How Old is God?
I shall always remember the question and the delight it brought me. I was a pastor trying to take seriously the spiritual mentoring of the children of my congregation. So Sunday after Sunday I did “Children’s Moments”. I had skilled people in the congregation who could do it much better than I, but I wanted to pastor children as well as adults, and these moments were one way I could connect. But after a few years of this I was running out of ideas. I asked the children to think of questions they might have, and to let me know what they were. I promised to try to respond to them in the weeks ahead.
A little girl responded immediately, “How old is God?” she asked. It caught me by surprise. No one had ever asked me that question before. A week later I gave her and the other children my answer to the question. Since that day I have reflected upon her question many times, and once more as I recently approached the start of a New Year the question came flooding back to mind. Perhaps the images of Old Father Time and the New Year’s Baby triggered it.
So to the question, “How old is God?”
He is very old
I remember telling the children that he was very old. “Older than I am. Older than your great grandmother, even older than the dinosaurs. God is older than this world or the surrounding universe. He is older than the ‘big bang’ and older than time itself.”
He is very young
But as I shared with the children I knew that could not be the whole story. For if the full orbed truth be told, God is not old at all. St. Augustine had said it centuries ago.
“You are most high, most good, most powerful, most omnipotent; most merciful, yet most just; most hidden, yet most present; most beautiful, yet most strong; stable, yet incomprehensible; unchangeable yet all changing; never new, never old; all renewing and yet bringing age upon the proud.” (The Confessions)
When the car gets old, we trade it in. When our clothes get old we discard them. When we get older we get to retire from working. When we get older still, our eyes do not see well, our ears do not hear well, our memories do not remember well.
But God never gets old. In fact he has never aged a day in his life. God never gets tired. He never quits working. His hearing never fades. His eyes do not grow dim. Isaiah said it over two millennia ago
“God does not faint or grow weary… the young will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted, but those who wait on the Lord will find new strength… and shall mount up with wings … and run… and walk and not faint.”(40:28-31)
The truth of the matter is; not only is God not old, but, to quote Joan Baez, God is “Forever Young”.
God is younger than we are
Yet there is more to it than the truth that God has been forever and God has never aged a day. George MacDonald makes the case that God is younger than we are. He draws our attention to the glorious profundity of the creation, remarking upon the proliferation of stars, and blades of grass, and flowers and earth’s teeming life. And then he likens God to children who love the repetition of songs and stories and games. He comes to his conclusion “God is younger than we are, for we sin and grow old.” MacDonald insists that the very God who calls us to be childlike shares that same quality himself, for he has never sinned, never become jaded, never become cynical and never grown weary of life.
What a contrast to Adam and Eve in the garden. Before sin they were like two naked children, hardly self-conscious, not yet vain, not yet embarrassed to be young in this dawning of the world. But when sin has entered they turn old over night. Death had already begun its slow toll of life. The two were now furtive, suspicious, blame deflecting, and withdrawn. They had not come of age; so much as they had just aged.
People who study children closely notice that every small child believes they can draw, paint, sing, run, and dance. But check in with them a few years later and we hear the astounding words, “I can’t sing.” “I can’t draw very well.” What has happened? The innate creativity in them has been squelched and they have grown old before their time. Not so with God!
The ancient mystics saw heaven as one great dance to which we are invited. Father, Son, Holy Spirit dance together, joined by the encircling angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, and the glorious company of the apostles and the goodly fellowship of the prophets and the noble army of the martyrs and all those who have been made perfect. (Hebrews 12:22-24)
C. S. Lewis reminds us that “Joy is the serious work of heaven”, as play is the serious work of childhood.
The question has been asked about those who die, “In eternity how old will we be?” Perhaps the question should be rephrased, “How young will we be?” I suspect that we will be forever young. Eternal life was never meant to be mere longevity. It was always intended to be rejuvenation. Heaven was to bring to the zenith what God had started in the abundantization of life that begins with our turning to God. One day, we shall be like God, one day we shall be like children, with every day being a birthday party!
Think it Through
What is the difference between being childlike and childish?
In what way are the “commandments of God” rules that help all the participants “play the game” safely and in joy?
What are your impressions of these anonymous lines?
I love my God as he loves me; merrily.
I feel his kisses on the breeze,
and so I carve his name on trees.
Ten thousand years misunderstood
He needs my laughter in the wood, a lot!
What impressions of God will we paint this week in the minds of our children, teens and fellow adults? Will we leave behind the feeling that God is a demanding deity who wants us to be good or else? Or will we leave in our wake the suspicion that God’s middle name is “Joy” and he has invited the whole world to participate in a great celebration? I recommend the latter.
For the Small Group Leader
Oscar Cullman makes the observation that when the early church began to celebrate communion, it was a glad celebration of the presence of the living Christ in their midst. Just as Jesus had been present at countless meals with the apostles and their friends, so he was present still. That was good news of the best kind! The service of communion was called “The Eucharist”, meaning “The Thanksgiving” because it was a time of joy in the presence of the risen Christ. The simple meal was the appetizer or foretaste of the great Banquet awaiting them in heaven. (Read the books of Luke and Acts for this side to communion.)
But Cullman notes that as the church moved through those first decades, the communion service took on a more penitential motif. It became a somber service of remembrance and seemed to focus primarily on the forgiveness of our sins. (See I Corinthians 10-11 for this side to communion.)
Is there a place for both kinds of communion services, where in one service we participate in the great dance with those who are forever young, and in another service we participate in a sadness that confesses how old we have become?
Published in Light and Life , January-February, 2001.