The Distinction between
Eternity and Time
By Pastor George D. Cutler
Grace Gospel Ministry
Time is transitorily presence in contrast to eternity which is abiding presence. Due to the fact that time presently coexists with creation as created functions in eternity, mankind, who is a creature of time, has difficulty differentiating between them. There are those whose conception of eternity is as an “eternal duration.” However, duration conveys that which is measurable as contrasted with eternity, which is immeasurable. The word “duration” depicts continuance in time or some length of time during which something continues or exists. Eternity is not correctly expressed by the use of terminology, which evinces even measurable increments. In this sense, even to refer to eternity as “the extension of duration;” would convey an endless succession of measurable units of time. In this view, eternity would be gradually running out of time but eternity can be neither shortened nor lengthened.
It is even erroneous to conceptualize eternity as “whole at once” because it cannot possibly be quantified by the term “present.” Illustration-wise, when any specific entity is currently present, it’s past and future doesn’t exist. In other words, at the point an interval is present, all others must be either past or future; therefore there cannot concurrently exist a “hundred present years.” When one considers the factuality of this statement, durations of year, month, day, hour, minute, and second conclusively demonstrate that the “present” actually has no length at all, as it can only be quantified as an instantaneity. In this sense, one cannot speak of either past or future as having any reality, as such can only be actualized in eternity. The present alone has no reality except as eternity may be expressed as “the immeasurable present.”
There are veiled expressions of eternity in Old Testament scriptures, as when God spoke of His eternality, as, “I AM” in Exodus 3:14. The statement, “I Was,” would convey the meaning that He is not now what He was. Furthermore, the statement, “I Will Be,” would convey the meaning that He is not yet what He will be. The chief inadequacy of the assignment of actualization in time is that there no span that will stay still long enough to authenticate the reality of anything. Hence, the inevitable conclusion is that eternity is not like time, which is as a rainbow dissipating at both ends. Eternity does not flow as the “present,” which can not be endured, the past as some would have already been used up or the future, which cannot be certified; but as the “immeasurable abiding.”
There is a difference between the succession of events in time and the “intensity of experience” in eternity. The intensity of experience will envelop the manifestation of extensity when time ceases to exist. The word “extensity” denotes the quality of having extension or the attitude or sensation by which spatial (pertaining to space which also involves time) extension is perceived. The word “intensity” refers to the quality or condition of being intense, i.e., extreme (absolute) in degree, power, or effect, as the essential quality of eternity is intensity rather than extensity. Even though the anthropomorphic axioms “everlasting” and age-enduring are the widely accepted descriptive terminology conveyed in the scriptures; to think of length as the essence of eternal life is to suppose that the reality of it is to be measured by how long it lasts.
God’s people are so conscious of mortality that they tend to emphasize the quantitative aspect of their “life in Christ,” as its guarantee of victory over death. The qualitative aspect of eternal “life in Christ” is immensely and unimaginably significant, as such is not engineered by the persuasive eloquence that produces a mere mental assent for a period of time (I Corinthians 1:27-30). The difference between extensity and intensity may be illustrated by demonstrating the difference between existing in a specified mode of elongation vs. prescribed determination. The intensity of existence in prescribed determination exceeds the extensity of a specified mode of elongation. A specified mode of elongation is measurable whereas prescribed determination is immeasurable. In applying this same distinction to the death of Jesus Christ, the extensity of His human suffering on the cross lasted for three hours in time but the intensity of the prescribed determination of His suffering compensated for the eternity of punishment He endured.
Believers are ever seeking a better understanding of eternity and a more concise way of expressing their belief in such an infinite subject. Various ways of illustrating eternity have been suggested but most of them are utterly inadequate. There are some who say duration of Divine existence is from eternity according to their finite way of understanding it. In this view, they state that the Divine duration must be considered as wholly permanent as the ever present “now” and that it is as incapable of division into parts as Divine existence Himself. They conclude that as the present “I Am” of Divine existence does, at once fill heaven and earth, the present “now” of the Divine duration does, at once, comprehend all time and eternity. The underlined problem with this cogitation is that no matter how one spins it ……………. duration is measurable.
Some have sought to illustrate eternity with a circle because its circumference remains unchanged; reasoning that one can go around the circle endlessly because there is no end. But the obvious flaw in this is the repetition of the measurable circle. There are others who reference eternity and time as two unequal lines, of which the shorter runs parallel for awhile while the other, extends infinitely. But eternity conveys an unchangeable epicenter which sends out rays to cover the whole contour of time but within itself is un-acclimatized. Some believe that eternity is infinity in its relation to time and that past, present, and future are “one eternal now” to God. There is some logic in this analogy but it exudes chronological succession in God’s thoughts. Time is duration measured by successions. Duration without succession would still be duration although it would be immeasurable. Hence, eternity is existence without beginning, bounds, dimension, present, past, future, infancy, youth or age; without expressions of today, yesterday or tomorrow.
Thus the most impressionable distinction between eternity and time is: time is duration measured but eternity is immeasurable. A study of the Scriptural meaning of eternity will reveal that duration should never be used in its description. When one studies the subject of eternal life, he learns that its terminology conveyance is more qualitative than quantitative. From this it is conduced that the term “eternal” carries the idea of intensity of depth rather than extensity of length. A better way to state it anthropomorphically is ………………… “Time is transitory presence and Eternity is abiding presence.” The adjective “transitory” denotes not lasting, not enduring, or not permanent; contrariwise, the adjective “abiding” denotes continuity without change or enduring.
Time must never be viewed as an equal component with Eternity. Even though both are currently coexistent, time has both beginning and ending but eternity has neither. Time moves from the future through the present to the past, but eternity is constant. When the future terrain of time has passed through its present mode, nothing will be left to flow through its “now.” Time will have run out of time and nothing will be left but eternal constancy. As God’s eternality must be viewed from the perspective of quality (endurance that is immeasurable) rather than quantity (duration that is measurable), the life given by God to the elect must be viewed from the same perspective. Although the elect of God are creatures in the sphere of time, they currently possess and shall possess life that excels beyond their depraved, earthly dying bodies.
This is expressed in Titus 3:7’s conveyance, “that having been declared righteous by His grace, heirs we may be (having been) according to the hope of eternal life.” To correctly say that this new life begins with the new birth actually references the actuation of the new creation that came into existence in eternity rather than the manifestation of such testimony in time. To say otherwise is at its worse half-truth and at its best inane, as this life comes from God who is eternal life. Strictly from a human point of view, this life stretches backward into the past (II Timothy 1:9) as much as forward into the future (I Timothy 4:8). But the elect to whom grace was given in Christ before the world began, will live forever, as God’s eternal purpose cannot be regarded as a lifeless foreordination. Deistic ideas can arise only out of an ill-balanced and unhealthy over-concentration of the aspect of man’s view of eternity. Thus, the eternal decree must be regarded as being as much alive and relevant today and tomorrow as it was yesterday because God inhabits eternity.
If God were not eternal, there would be no eternal covenant of grace by which unilaterally the eternal God alone makes and maintains it. If God’s eternality could be measured, He would not be immense, immutable, and perfect. Eternal life obtained by grace is the greatest of all— qualitatively and quantitatively. It is the quality of this life that gives it quantity. Although all believers are in this world of time, by grace they are not of this world of time, in that their fortune is not inexhaustible duration but eternal life, which is timeless. Finally, when God’s elect passes out of time into eternity, the manifested extensity of this life’s experience in time will be realized through the actualized intensity in eternity.