The Heritage Singers once said “Forever is a long, long time.” That’s the way many of us probably think about eternity; a very, very long time. A verse of Amazing Grace starts out “When we’ve been there 10,000 years…” The truth is that eternity takes place outside of time. It’s not made up all time but is rather the exact opposite of time.
Time had a definite beginning. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:3-5) I’m not going to argue for or against a literal seven day creation week. My honest opinion is that it does not matter. What matters is that God created time. It has not always been. God exists outside of time and apparently so do a few other things. Time will also have a definite end. “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.” (Revelation 21:23-25). God created time for us in this present environment. He explained the cyclical nature of things after the flood at the end of Genesis 8: “‘While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’” We have day and night, we have seasons, and we keep time by tracking these cycles only for as long as the earth remains.
We will not get bored in heaven. I don’t want to get into a debate about whether or not Christians “go to heaven” or the Kingdom comes here; we will spend eternity in God’s presence, together with all believers from throughout the ages. It will not be a long, long time, measured in centuries or eons. We will never grow weary of being there so long and wish for something else instead. There will be no night and day cycles, no weeks, months, years; it will be one unending day. We need think in terms outside of time to understanding it. Even while I’m writing I know that’s a big ask because we have always existed confined within a linear timeline. That’s what we know and we have no experiences outside of time. Eternity will not be for all time but rather the absence of time. God exists outside of time and so will we. God introduced himself to Moses as “I AM.” His name is the verb meaning to be. God has no past, present and future. We will be with him in one present moment that is immeasurable by our understanding.
Hell will also be eternal; but we also need to think it in terms which are outside of time. The idea that a loving God would send – or allow any person to go – to hell, to have someone suffer endlessly, day after day, for millions of years, is simply unthinkable for many. There are those who believe everyone entering hell will burn away in a matter of moments; or that after suffering long enough they will then be consumed or enter heaven after serving their time, so to speak. It’s dangerous for us to think about what we know of God’s nature and speculate on how he thinks or what he is likely to do, especially when our conclusions stand opposed to what the Bible says. But just like heaven, we need to think in terms outside of time as we understand it.
Everything we see now is temporary. We age each day, mountains weather over millennia, even the stars in the sky burn out and pass away. Peter reminded the faithful (2nd Peter 3) that the heavenly bodies will be dissolved and the elements of the earth will melt, but we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth, prophesied in Isaiah 65 and realized in Revelation 21. It is God’s desire that none should perish; but he will allow it. Millions of years is not the answer to complex systems that have a designer and creator. Nor is millions of years a reason to believe that hell is not real and people will really go there. At the end of this present age time will not be a factor of any kind. Time’s days are numbered.