The Eternal God

“Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”’” (Exodus 3:13-14; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version),

The letters in the middle are the Hebrew letters “YHWH,” the Old Testament name of God. Photo by Ulf Carlbark, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Names of God can tell us a lot about what people think of Him. According to Wikipedia, the English word “God” and its German counterpart, “Gott,” are derived from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning “pour” or “libate”; it is believed that this associates “God” with sacrifices or idols. Some Christians may notice the similarity of “God/Gott” with “good/gut” (note that “Gospel” comes from the Old English “God-spell,” meaning “good news”) and make the connection between “God” and “good.” Yes, God is good. However, this means that God becomes the basis of our idea of goodness; it does not mean I can re-imagine God to justify my false notions about what is good.

The Greek word for “god” is “theos,” which is related to another Greek word “theoreo,” meaning “to look at, to see, to observe.” This is the root of our English word “theory.” Perhaps the Greeks first thought of their deities as beings who saw everything that happens. Perhaps we have turned it upside-down, so that modern Christians often think we can see, observe, and develop our own theories about God.

Other cultures and languages have other words for God, associating the deity with kingship, eternity, power, or some other attribute. The name of God identifies a vital essential characteristic.

In the Old Testament, we find three names for God:

  • El” (or its longer form “Elohim”) is associated with His might and power. In most English Bibles, this is the Hebrew word when you see “God” in the Old Testament.
  • Adonai” means “lord.” It connotes His authority as One who should be obeyed. If you see “Lord” (with only the “L” capitalized) in the Old Testament, it is usually translating Adonai.
  • Yahweh” is usually spelled “LORD” (all capitals or small caps) in our English Bibles. The Hebrew Bible only contains the four consonants which we transliterate as “YHWH” here. Ancient Gentile writers have recorded that it was pronounced “Yahweh” but, by the time of Christ, Jews would normally not pronounce this name of God. To avoid mispronouncing God’s name and using it in vain, they would generally substitute another word like “Adonai” while reading the Scriptures or use a substitute term (like “the Name” or “Heaven”) when referring to God in conversation.

Yahweh essentially means “I am” or “I will be.” This is the name that He revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:13-14. Much of the rest of Scripture unpacks and unfolds the meaning of this Name. God is…period. This concept perhaps reaches its greatest explanation in St. Paul’s description of the divine nature of Jesus Christ:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, 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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).

German theologian Paul Tillich coined the phrase “ground of being” to summarize the nature of God, perhaps echoing the thought of St. Paul:

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:28).

“Big Bang.” Image courtesy of Max Pixel

God does not derive His existence from anything or anybody else. He just is. As the ground of all being and the Creator of all, everything and everybody derives their existence from Him. This is a hard concept to fully comprehend. We usually find an answer to the question, “But where did {something} come from?” Human nature seems dissatisfied with final answers. We become like small children who reply to every answer by saying, “Why?” During the past few decades, scientists proposed a “Big Bang” as the beginning of our universe, the beginning of everything. Now, many scientists, who previously thought they found the beginning of everything, ponder what existed before the Big Bang. Yet, when we reach God, we come to the end of the questions. He is. He always has been. He always will be. He derives His existence from nobody or nothing else. He just is.

God’s eternal nature may be beyond our comprehension, yet God still reveals Himself to us. Everything else about God springs from that eternal nature He is our Creator because He is eternal. He is sovereign because He is eternal. In a forthcoming post, we will look at some of the ways His eternal nature relates to His sovereignty.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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