in the Psalms means that the eternity of God is something about which the Church of Jesus Christ sings and is joyful! The church loves to sing of her eternal, Savior God even when this means that the contrast is equally true; we are as the grass, we spend our years as a tale that is told, we are soon cut off and we fly away. Several conclusions follow from the truths of God's eternity and our temporality. God must be feared even for His anger's sake. We ought to count our days, and apply our hearts unto wisdom. And if any of our life's labors are to endure, the eternal God must establish it; hence we are taught to pray. "Establish thou the work of our hands."
The early church father Augustine, bishop of Hippo, North Africa, once wrote. "If no one asks me what time it is, I know; If I wish to explain to him who asks, I do not know." What is time? What is eternity? You will have to allow me, in the following, to speak of eternity in terms of time. Even though time and eternity are not the same, the Word of God speaks to us creatures about eternity using the terms of time, at the same time making clear that they are not the same. When we think of God having no beginning and no ending, we immediately begin to think of that awesome eternity as time extended endlessly backwards and forwards. We think endless time in the past plus endless time in the future equals eternity! This is not correct. Eternity differs from time not merely quantitatively (as to amount), but qualitatively ( as to essence).
We agree with Augustine that time is difficult to comprehend and define, but all agree that time includes several ideas: succession of moments, beginning and ending and especially change. Time is a creature of God, made "in the beginning", regulated by the sun and moon which God placed in the heavens for time and for seasons. And time involves change. Good grammar demands that we speak of the present, the future, and the past. But with man the future is always becoming the present, and the present becomes the past. We can never truly say, "I Am", for the moment we say it we have already changed. The split second we call the present has already become the past!
God has no beginning and no ending! God is not controlled by time, does not think in terms of time, does not reckon with time, but is exalted above time. The Ancient of Days is not a creature that time should have any effect or control upon Him. One beautiful implication of the name Jehovah is that God never says, "I was" for that would imply change for better or worse, nor does He say "I shall be" which would also imply some kind of change; eternally God says I AM. Never does the perfect One pass through the process of becoming.
God live in the eternal present! And the life he lives in the eternal present is not an empty, static life, but the life of the Godhead is a full, rich life in which all things are constantly present with Him. That God is eternal and uncahnging does not imply idleness or repetition or imperfection but rather fulness of life, perfection of beauty and blessed activity! Some content is given to this life of God in Psalm 90, verse one, "Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations." We'll return to this rich idea a bit later, but here we ought to see that the eternal God is the God of the covenant, living within Himself a full, rich covenant life of friendship! From everlasting to everlasting, He is that kind of God!
What a contrast between the eternal, unchanging God and the creature man. In verse three we learn that man soon returns to the dust, by the powerful Word of God, "Return, ye children of men." In verse four we learn that a "thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and a s a watch in the night." We think a day is short, and we think a thousand years is ever so long! Not even Methusaleh lived to be a thousand years: not a man, not a kingdom, not a nation. But a day and a millennium are both alike to God! God doesn't consider one to be more or less than the other, for God does not even think in these terms.
But what really brings out the contrast between the eternal God and we sons of men is the psalmist's reference to grass (verses 5, 6). This comparison of man with grass is found throughout the Scriptures. We are not compared to an oak or a cedar, but to grass! In the morning the grass flourisheth, in the evening it is cut down and withers. As the sickle mows down the grass, so the scythe comes to remove us from the earth. The purpose of this comparison is to humble the child of God. We are as the grass. The greatest glory and honor that we can attain in this life is as the flower of the grass. And the God before Whom we live is so great and so glorious that He is above all the time and the dictates, tyranny, and ravages of time. The further purpose of our being compared to grass is to bring us to worship this great God! Our days are three score and ten, or if God gives strength, four score years. The wonder is that the eternal God is even mindful of us, much less loves us and cares for us! The author of this Psalm Moses believed that in respect to the timeless God, and so ought we (See verses 14-17).
The great blessedness of God's eternity for His people is given in the first verse, "Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations." Far from being an abstract truth, the eternity of God is filled with rich implication for the believer. Elsewhere in Scripture we read that God dwells in us; here, we read that in every generation, the children of God dwell in Him! Scripture uses the word dwell to denote the living together of God with His people, to denote a life of friendship with God and security in God. In every generation, the saints have found their abode not in temple or churches, but in the great God set forth in temple and churches. When Abraham came out of Ur and lived in a tent in Canaan, when Israel was captive in Egypt, when she journeyed through the wilderness, settled in the promised land, was taken captive and then returned, as well as in the New Dispensation ... the eternal God is the dwelling place of the saints! With Him there is always comfort, safety, refreshment, and nourishment! With Him there is fulness of joy!
Would you make your dwelling place elsewhere? Would you place your trust in armies, your friendship with the world, your dependency upon some government or other human agency in time of need? One word will show the foolishness of that: grass! Time causes kings to die, places to crumble, nations to disappear. Look up! Look to the everlasting habitation which is Jehovah Himself Whom time cannot touch, Who never changes in Himself or in regard to His dear people. The God Who is eternal in Himself, is the eternal God of the covenant of grace. The God Who stands above time as regards Himself, controls and uses time to bring about all the good pleasure of His will. The God Who does not consider a thousand years as different from a single day will bring His church unto Himself that she may enjoy her God 's world without end in the new creation.
There are several practical implications that ought to be mentioned in closing. When the eternal God speaks to us timebound creatures, we can have difficulty sometimes with His speech. We have reference to His promise to send Christ to us quickly. What are we to think of the fact that almost 2000 years have passed since the Bible was completed, and Christ has not yet returned? The devil and false teachers are quick to point out to us this endless delay simply means that God and His Word are not trustworthy. You can read of this blasphemy in II Peter three. And sometimes the child of God begins to think that 2,000 years is a long time; he might even begin to waver in his hope for the return of Jesus. But then the Word of God is quick to point out, "Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, but he defers the coming of Christ lest any of His chosen ones should perish (verse9). Always the Word of the eternal God must be believed!
Secondly, we must learn to number our days and apply our hearts to wisdom. We might think that life is long, that we have many days yet to live. Youth might think that there is always time later to be spiritual. Not so. Count your days, as I count mine. Be wise and apply your hearts to wisdom. What is wisdom? Wisdom is to know ourselves as grass, to know that Christ comes to judge all men, to pray for that glorious coming, and to believe that all will burn except that which is established by God. When God comes, He comes as the dwelling place of all generations. The eternal God is our habitation.