Christological relating temporality

I have already said that temporality is analytic to sociality. Through this section, I explore what it means to speak of the temporality of nature. Such temporality can be ascribed, I think, to the inner dynamics of the triune life, specifically to the relation between creator and Logos. What follows is an attempt to explore the notion of difference in God in terms of a divine boundary or limit which informs our notion of temporality. Although what follows is too brief to do more than indicate a path, if the notion of difference in God as this relates to temporality could be defended, we would have a theological way of engaging with nature as various. In short, I shall argue through this section that differences in the interpretation of nature are to be sourced theologically to difference in God. In a further sense, the sociality of nature and humanity is thereby to be understood as sacrificial.

I am making a double claim: temporality provides a key for ordering and relating the senses of nature; temporality has its prefiguration and condition in a difference ofthe triune life. To sketch the case for this claim all too briefly, I quote from Donald MacKinnon:

Yet within the context of totally uninhibited, but triadic aseity, we have to reckon with the actuality of limit, of peras or boundary. It is through this actuality that, for instance, the idiotes of the Son as eternal receptivity is constituted, a receptivity that in the manner of the Incarnate life is expressed in his dependence . . . and also in the role of the Spirit. If we suppose that in the theology of the Trinity an analogia personarum can be complemented by an analogy of limits ...it may go some way towards grounding within the eternal, the essentially human element of temporality, the sense of inescapable limitation. For this element of temporality (clearly dependent, as it is, upon awareness of temporal direction as a cosmological ultimate) belongs to the substance of Jesus' comings and goings.40

39. Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 226.

40. Donald MacKinnon, 'The Relation of the Doctrines of the Incarnation and Trinity', in Richard W. A. McKinney (ed.), Creation, Christ and Culture: Studies in Honour of T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1976), pp. 92-107 (p. 104).

Dependence in the form of receptivity is a mark of the life of the Incarnate and is grounded in the boundary of God's triune life. Constitutive of the dynamics of the inner Trinitarian life of God is the notion of boundary, not in the sense of limitation but in the sense of the nature of divine rela-tionality. That is, in the Godhead, in a moment between creator and Logos, there is that which prefigures the sending forth of the Son in Jesus Christ (see pp. 173-4). Such dependence in the form of openness can be understood in terms ofthe life ofJesus as the transcription ofthe immanence of God. God's boundary is the condition of Christuspro me; the 'who' of Jesus Christ is constituted by triune limit. (Nor would it be difficult to show that some notion of ethical limit is characteristic of our thinking on person-hood. As Bonhoeffer has suggested, personal otherness requires holding to a view ofthe other as a genuine ethical limit.)

The notion of limit in the Godhead has a pleasing Christological derivation. The unity-in-difference of God constitutes the openness-independence of Jesus Christ, the temporal struggle in finitude to be obedient to the Father. Such a triune limit thus enables that which is not God, but formed by God, to become itself. Precisely, to become itself not through independence alone but through openness. The presence ofGod, we must say, is givenyet contingent. The peras of God confers dependence-in-openness on Jesus; yet the actuality of such conferment is through the freedom of Jesus. Obedience in action is given by the difference in God and enacted by Jesus in the blessing ofthe second difference ofthe Spirit.

What are the basic conditions of the temporality which marks the openness-in-dependence of the life of Jesus.? These are two: the temporal irreversibility of the universe and the temporality of sociality. To explore these conditions directs our attention towards a theology of creation which makes the incarnation intelligible. What nowbecomes clear is that Jesus does not emerge out ofa culture which is separate from nature. Instead, ifthe motifs oftemporality, obedience, openness and freedom are to be treated with theological seriousness, these aspects must be understood as the transcription in creaturely structures, by analogy, ofthe limit ofGod revealed in the career ofJesus Christ.

In other words, the theme oftemporality must be explored anthropologically and cosmologically and not simply as a contingent feature ofthe life of Jesus Christ. Temporality is a basic feature of the universe which renders a context for the temporality ofJesus Christ, which, in turn, reinterprets what temporality is (it is from God). Indeed, we must say that temporality is directed towards creatures. Interpreting temporality this way - not as a Kantian intuition but as a universal, unconditional category - enables a reconfiguration of the relations between humanity and nature. Indeed, such phraseology itself is called into question. We would do better to speak not of nature and culture, but of 'fields of difference' (Haraway). These fields, overlapping and not separable, are mapped by the concept of temporality. Anthropologically, the pro nobis form of temporality is sociality, part of which comprises the histories of socio-ethical encounters.

