GOD: ETERNAL, SELF-EXISTENT
Martin Luther is quoted as saying to his theological opponent Erasmus, “Your thoughts of God are too human.” God's perfections and glory are in a class all of His own. Certainly, there are ways that human beings, made in God's image, reflect Him. And redeemed human beings, being transformed and empowered by God's grace, can reflect what theologians refer to as God's communicable attributes (love, compassion, longsuffering, etc.) But there are certain aspects of God's nature that are incommunicable, unique to God alone and not shared by human beings (omnipotence, eternality, omniscience, etc.). In this article we will look at aspects of God's character that, if we don't ponder and understand them, we will surely have thoughts of God that are too human!
From Everlasting to Everlasting
Moses wrote Psalm 90 close to the end of Israel's 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Those 40 years were hard. The book of Numbers records that during this time, the notable negatives were disobedience, rebellion and Divine judgment that brought much death. Since the people of Israel were wandering, there was something of a lack of stability. There was no personally owned land where one could build a house, plant crops and establish routines and patterns of home life. Long-term, this is not a healthy way to live. Against such a backdrop, Moses recognizes the most stable thing of all: the existence of God! “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psa. 90:2).
Moses notes that there is someone whose existence stretches back to even before Creation. That someone is God. Moses specifically noted the mountains. Mountains seem immovable, impenetrable and almost eternal. They are intimidating, massive and awe-inspiring. Compare yourself to the mountains and you feel pretty small, and rightfully so! As impressive as the mountains are to us, Moses worshipfully reminds us that God pre-dates the mountains. Moses notes that God is eternal, “...from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.”
Moses noted in verse 4 of the psalm that God is unbound and unlimited by time: “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” This very facet of God's nature is part of what distinguishes Him from all other beings. It is part of the very essence of Deity. While we acknowledge that the truth of God's eternality stretches our minds beyond our limits, it is still necessary to ponder. Here are some short statements that help to illuminate this particular glory of God: There has never been a time when God was not. God always has been, and He always will be. God is the un-caused first cause. God is the Creator, but He was not created (John 1:1-3). It is impossible to destroy God. There will never be a time in the future when God will not exist.
There are many ways this truth should affect us, but one must be great comfort and encouragement. While there are many unknowns from our perspective, one thing most surely can be known: God will not cease to exist in all of His goodness, wisdom, love, sovereignty and power! No matter what season of difficulty or suffering a believer may pass; no matter how frightening and chaotic world events may be, he can know this: “my greatest stability is in an eternal God who has made great promises to me and has loved me with a perfect love.” Just before Moses died, he pronounced a blessing upon Israel. Note part of this blessing in Deuteronomy 33:27, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
I AM THAT I AM
Much earlier in Moses' life, God revealed Himself to Moses in a special way when Moses saw a strange sight in the backside of the desert. Exodus 3 records that the God who would send Moses to rescue Israel from Egyptian bondage would show Moses that He eternal and self-existent. He did this in the form of a burning bush. What was especially noteworthy was that this bush on fire did not burn up. It just kept burning and burning, yet was not consumed. Moses was so struck by this that he just had to stop and “see this great sight” (Ex. 3:3). God Himself called out to Moses from the midst of the bush and instructed His servant to take his shoes off because Moses was standing on holy ground. In other words, the very presence of God was in a unique and sacred way in that burning bush and the ground surrounding it. It was here that God called Moses to go to Egypt and demand their freedom from Pharaoh.
But Moses had this question: “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” (Ex. 3:13,14).
What does this name mean? It means that God is eternal and self-existent. In other words, “I exist from no other source than myself.” No one created God; no one sustains and upholds Him. As R.C. Sproul has said, “God has the power of being in and of Himself.” Human beings, angels and all created beings, in contrast, were created by God Himself and only continue to exist at His sovereign pleasure. The Apostle Paul proclaimed to the pagan idolaters in Athens, “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
The burning bush was used by God to illuminate this reality about His nature. For a fire to keep burning, it has to have fuel. A campfire is warm, cozy and inviting as long as wood is steadily thrown in to feed the flames. When there ceases to be combustible material added to the fire, it gradually loses its energy and the flames die out. God is not like that. He needs no fuel to be sustained in His glorious being. There is no need for God to look to a source outside of Himself in order to maintain His existence. All that He needs is found within Himself!
Friend, this should inspire awe and worship from us. God is the great I AM! It should also produce humility on our part. It is regrettably too easy for us to begin to become impressed with ourselves. The strong and healthy may think of themselves as almost invincible. The sharp-minded and especially talented may despise those with lesser gifts. The wealthy may see themselves as self-sufficient. However, a look at the eternal, self-existent God should lead us to humble adoration and utter dependence upon Him. Remember the wisdom of the book of James to the proud, “Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:13-15).
Finally, remember that the eternal, self-existent God is the only Savior of sinners. When Jesus of Nazareth was engaged in a serious battle of words with his opponents, they scoffed at His assertion that Abraham of old saw Jesus' day with joy. They mocked this idea, since Jesus wasn't even 50 years of age and Abraham had died centuries before. Jesus responded with a statement that must have been a jolt to every person who heard it, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). The one who was born in Bethlehem, ministered throughout the villages of Israel, and died in Jerusalem on a cross is the I AM that spoke out of the bush to Moses. His death “obtained eternal redemption” for sinners (Hebrews 9:12). While Moses saw much sin and resulting death in the wilderness, he also was enabled to look by faith to the eternal God who provides an eternal redemption for His beloved people. Join in with Moses and worship the great I AM. Recall Luther's words and don't let your thoughts of God be “too human.”
Timothy Guess is the Managing Editor of The Baptist Witness and pastor of Collierville Primitive Baptist Church, Collierville, TN