Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Time Out!

First I have to say: This is so much fun! When I started this blog I could not imagine I would come into contact with so many thoughtful people!

Today, Byron has responded to several of my posts with very interesting comments. I will address some of them here. (See also this post.)

The first comment took me completely by surprise. In a off-hand manner, in my post on resurrection, I said that Christianity teaches that time will not be a part of life after death. Byron asks Why not? and refers to Moltmann. As a student of the patristic era, it is perhaps no surprise that I regarded this as self-evident. It is also no surprise that Moltmann has issues with this idea, since it is the same idea that made the early Church rule out suffering in God.

It is quite likely that the fathers got this from Greek philosophy, but they just could not believe that God would be affected by time, and it was clear that precisely the being-in-time of this existence was what made this world inferior to the next one. This is not just Augustine, I think it is pretty universal, at least from Origen onwards.

Time implies change, which made it impossible to think time together with God. If God is perfect, then he can't possibly change. That would either mean that wasn't perfect and needed to improve, or that he was perfect at some point and no longer is. The same would be true of us: if we are to become perfect in the future world, how could we imagine change in that existence? Ergo: perfect existence requires the non-existence of time.

This is how the ancients thought. Can we think differently? The problem would then be if we can imagine an existence where time exists and change is possible, but evil is not. Now, the fathers would say to this: "well if that is possible, why didn't God create a world like that in the first place? The whole point of this world is that in it we can change, get to know God, grow." Their favorite parable of world is that it is a school. In it, by the grace of God, we are in training to be able to exist in the future world.

Surely God had a reason for creating this world?

Well, maybe I have drunk too deeply of the old fathers, because I kind of think their argumentation is pretty good in this case.

However, my point in bringing up the whole question in the first place was to emphasize that we cannot imagine what life after death would be like without doing violence to Scripture or adopting imagery with pagan origins. I want to defend the right to not know what life after death is like. My point is not to replace one conception with another. Our hope is not thematic: it is open. (It is analogue with creation - it is open as well, we decide ourselves who we are) God is not a human creator who forces his will on his creation.

Against this Byron suggests that the women at the grave indeed spoke (though not in Mark, according to the best manuscripts... or was this some kind of test?), and were told to do so by the angel(s).

Yes they did talk. And the Church is founded upon their talking about it. And I do not suggest that we should cease talking about these matters altogether. But we should not say more than we can! Maybe this is why the gospels differ so much regarding the details regarding Jesus resurrection?

But what does it really mean for our resurrection that Jesus' grave was empty? We are not to be resurrected in this world, are we? I suggested a symbolical interpretation of the body in a previous post. There I gave some reasons I found this interpretation likely. In fact I have difficulty understanding what a resurrection of "the same body" (as the empty tomb suggests. Or does it?) would actually mean? I mean, my body is not the same as when I started writing this post, in terms of the molecules that it is made of! What constitutes my body in this perspective? My DNA? What if I have cancer?

I'm not trying to be iconoclast here, I just don't know how to imagine it. I know that the fathers tended to interpret the resurrection of the body to have little to do with the physical body. (Origen's "spheres" are famous, but more often than not they believed that it had to do about a transformation of our personality). Isn't this us trying to say something about something we actually cannot say anything about? Maybe it is better to settle with the hope that there will be a resurrection and focus on living life here in accordance with the ideals we believe will mark that future existence?


Looney said...

First, I think that the outside-of-time is on much firmer ground than universalism, but it still isn't bulletproof theology.

Here are my primary supporting verses:

"No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." 1 corinthians 2:7

"before time began" fits sooo nicely with general relativity ...

"But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . ." Mark 2:10

I don't see how Jesus can forgive someone before the crucifixion and resurrection, unless he has a separate parallel existence that is outside of time ... i.e. Jesus is God.

I don't have any problem with God creating additional universes that have time as an element that might be out-of-sync with our time, although I sort of doubt it and would refer any advocate of such ideas to a good psychiatrist.

Now back to my Narnia readings ...

krister said...

Patrik-I would recommend the book The Death of Death by Neil Gillman, a professor at Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC. He offers a great take on bodily resurrection. I, too, prefer the "not knowing" position regarding the afterlife. I'm not really able to do much about it anyhow. :)

Joshua said...

