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The Eternal Embrace of Time

In The Triune Identity, Robert Jenson opens his book with the following claim:  “Human life is possible — or in recent jargon ‘meaningful’ — only if past and future are somehow bracketed, only if their disconnection is somehow transcended, only if our lives somehow cohere to make a story.  Life in time is possible only, that is, if there is ‘eternity,’ if no-more, still, and not-yet do not exhaust the structure of reality.  Thus, in all we do we seek eternity.”

According to Jenson, our temporal lives are only livable, only meaningful in that the goneness of the past and the not-hereness of the future are somehow embraced or given coherence within a story that transcends the disconnection between the three arrows of time without eviscerating their difference.  In light of the fact that the possibility of a meaningful life is predicated on some sort of eternity, it becomes of primary importance to emphasize what sort of eternity is offered by the God of the gospel.  An eternity is always some sort of a reconciliation of the past and the future.  As such, it is vital for us to articulate the Christian hope for eternity in a way that makes specific just what sort of hope we have within us. 

As Jenson puts is, “In that an eternity is always some union of past and future, every possible eternity will be one of two broad kinds: a Persistence of the Beginning, or an Anticipation of the End.”  So, the question for Christian theology is which of these two eternities best articulates the logic of the gospel.  Jenson rightly proposes that it is the latter rather than the former that comports with the gospel of Christ: “It is because we face a future that we experience ourselves as temporal beings; if there were only the past, which remains forever as it is, we would be timeless.  The eternity in which all persists as it was is therefore the cancellation of time; the eternity in which all is open to transformation is the success of time itself.”

Thus, as Jenson points out, Christian theology must go one of two ways when considering eternity and the Christian hope.  It will either be a “refuge from time or confidence in it.  God may be God because in him all that will be is already realized, so that the novelties of the future are only apparent and its threats therefore not overwhelming.  Or God may be God because in him all that has been is opened to transformation, so that the guilts of the past and immobilities of the present are rightly to be interpreted as opportunities of creation.  God may be our defence against time’s uncertainties, or he may be himself the ‘Insecurity of the future.’”

Here is the fundamental divide between Christianity and all other world religions according to Jenson.  The gospel’s God does not give us the hope of the persisting past being eternalized in the present, but rather of a future open to inexhaustible transformation through death and resurrection.  As Jenson argues, “Brahman-Atman, by any of his names may be God, in which case all time is an illusion, circling around a blissful utter Sameness.  Or Yahweh may be God, in which case all sameness will be overcome by the God who makes all things new, whose very righteousness is his love of sinners, of those who are lost if the past determines.”

One Comment

  1. sagely wrote:

    as a foreigner to Jenson’s work, i am curious whether he draws any connections between the necessity of eternity for meaning-making and story. the first quote seems to lean in this direction. does he mentions story (or narrative) elsewhere?

    Saturday, June 7, 2008 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

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