"I Call All Times Soon"

Listen!  This is the beginning; 
And when we get to the end 
We shall know more than we do now.  

At least, I hope those words of Hans Christian Andersen will be true of this post today.  I meant, after my post "The Knowledge of the Holy," to move into the subjects of Damnation and Salvation, but we are taking a brief detour and dealing, not with Heaven and Hell, but with Time and Eternity.  Once again I hope Bethany does not mind me using her comments as a spring-board into this discussion: I feel her comments are not particular to herself, but characteristic of myself and probably many other Christians.  I also hope that I come to this topic humbly, because, while I have "mused a little space" on it, I do not imagine to have exhausted it.  So bear with me, and stay with me, and hopefully we will make a little sense of these two realities.

Bethany:  I can only speak from my own experience - at the moment, I don't look forward to eternal life, because I can't look forward to what I don't understand. I am currently too obedient to the material world, too reluctant to make myself totally vulnerable, to know the eternity of worship that is (I hope) in store for me...I can't comprehend what will actually occur. "Eternity"? I'm not an empiricist, but nevertheless I can't comprehend being outside of time.  The reason that I cannot logically understand such attributes of God, like eternity, is because I have never come into contact with it. In an incorporate sense, I am eternal, but like I said, I'm too familiar with the material world - even the ocean began, and it'll come to its cessation. I've never witnessed eternity, but of course that is exactly what faith is, believing that it is there even though I haven't seen it. But this isn't a question of belief, just understanding. I believe that Jesus turned water into wine, but logically I don't know how that transition happened.

The first point made is a very good point.  It is very hard, almost impossible, to think critically and accurately about something we have never experienced.  As a writer, I find this difficulty looming over me nearly every way I turn.  To get around it, I read extensively about people who have experienced the topics I might be dealing with, hoping that their own writing is vivid enough to make me feel almost as though I, too, were experiencing it.  But you might be surprised to learn that the topic of eternity is not so difficult, nor so far off, as you might think at first.  The trick is to ask this question: do you understand your own experience?  Are you really getting out of it all it has to offer?  You can only speak from what you know, but what if you only think you know what you know?  What if the truth were happening to you so closely that you completely mistook it because you overlooked it? 

Bear that question in mind.  Because the overwhelming mass of thought handles eternity and time separately, I, too, will define them separately here.  We will first define eternity.  We are told that God inhabits it; we are told that from everlasting to everlasting he is.  We understand that eternity is not mere endless time, but, to put it better though still inadequately, it is timelessness.  When we say "timelessness," of course, we think of a moment that drags on through all other moments forever, so at this juncture even "timelessness" is a concept that we cannot grasp.  I feel "timelessness" is itself a word which brings the wrong image to a mind thinking about eternity.  It is not moments going on forever, it is not a moment superseding and surpassing all other moments.  It is itself a Moment.  It is Now.  It is the Everlasting Now.  Grasp that if you can: I have grasped it only slightly, but grasp it I do nonetheless.  But this concept of the Divine Moment, the Everlasting Now, opens the door for the concept of Jesus being slain before the foundation of the world, of our sins being forgiven before ever they were committed - before ever we were born; it even opens the door on predestination and election.

Eternity may very well go under the heading of "a hard saying," but they say Providence has a sense of humour and I had to laugh when I found an answer to this Now was not far off.  We will now dissect time.  Time is marked by successive change.  It is marked by movement, whether physically or mentally: the moment something has beginning it has moved from Naught to Being, and so you can say in time-terms "It was not and now it is."  When we learn a language we unwittingly set ourselves to the task of studying time: we study past tense and present tense and future tense.  We cannot speak without time pervading everything we say and do.  We can't think without it.  This is why we all wrestle with the idea of eternity: we can't cope with the idea of no past or future.  We can't cope with this Always Now.  We are creatures of beginning and movement and progressive thought, we are made to move deeper and higher and further into the mind of God.  We are made to be infinitely changing, conforming to the Unchangeable.

What is not always seen is that these two things are perfectly compatible.  They were made to be.  Now, no matter how extensively we may think about the past, nor how sceptically we may dream about the future, what we cannot avoid is that whenever we are, we are always in the now.  We ourselves are locked into an ever-progressing Now which, by virtue of its being created, has a beginning and so cannot compare to God's uncreated Now, and therefore must change, but nevertheless bears a marked similarity to the Everlasting Now.  I ask you to think about it: is it not sensible that the creature made in the image of God should also live in a medium made in the image of that which God himself inhabits?  His is a Now Unchanging - we must leave Nows behind and move on to new ones, never escaping them, always exchanging them for the next moment to come.

Frankly, of course you can't comprehend being outside of time.  We can't be.  We are all created, we all have beginning: we are immortal, not eternal.  We cannot trade our temporal existence with an eternal one.  It is simply impossible.  Please unburden your mind of that: we cannot become God, and even if we could become God we could not be eternal, because there would have been a time when we had not been he.  When we have been revealed in reconciled perfection with God we will not somehow be absorbed into his eternal being as though he were Nirvana.  We will always remain beings with a beginning, beings moving forward, beings changing and, so, beings marking out past Nows and present Nows and Nows still yet to come.  But as we are the image of God so we live the image of Eternity.  The struggle with the attachment to this present world is real, and terrible, and, Bethany, you are not alone in that fight; but in the matter of time and eternity I don't feel that it should offer a hindrance to our understanding.  Eternity is not something I think we can experience, but I do believe it is something we can appreciate.  Time and eternity are not so far apart as you might initially think: they are Shadow and Figure, Type and Archetype.  Time was not made to oppose eternity, it was made to imitate it; in light of our own task of discovering God, I hope it will be clear that change (and so time) is a good and necessary reality for man.

I know I have thought about this for a while and I hope that by now I have managed to make my thoughts coherent.  I hope, too, that this helps settle or at least organize questions that others may have - quite a number of things hinge upon the concepts of time and eternity.

For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover whom he predestined, these he also called; whom he called, these he also justified; and whom he justified, these he also glorified.
Romans 8:29, 30

2 ripostes:

  1. Ah, thanks for addressing this :D It was interesting.

  2. I found this post to be really, really thought-provoking and a blessing to read. Thank you for sharing, Jenny! Looking forward to reading your next post about judgement, mercy, redemption etc...