Well Stated Patrik. I think discussion on the detailed nature of the age to come (i.e. how old will i look? if i am disabled will i have my hand back or have it for the first time?) are often distracting and superflous. (although disability theology has a point in protesting against some normed human body). the mystery of the resurrection is that god's truth, beauty, justice, and love swallow up all that is against God. we are to live into and in light of this hope. great post (although we might disagree a bit about the body issue)

byron said...

Thanks for your lengthy response, Patrik. I too have been enjoying the exchange, being fairly new to this whole bloggernaut thing.

I confess my grasp on Patristics remains shallow, and conceded that such a conception of time and eternity may well predate Augustine. I'd love to have some references to other fathers to chase up. His discussion in Confessions, IX, is certainly the locus classicus on the issue.

Does God change? A fascinating question. I guess I find problematic the notion of perfection that lies behind the Greek fear of transience. I'm not sure that mathematical perfection is the most fruitful model for conceptualising his perfections. Because there's the key: perfections. God's perfections remain open-ended and so capable of growth and multiplication. For instance, although he was Father (and Son, and Spirit) without the world, he is now known as Creator, a new perfection. In a similar manner, the Incarnation brings about a new state of affairs for divine identity. There is more that can be said of him now. Not because he was deficient prior to the Incarnation, nor because he was already incarnate and we just didn't know it yet. But his perfections have been multiplied.

I agree that our hope is (in one sense) open. Yet it is in another sense bound, tied up with Jesus' and his future. That is why, whatever it means, it is important that our hope is to have a resurrection like Jesus'.

While not every speculative question is of equal value (and many may be distractions), I suggest that a timeless eternity is just as much speculative as an eternity of redeemed/fulfilled time.

I will try to post something more on this back over on my blog in due course. I'd love to keep this conversation going.

byron said...

Oops - forgive tyops on prveious comemnt. ):-

the lost message said...

Great discussion here chaps!

I wonder if 'resurrection talk' is all about the limitations of language.

When composing the experiences of the resurrection in the gospels the authors seemed to try to express the unexpressable. It is as if they ran out of language to explain: 1. What the risen Jesus looked like. 2. How he acted 3. His substance (he is both material - in an touchy way - and spiritual - walking through doors etc). Jesus seemed beyond any catergoy of experience they had encountered, and yet still totally real, infact more real than ever before.

In Corinthians 15 is Paul straining at the borders of language? Is he, in a Wrighten phrase, piling metaphor unopn metaphor to express both the reality and meaning of the event?

If language is struggling here, and the biblical authors are using a variety of methods (metaphor, analogy, symbol etc) to convey the event, then it does seem foolish to nail a particular view.

This is why a appreciate your point Patrick: I want to defend the right to not know what life after death is like.

I agree, however I still think we can speculate and discuss till the cows come home. And this is the best bit, especially with a single Malt whiskey and cigar in hand!

michael jensen said...

My suggestion would not be for a time/eternity split BUT for a description of two TYPES of time. What we call 'eternity' is a different kairos, that somehow absorbs the current one without being merely an extension of it or a continuation of it by other means. So as part of material reality, time is transformed in the end... I suppose this is what people are getting at with the resurrection account.
BUT it is time for Byron to leave Moltmann for a second and do some exegesis of 2 Peter 3... What do you make of the disjunctive note there?

Patrik said...

Well, can we imagine a different kind of time then? What would that be like? Howwould it differ and be similar to "normal" time?

byron said...

