Tossing a Lasso Around Mount Everest
The idea of eternity is difficult to grasp, like trying to toss a lasso around Mt. Everest or cupping the Milky Way in your hands. I remember thinking about it as a young child. For some reason I was fascinated by the idea that hell might be eternal. Every time I got close to understanding that word “eternity,” particularly in connection with hell, I felt overwhelmed, like I was about to pitch off the edge of a cliff. I’m not sure why I fixated on hell rather than heaven. Perhaps it was for the same reason some children like to watch scary movies or ride roller coasters—it was thrilling.
But what does it mean to say that God is eternal? It means that he exists beyond time. He is without beginning or end. Time is part of the world he created, but he is not contained in time. In a way we cannot fathom, God is able to perceive the past, present, and future in an everlasting now. All events are present to him. He is never kept in suspense, never has to wonder or worry, because he already knows everything that has happened, is happening, or will happen. For him there is no yesterday, today, or tomorrow.
A.W. Tozer, paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, explained that “if you could think of a sheet of paper infinitely extended in all directions, and if you took a pencil and made a line one inch long on it, that would be time. When you started to push your pencil it was the beginning of time and when you lifted if off the paper it was the end of time. And all around, infinitely extended in all directions, is God.”1
But what difference does God’s eternity make to human beings whose life in time is immeasurably small? We’re like the grass that withers and the flowers that fade. Isn’t it depressing to realize how short life is? Yes, in one sense. But coming to terms with the brevity of life can lead us to wonder why an infinite, eternal God would even bother to care about us. Why go to any trouble for mere specks on a tiny timeline? Why make the ultimate investment—sacrificing his Son for our sakes?
The only answer comes from Scripture itself. God is interested because of a design feature he built into us. The Bible tells us that he has placed eternity in our hearts. Though we live in time, God created us for eternity. How else could we know that his love endures forever unless we had eternity to experience that love?
- A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God, Volume 1 (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread Publishers, 1997), 5-6.