God in the Eternal Present

In my opinion, one of the best proofs for the authenticity of the Biblical accounts is the manner in which God speaks of Himself. He speaks of Himself as existing outside of time. When the pagans thought of the gods, they thought of them as having been around from the beginning. The grasp of the past seems pretty hazy. The Roman Hesiod’s Theogony was an attempt to explain that there was nothing, then there was Chaos, and then Chaos created the gods, a pretty inexplicable chain of events with no real cause and effect. Who created Chaos? Was Chaos a god, or just a force? How does a mindless force give rise to intelligent being, much less a god?

Even today, when Christians think of God, there’s a tendency to think of Him as simply infinitely old. The idea (and the position frequently attacked by atheists unable to answer Aquinas’ Quinque Viae) is that Christians think God is from “infinity B.C.,” if you will. That’s emphatically not the Christian view, properly understood.

Take the Christian evolutionist, for example, who believes in the Big Bang. He believes that God created the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. He doesn’t think God existed 13.8 billion years ago… but only because there’s no such thing as 13.8 billion years ago. God created time, so the question of whether God existed 13.8 billion years ago is as senseless as Cain asking if God was the same God of his grandfather.

Rather than being infinitely old, God exists outside of time. Youth and age are meaningless terms. John Newton put it well in Amazing Grace: “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, Than when we first begun.” That’s a ridiculously hard concept to grasp, and most people miss that this is one of God’s claims about Himself.

The creatures worshiping God in Rev. 4:8 say that He “was, and is, and is to come.” But that’s not how He describes Himself. In Exodus 3:14, God gives His name, YHWH. Here’s how the Douay-Rheims translates it:

God said to Moses: I AM WHO AM. He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS, hath sent me to you.

That, I think, is the perfect understanding of what the term means. God IS. What was the past, is the present, and will be the future to us always IS to Him. The eternal present.

This, incidentally, is also how the Jews apparently understood the passage. When they translated it into Greek for the Septuagint, they translated what the Douay gives as “I AM WHO AM” as ego eimi ho on, which in English means “I AM THE ONE WHO IS”, and translated the “HE WHO IS” as ho on, “THE ONE WHO IS.”

This is an incredibly ancient religious text, with a grasp that matter, space, and time, as creations of God, do not thus bind God Himself. The notion that you can’t have time without space is most clearly and explicitly laid out by St. Augustine in the fourth century. Eventually, Einstein came along in the twentieth century, and science caught up with religion on this point. As an amusing nod to St. Augustine, George Gamow (one of the early Big Bang proponents) named pre-Big Bang time “the Augustinian era,” since scientists were increasingly forced to admit it probably didn’t exist. That is, there was nothing prior to the singularity.

Christ makes it even clearer in John 8:54-59:

Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’
You do not know him, but I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word.
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.
So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.”
So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.

What an incredible statement. Jesus still IS existing prior to Abraham’s birth, just as He IS in Eternal Glory in Heaven. This is sort of too much for us to grasp, I fear. But the fact that Jesus can so boldly proclaim this about Himself suggests that One Man in history “got it” about what I AM means. Because He IS.

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