2 Peter 3.10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

The destruction of the heavens is a symbol of exposure, that the present curtain between God's scrutinising gaze and humanity's self-destruction will be torn down and all the best and worst of human pride and folly will be bare. It is for this reason that (v.14) we are to live the kind of lives that accord with the life of God. We await a new heavens and new earth - so thoroughly renovated as to be almost unrecognisable. Just like at the resurrection there was a 'new' Jesus. What happened to him will happen to everything. Indeed, he is the only reason we can say anything about the future...
(...having fulfilled your request, I can revert to Moltmann...)
But how can anyone speak of the future, which is not yet here, and of coming events in which he has not as yet had any part? Are these not dreams, speculations, longings and fears, which must all remain vague and indefinite because no one can verify them? The term 'eschato-logy' is wrong. There can be no 'doctrine' of the last things, if by 'doctrine' we mean a collection of theses which can be understood on the basis of experiences that constantly recur and are open to anyone. ... But how, then, can Christian eschatology give expression to the future? Christian eschatology does not speak of the future as such. It sets out from a defginite reality in history and announces the future of that reality, its future possibilities and its power over the future. Christian eschatology speaks of Jesus Christ and his future. The recognizes the reality of the raising of Jesus and proclaims the future of the risen Lord. ... Death is real death, and decay is petrefying decay. Guilt remains guilt and suffering remains, even for the believer, a cry to which there is no ready-made answer. Faith does not overstep these realities into a heavenly'utopia, does not dream itself into a reality of a different kind. It can overstep the bounds of life, with their closed wall of suffering, guilt and death, only at the point where they have in actual fact been broken through. It is only in following the Christ who was raised from suffering, from a god-forsaken death and from the grave that it gains an open prospect in which there is nothing more to oppress us, a view of the realm of freedom and of joy. Where the bounds that mark the end of all human hopes are broken through in the raising of the crucified one, there faith can and must expand into hope.
- Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 2-5.

Shane said...

I think there are good philosophical and theological reasons to think that God is timeless. I'll start with the philosophical.

Think about the problem of divine time like this:

Suppose we have something that we are calling God. God is supposed to be the greatest (most powerful or most perfect) thing. Now, if we can think of something greater than this thing we call God, then obviously whatever we had been calling God really isn't God and that thing that is greater than the pseudo-God is really God.

Now suppose that whatever thing we are calling a 'God' changes (suppose it gets angry or turns blue or dies), then that thing is subject to time, because there is time before and a time after the change. Moreover, that thing is subject to external forces causing that change within him. But, of course, we can suppose that there is something being which is so great as not to be subject to a change (and therefore, not subject to time either). This unchanging being is greater than the mutable one, hence the mutable one must not really be God at all.

This is a platonic line of thinking and is part of Plato's rejection of the mythological deities of ancient Greece. Zeus cannot really be a god, because a god should be perfect (lat. perfectus--'completed, unchanging') and Zeus obviously isn't perfect because he is subject to all sorts of things, passions, fate, etc.

Perhaps the early fathers took over this line of thinking as a polemic against the mythological deities of the pagan world. I don't know, it's just a hypothesis.

At any rate, Thomas Aquinas found the idea of God's being outside of time quite a helpful solution to lots of other problems, for example, how God knows the future. God being outside time, sees all of time instantaneously. We experience time as a linear progression, but God experiences all time in a single timeless instant. God knows when you will die, because he sees you dying when it happens (which is 'present' to him but 'future' to you).

God still acts in time and from our perspective it looks like he is doing lots of different things. God talks to Moses in 1200 BCE. Jesus becomes incarnate at 4BCE. But from God's perspective these things are not changes, since they all occur simultaneously. God is wrathful when I sin, but gracious when i repent, not because God's attitude toward sin changes, but because I, within time, am changing.

(I don't know what the scholastics say about the state of blessed in heaven, though.)

At any rate, if we give up on the idea of God's being outside of time then we reduce God to something finite, immanent and determined by something outside himself and greater than himself. Moltmann might be happy with that, but I certainly am not.


jaem said...

what do you guys think about this question in light of physics?

i'm no physicist, but the more i read about theoretical predictions of super string theory, the more i wonder...

if some 11 dimensions could be part of this created reality (time being only the fourth), what might an unlimited eternity hold as possibility?

(for the record, i'm not saying super string theory is the answer to our problems b/w big and little physics. i'm partial to the idea though.)

Patrik said...

Well, mostly I have no idea, and I am hesitant to bring in very much natural science into theology, since natural scinece will always change and become outdated.

I don't know if modern science really is working with some kind of "mystery-concept" although it seems like it to the layman.

Looney said...

I think it is a bit presumptuous to believe that the theoretical physicists know what they are talking about.

Working in high-tech, I can testify that little things like getting a working product out to the customer have a wonderful way of cleaning out the garbage in the thinking processes. When a branch of science precludes a reality check, well ...