In an online discussion forum, an atheist recently posed a question to me regarding God’s eternal nature:
“How can God be eternal? Belief in an eternal being defies logic!”
This is the kind of question that I have been asked many times by school students in varying forms, such as, “If God made the universe, who made God?” Part of our dilemma when considering the possibly of God as an eternal being, is our inability to conceive of anything not having a beginning or end. We simply cannot comprehend such a concept. This is because everything we see and experience in the physical universe has a beginning and an end – including ourselves.
However, philosophers who ponder the nature of existence (ontology) allow for an additional option: the possibility of causeless necessity which would not require a beginning. For millennia, our profoundest thinkers have agreed upon a foundational ontological tenet:
“Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in an external cause or the causeless necessity of its own nature.”
Something or someone whose nature is one of causeless necessity means that it cannot be otherwise; its (or his) existence is not externally derived (caused by something external to itself) but is a necessary and unavoidable derivative of its (or his) own nature.
Clearly, the universe does not fall into this category, because it had a beginning. Cosmological evidence such as the second law of thermodynamics, the fact that the universe is expanding, the echo from the big bang discovered in 1965, the temperature ripples found by the COBE project in 1992, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and more all point conclusively to the universe having a beginning at a specific point in time. Logically, this means that the universe has a cause, external to itself.
But if the universe has an external cause, that cause must be causeless, otherwise we are left with an eternally regressive set of prior causes which, philosophically and mathematically, is an impossibility.
This leads us, inexorably, to a necessarily causeless being: in other words, God. Contrary to the claims of some atheists, God has not been conveniently “snuck into” the discussion on origins as some kind of ‘God of the gaps’, as if believers are merely grasping at straws to explain something that is not yet understood. No. A temporally finite, caused universe, demands an infinite, uncaused cause. It is inescapable logic.
This accords with the Bible which describes God as causeless. Unlike us, God’s existence isn’t contingent upon anything else for its beginning or continuance. This is where we need to understand the concept of God’s ‘aseity’. This is a theological term that refers to the self-generating, self-existent, uncaused nature of God. God is the only ‘thing’ that is self-existent and uncaused. He exists perpetually from within himself: He is self-generating. Everything else in the universe is dependent and derived. Humans, for example, are not self-existent. We require food, warmth, oxygen, gravity, and the ongoing functioning of the whole gamut of natural laws and constants within the physical universe in order to exist. Theologically, however, Christians maintain that the very essence of our life force comes not from the material world or from within us, but from God “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Even matter, the very stuff of the universe, is not self-existent. Neither are the universal constants and laws that govern the operation of the universe. They do not exist necessarily, and their precise values are not pre-ordained as a matter of necessity. They do not cause themselves to exist but are caused externally to themselves. It is God who creates and upholds the universal laws and constants:
“For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before / above / over all things, and in Him all things hold together. “ (Col 1:16-17)
In this sense, the ‘laws of nature’ are not really laws of nature at all; they are the laws of God. They are the ongoing means by which God “holds all things together” and ensures the consistent and proper functioning of our universe. Undergirding the very existence of our physical universe is a metaphysical, transcendent God; a God who exists above and beyond nature itself.
So, part of the answer to understanding God’s eternal existence is God’s aseity: his self-generating, self-existent nature – a nature that we, and the whole of the physical universe, do not have. He does not need an external cause for his existence; he is his own cause.
The second part of the answer to the mystery of God’s eternal existence lies in the nature of time itself. Time is merely a construct that God created as a fundamental component of the physical universe. Thus, scientists speak of our universe as occupying a “space-time continuum”. But if this is merely part of the construct that God has created, the logical extension is that God exists outside of this. He is above and beyond even time itself. You and I and the whole of creation must travel linearly through time, at the precise velocity of one second per second. We are locked into time ( with the exception of certain relativistic effects as predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity).
But God exists above and beyond time. He exists at the moment of the universe’s birth and the moment of its eventual demise SIMULTANEOUSLY. He spans all of time like you or I are able to straddle a ruler. This is why the Bible refers to him as “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 1:8). In a sense, for God, there is no past and present. He exists in the eternal “now”. He exists at all points along the continuum of time, simultaneously. Just as God exists EVERYWHERE simultaneously, so he exists EVERYWHEN simultaneously.
There is a hint of this in the Bible when Jesus, in claiming one of the Hebrew names of God for himself, used the present tense in saying, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). This use of the perfect present tense to refer to something in the distant past makes no sense to us from the perspective of our linear travel through time, but it makes perfect sense for a God who exists at all points of time simultaneously. We also see hints of this in several instances of prophecy in the Bible when the Spirit of God predicts events that will unfold in the distant future, but uses the past tense to describe them. This is because, from God’s perspective the past, present and future are all co-temporal.
Part of God’s transcendence, therefore, is not merely that he is above and beyond the physical dimensions of the natural universe, but also that he is completely outside of time itself, because time is simply a convenient construct that he created for us to live our lives within.
In this sense, it is really non-sensical to ask a question like, “How can God possibly exist forever?”, because we inevitably bring to the concept of “forever” our intrinsically limited, linear understanding of time.
So, who made God? No one. He doesn’t need to be made. He just is.
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, apologist and social commentator. He is the author of 12 books, and his latest, “7 Reasons to Believe”, is now available. Connect with Kevin on Facebook or his website, SmartFaith.net.