Trusting an Eternal God in the Here and Now
Not knowing the future need not worry us because God does:
In this piece I want to discuss both theological and pastoral aspects to how we believers are to live in the light of the God that we serve. Our God is an infinite, eternal God who is not caught by surprise at what happens. But we are finite, time-bound creatures who can only take one day at a time.
You and I live in time and we cannot fully know the future. But we do have Scripture telling us in broad-brush strokes – as well as in some detail – what the future will be like. There is a big difference between knowing a bit about the end from the beginning and knowing the One who does know the end from the beginning. While we may not know what tomorrow holds, we serve a God who does.
For finite Christians, there is always some uncertainty, apprehension and even fear in what is coming next, both in big matters and little matters. As for the big picture, while we know that one day Christ will return, we may not know how bad things will get first, say in Australia or the West. We may not know if the threat of Putin to engage in nuclear war will materialise in the coming days. We do not know who will win the next American presidential election, and so on.
And on a smaller scale, we do not know all sorts of things. Will I still have my job tomorrow? Will my kids one day accept Christ? Will my friend’s marriage last? Will I make it through this bout of cancer? If successfully treated, will the cancer come back some other time? Will I ever see an overseas loved one again? There are zillions of variables and possibilities in our own lives that we just do not know about and how they will transpire.
So we need faith and confidence in a God who does know about all these things. Let me here use a sporting analogy, then look at a bit of theology, and then try to make a practical conclusion to all this. As to the analogy, I often think about some great sporting event, whether a World Series, or a Grand Slam tennis final, or an AFL Grand Final.
If you happen to strongly support an individual or a team, and you watch the event live – either in person or on the television – it can be a real rough experience. The more emotionally committed you are to the team or player, the more nervous you will be and the more on the edge of your seat you will be. Will he or she win? Will my team prevail?
Let me at this point get a bit personal. I just went through this a few days ago, as have many others. As some of you might know, I am probably 95 per cent cerebral, and perhaps 5 per cent emotional. Not much gets me very stirred up emotionally. But since coming down under I have managed to end up supporting, somewhat passionately, one AFL team.
And as many will know, Saturday the Geelong Cats played in a Grand Final. Given the bad luck they have had over the past decade with finals footy, fans would rightly have been a bit worried. I was, so it was with some fear and trepidation that I sat down to watch the match.
I must have had a bit of emotional investment in the game, because even my stomach was feeling a bit churned up at the start. By halftime things were looking a bit more reassuring, and by the middle of the third quarter we knew it was going to be a big win, so we could then relax and enjoy the rest of the game.
And it was a big win indeed – go Cats. And for die-hard fans, the game is usually replayed the next day. So I watched it a second time – but minus all the angst and anxiety. Because I knew exactly how the game would end, I could sit back and enjoy it from the opening bounce. It was quite different viewing than how it was the day before.
But imagine if a game is much tighter and closer, where the winner is not known until the closing seconds of the game. A nail-biting finish follows a close, up and down contest. For the true fan, you can go on an emotional roller coaster watching such a game. And the contrast would be even greater watching it the next time on replay.
It is at this point that I want to offer some spiritual and theological thoughts. Except for a very small minority, almost all believers know that God does know the end from the beginning. They believe that divine foreknowledge is a biblical given.
Of course plenty of theological and philosophical issues arise here which I certainly cannot go into any detail about, but can only mention them in passing. For example, does God’s foreknowledge of all events mean that he has somehow caused all of them? There are various strongly held views about this matter, but I am not going to go into them here.
And another massive question involves God’s relation to time. Most Christians have believed that God is outside of time. Indeed, God created both time and space when he created the universe. But how then does a timeless God relate to a time-bound world? Is God in an eternal now, as some have suggested? While we experience a succession of moments – past, present and future – God does not.
So how does what we do tie in with who he is? And practical questions arise as well, such as in relation to prayer. If God is outside of time, or knows all future events, how does that fit in with answered prayer? And if he knows our prayers from all eternity, what about praying for past events now? Can God change what has already happened?
As I say, philosophers and theologians have wrestled with such matters for centuries. But for those who are into these hardcore topics, I can suggest some volumes for further reading, thinking and study. Here are 13 such works:
Beilby, James, ed., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. IVP, 2001.
Craig, William Lane, The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. Wipf and Stock, 1987, 2000.
Craig, William Lane, Time and Eternity. Crossway Books, 2001.
Cullman, Oscar, Christ and Time. SCM, 1962.
Deweese, Garrett, God and the Nature of Time. Ashgate Publishing, 2004.
Ganssle, Gregory, ed., God and Time: Essays on the Divine Nature. Oxford University Press, 2002.
Ganssle, Gregory, ed., God and Time: Four Views. IVP, 2001.
Hasker, William, God, Time and Knowledge. Cornell University Press, 1989.
Helm, Paul, Eternal God. Clarendon Press, 1988.
Padgett, Alan, God, Eternity and the Nature of Time. Palgrave Macmillan: 1992.
Picirilli, Robert, God in Eternity and Time: A New Case for Human Freedom. B&H, 2022.
Pike, Nelson, God and Timelessness. Schocken Books, 1970.
Tapp, Christian and Edmund Runggaldier, eds., God, Eternity, and Time. Ashgate, 2011.
But my point here is to finish on a practical note, and not keep us floundering in deep and murky epistemological and metaphysical waters. Just as we approach a sporting event quite differently from viewing it live to watching it again as a replay, in a sense our Christian life can be like that.
Sure, the issues I mentioned before still remain: Will my job last through this year? Will I still be living in my home two years from now? Will I ever get healed of these nagging migraines? Will my steep mortgage ever get paid off? We do not know all the answers to these specific matters.
But God does. He knows all things. He knows the way that I take. He knows the very hairs of my head. He knows what needs I have. He knows what will befall us tomorrow and he knows what will befall nations next year. In light of all this, the believer can trust God, without knowing all the fine details of what lies ahead.
Yes, it tends to be like watching a live sporting event with all the ups and downs and worries and concerns. But it should be more like watching the replay, because God has it all in his hands, and he is looking after our best interests, far more than we ever can.
As is often said, God is too loving to be unkind and too wise to make a mistake. We can trust him even in the dark times. If we do not know what tomorrow holds, that is OK, because we know and love the one who does. And again, that should be very reassuring and comforting, on the most practical of levels. For example Jesus could say this in Matthew 6:25-34:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.
These words can easily apply to all areas of life. Sure, we want to be good stewards of what we have, and we want to be responsible when it comes to providing for our family and the like. We are not to be reckless. But we need to trust God more and rest in his arms as we face uncertain times, and stare in the face of worrying upcoming events. Consider it a replay, and relax in his care and concern.
The 1971 Gaither tune Because He Lives captures some of what is being said here:
And because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
All fear is gone
Because I know
He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives
2 Replies to “Trusting an Eternal God in the Here and Now”
Very good summary Bill. Thank you.