This is the seventh in a series of short reflections on the eight general attributes of God that can known by reason, as set forth by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. I've been learning about St. Thomas and the Summa from Dr. Taylor Marshall and the online classes he offers at the New Saint Thomas Institute. These reflections are the result of my meditations on each individual attribute during prayer. As such, they are not meant to be deep theological discussions, but simple spiritual thoughts on the majesty of our God . I pray you find them beneficial in your walk with Christ.
"And this is Eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent." (John 17:3)
If God is infinite and immutable, it follows naturally that He also must be eternal. This is the seventh attribute of God according to St. Thomas. To be eternal means that God has no beginning and no end. He cannot be measured by time. Thus, St. Thomas says that "eternity is nothing else but God himself." (Summa Theologica, I, q. 10, art. 2). Moreover, this eternal nature applies to each of the three persons of the Trinity, not just God the Father. "The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Ghost is eternal." (Id. (quoting St. Athanasius)).
Like all of His attributes, God's eternal nature may seem at first like an abstract concept with little implication in our daily lives. To the contrary, however, God created us to share in His eternal nature and His eternal life. Perhaps the most quoted passage in the Gospels speaks to this truth: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) As created beings, we are not eternal in the same way as God, for we have a beginning. But He did create us to have no end--life everlasting. In other words, although each of us physically will die one day, our souls will live forever. "Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day." (2 Corinthians 4:16) The only question then is where we will spend eternity. As C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity, this reality has some sobering ramifications:
"Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever."
As the Catechism explains, this means that "it is incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny." (CCC ¶ 1036) Freedom is the key word. We freely choose where we will spend eternity: either with Him in heaven or separated from Him in hell. For "God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end." (CCC ¶ 1037) Again, it is our choice--those small (and sometimes big) decisions we make every day to either grow in holiness or turn away from it.
"The human will cannot be assaulted from without; it can only be betrayed from within, by a free decision which, multiplied, forges the chain of habit." (Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen)
Jesus affirmed this truth when he told the Pharisees: "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me . . . No one can take them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28) Only we can take ourselves out of Christ's hands through unrepentant sin. St. Augustine says that "as Christians, our task is to make daily progress towards God." There is no such thing as standing still on the ladder of the spiritual life. We are either climbing up toward eternal life with Him or descending downward to the everlasting abyss.
Holy Week is quickly approaching. During these last weeks of Lent, let us walk with our Lord to Jerusalem so as to progress toward the victory of eternal life He won for us on Good Friday. "The world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever." (1 John 2:15-17)
God love you.