Friday, January 3, 2014

The Fall and Redemption of Time

"Between our time and God-created time as between our existence and the existence created by God there lies the Fall." - Barth, CD I/2, p.47

"'The Word became flesh' also means 'the Word became time.'" - ibid., p.50

"Revelation in the sense of Holy Scripture...is an eternal, but not therefore a timeless reality.  It is also a temporal reality.  So it is not in itself a sort of ideal, yet in itself timeless content of some or all times.  It does not remain transcendent over time, it does not merely meet it at a point, but it enters time; nay it assumes time; nay, it creates time for itself." - ibid., p.50

In this week's Wednesdays with Barth which I am somewhat loosely tagging along beside, I chose to focus on pages 45-70 of Church Dogmatics I/2, which is chapter 14.1, "God's Time and Our Time."

Barth's focus in these and subsequent pages is on the relationship between God's self-revelation and time.  This might seem like an odd thing to focus on, and I remember when I first read some of this section a few years ago it struck me as needlessly heady and abstract.  However, upon revisiting these pages this week I was struck by the profound relevance of Barth's point.

Barth begins this section by discussing the philosophical problem with time.  Is our understanding of time a human construct?  Because time moves, is there really such a thing as the Present?  Toward the end of the section, Barth interacts with the problem of relating time to revelation, particularly in dialog with the questions of his own day.

In the midst of all of this, at the main heart of Barth's discussion, is the principle of Creation-Fall-Redemption.  Barth's basic point is that the Fall has corrupted everything, even time.  Time is now fleeting.  Time is "lost."  Because of the Fall, our experience of time is not what God intended it to be.  However, by God's grace, fallen time also becomes a time of anticipation, of looking forward to redemption, all while being upheld by God's gracious hand (p.47).  In the midst of time - in the midst of fleeting time during which (with every tick of the clock) there seems to be more past than future and less life to look forward to every minute - God enters time.  When God became human in Jesus, he not only took on flesh, he took on time, fallen time, and redeemed it.  Just as creation and human nature were created "very good" by God, corrupted by sin, and made new in Christ, so has time.  In fact, it's all connected (since by nature we exist, and were created, in "time").  Barth ties all of this to the New Testament language of the "old aeon" and the "new aeon," the time before Christ which still exists and will pass away vs. the age of the kingdom which was ushered in by Christ's resurrection and will continue on into eternity.

There is more to Barth's theology of time than this, and I am sure others could give a better evaluation of it.  Barth's theology of history was a widespread source of ignorant criticism by conservatives in the mid-20th century, with people claiming Barth did not think Christ's resurrection happened "in time" or "historically."  After Barth's visit to America, during which he was famously "challenged" by Carl Henry on this issue, Barth could only shake his head in unbelief that he had been so thoroughly misunderstood by suspicious minds.

Pastorally, and for the sake of Pentecostal theology, I think there are two valuable aspects to be considered here.  First, the idea that time as we experience it is "fallen."  That has some profound implications, and certainly rings true in experience.  Not only in sickness and death, but in stress, despair, sentimentality, apocalypticism, utopianism, etc., can we sense that time as we know and relate to it is fallen.  Our relationship to past, present, and future is a complicated one, and though created by God to be stewards of creation, we are most certainly living under the tyranny of time.

And secondarily, the realization that Jesus Christ took on this fallen age, judged it, and in his resurrection brought in the age to come, or "redeemed time," undoubtedly has implications for Pentecostal experiences of the Spirit as the foretaste of the kingdom and as signs that we are, right now, living in the age to come.

[Even as I write this is I notice that I am behind schedule and am about to miss a ferry to go meet my father for lunch. This produces the anxiety of being rushed and impatient with myself and others (and especially that guys driving too slow in front of me!). And thus, once again, I fall prey to the experience of fallen time! We won't rush for ferries in heaven!]

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