God is Infinite, Eternal and Uncreated
– so writes Emanuel Swedenborg in several places in his theological books. But what are we to make of such a statement and what can we understand by the terms infinite, eternal and uncreated?
For the mathematician infinite can be defined as existing beyond or being greater than any arbitrarily large value but in normal speech we might use infinite to describe something that is immeasurably great or large or boundless. If we turn to the Bible seeking the word infinite in relation to the nature of God we are likely to be disappointed. The King James Version uses infinite only once in relation to God:
Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.
[Psalm 147:5 KJV]
But open many modern translations of the Bible and infinite has been replaced by beyond measure or no limit or beyond comprehension. However, as soon as you start to look for descriptions of God with words which convey the idea of infinite without actually using the word other verses come into view. For example:
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!
[1 Kings 8:27 ESV]
Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
[Job 11:7 ESV]
For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
[Psalm 86:10 ESV]
When we think of God as infinite we tend to imagine that he fills the universe from end to end and that there is nowhere where God is not present. But are we right to think of God in such spatial terms? Surely God is outside of space?
What then of the idea of God as eternal? One thing we can immediately say is that whereas we can think of the infinite nature of God in relation to space, the eternal nature of God is definitely related in someway to time.
Eternal can be defined as: being without beginning or end; existing outside of time. Unlike the word infinite, eternal occurs many times in all translations of the Bible both directly in relation to God and in relation to the life that comes from God.
The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
[Deuteronomy 33:27 ESV]
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
[Isaiah 9:6 ESV]
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
[1 John 5:20 ESV]
How do we imagine God as eternal or everlasting or forever and ever? In the Book of Revelation we can find these words:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
[Revelation 1:8 ESV]
We can simply interpret these words as saying that God has been God from the very beginning of time and will be God to the very end of time. So, in a similar way to thinking of God as present in all space we can also think of God as present in all time. But should we place a limit on God in time or does God exist outside of time?
The Bible begins with the majestic words:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
[Genesis 1:1 ESV]
In a very real sense the whole of the Bible flows from these few words because they establish the fundamental truth that there is God and there is also what God creates. So we can say that everything made by God is created but God is uncreated. God is infinite, eternal and uncreated whereas everything made by God is finite, transient and created. This seems to suggest a marked separation between what is uncreated and what is created, what is eternal and what is transient, what is infinite and what is finite. This certainly appears to be true and yet the whole of creation only lives from the life of God within it.
God is Infinite, Eternal and Uncreated.
Our problem in trying to understand these words and gain a better understanding of the nature of God is that our thoughts tend to be locked into ideas of space and time. We think of what is infinite as filling the greatest space we can imagine and eternal as being the longest time we can conceive. And yet there is no space and time in God even though created space and time come from him. We find it so hard to escape these natural limitations and yet if only we could rise above them we could begin to see a greater vision of the wonder of God.
An extract from Divine Love and Wisdom paragraph 318 by Emanuel Swedenborg
In all such forms [of created life] there is some image of what is infinite and eternal. We can see an image of the infinite in these forms from the tendency and potentiality of filling the space of the whole world and even of many worlds, without end. A single seed brings forth a tree, shrub, or plant that takes up its own space. From each tree, shrub, or plant, there come seeds, in some cases thousands of them. Assuming these to be planted and to have sprouted, they take up their spaces; and if from each of their seeds new generations arise again and again, after a few years the whole world is full. If the propagation continues, any number of worlds is filled, and so on to infinity. Figure on a thousand seeds coming from one, and then multiply a thousand by a thousand ten or twenty or a hundred times, and you will see. There is a similar image of eternity in these processes. Seeds reproduce year after year, and the reproductions never cease. They have not paused from the creation of the world to the present, and they will not stop forever. These two facts are obvious indications and eloquent signs that everything in the universe was created by an infinite and eternal God.
Some other quotations:
God is that infinite All of which man knows himself to be a finite part.
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect;