The word eternal in reference to the universe means a system of never ending and never beginning time, or it can mean timelessness, that is, reality outside time where clocks don’t tick. In the latter sense God is eternal. In relation to the flow of time, God has no beginning and no end. He was present at the beginning of creation and will be at the end when Christ comes back in victory over all the hostile powers that oppose God and beyond.
It is wrong to speak of anything as eternal except God Himself. All that is in creation came into existence within the framework of time. Everything has a beginning and an end. In other words, the marriage of a man and woman is not eternal; the State is not eternal; no human is eternal; stellar bodies, like the moon and sun and the many heavenly objects that came before them, are not eternal, although they last a long time; no thinker, no artist, no great man or woman are eternal. Only God is eternal. The Greek gods are not eternal for they came into existence in time. The eternally begotten One, Son of the Father, is eternal. He existed before time. There never was a time when He was not, but the creature is limited to a brief span of time. To use the word, eternal, for anything but God is a misuse of the word.
Not too long ago, many scientists believed that the universe was eternal, a leading proponent being Fred Hoyle who didn’t like the idea of God. His agenda was not only scientific, but also theological. This situation changed with the acceptance of the Big Bang Theory, the idea that things came into being in the remote past and will eventually come to an end. If the universe is eternal, there is no room for an eternal God. The town named Universe is too small for two eternals. This theory points to the existence of God, though absolute certainty of His existence can never be achieved.
It is not possible for the cosmos to be eternal. All that is in it comes into and passes out of existence. An eternal universe is a contradiction according to either definition mentioned at the beginning of this article. Without God, we discover that there exists a never ending sequence of causes. Thus, we can never get back to the beginning of creation. There must be a First Cause to get everything started. True eternity does not need a First Cause, that is God who is not caused but only causes. In a finite universe, a First Cause leads to all subsequent causes. God becomes a necessary explanation.
The word eternal must be reserved for the timelessness of God. Except for God no other thing can claim the term. If God does not exist, the word eternal has no place in the English vocabulary or in any language’s vocabulary. Of course, without God no universe would exist. The point is that when we Christians use terms we must use them properly. Much confusion is introduced into a conversation with the wrong use of a word or the wrong meaning, as is the case with the word, eternal. We correct others’ inaccurate use, but only with gentleness and respect.
Rational defense of the existence of God is supplemented by the Scriptures that testify to His existence. They also inform us that God is the one Triune God and that Christ is the eternally begotten Son of God, doctrines not demonstrable by reason but by faith.
Michael G. Tavella
The Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle and Martyr
November 30, 2021