Yet such sociality is also extra nos, founded in the proper freedom of others and is thus contingent. We might, following Roy Bhaskar, describe this in terms of the distinction between condition and outcome. Sociality is the given condition of the freedom of human beings, yet it is also the contingent outcome of the freedom-in-action of social persons. Embodied human personhood must be seen as emerging through a series of socio-ethical relations; humanity is the temporal emergence of embodied selves-in-relation. Such a notion of sociality - truly given (that is, temporal) and yet contingent on the actions ofpersons (that is, temporal again) - can be ascribed to difference in God. The 'openness' of human social life, which is a condition for Jesus Christ, is to be ascribed to the difference between the actions of the creator and Logos in creation. The location of social freedom, receptivity and openness is prefigured in the actions of the triune God in creation. The pro nobis form ofGod's presence in creation is the blessing of the temporality of sociality: the basic human solidarity to be for one another. Yet, of course, such sociality has natural conditions; sociality and its natural conditions are separable only as fields of difference in temporality. Thus sociality has a contingent, extra nos character.

Such a view is secured if we also consider the theme of temporality in cosmological, rather than anthropological, perspective. Wolfhart Pannenberg has stressed the irreversibility of time and the temporality of the universe, according to the 'Big Bang' model.41 The totality of natural structures is to be understood as enjoying its own form of openness, of receptivity, to the actions of God. Nature, in the sense of totality, thus has its own form of dependence on God, its own openness and directedness towards God. Nature is thus both contingent and yet has its ground in God; it, too, has God as extra ipsam and pro ipsa. We have seen already that such dependence in openness is to be ascribed to the difference in God's life as

41. Pannenberg, Toward a Theology of Nature.

this is transcribed in creation. Temporality is part of God's blessing to the orders and life of natural being. The finite totality of the world may be cursed, as Bonhoeffer suggests in his interpretation of Genesis, but it is not without hope. That is, God has a future for nature. Neither fixed by a static metaphysics nor caught up in cycles of endless return, the temporality of nature invites attention to its own future.42

Temporality, grounded in the immanence of God, and transcribed in the dynamics of creation, liberation and fulfilment, is thereby a theological way of engaging with concepts of nature. Yet temporality - the form of God's condescension - has a range of reference: from the temporality of the life of Jesus Christ to the natural history of sociality to the temporal irreversibility ofthe universe. Nature can thus refer to human embodiment, the natural conditions which allow the emergence of the social life of humanity and the totality of processes and structures of the universe. Responsibility, respect for a common habitat and wonder are all proper human attitudes to nature. All these references refer to the contingency as well as the condescension of God's action. Condescension refers to the development of nature - nature's freedom - that is permitted in this interpretation; yet such openness in dependence is contingent upon the actions ofGod.

In this theological perspective, nature can be read Christologically, anthropologically and cosmologically: humanity can be understood as other than nature, in continuity with nature and part of the totality of nature. That is, the field of human actions can be related to the field of natural actions in a number of ways. These fields are never separate, although the relations can be construed differently. Yet such a construal is not possible apart from reference to difference in God. The presence of God is thus not to be understood in terms of a single extended incarnation (Sallie McFague). Instead, the condescension of God is to be understood in terms of temporality, an action known on account of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Temporality is God's pro nobis way with God's world.

'Human social activity ... is therefore capable of reconstituting its own ways', writes Daniel Hardy.43 The theme of temporality denies that

42. This paragraph, and the previous, are reworked from my 'The Technological Factor: Redemption, Nature and the Image of God', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 35:2 (June 2000), 371-84.

43. Hardy, 'Created and Redeemed Sociality', p. 45.

a theological concept of nature is to be framed in a static manner such that human beings, facing a static cosmology, are unable to reconstitute their own ways. To the contrary, the theological account of temporality presented here operates within the logic of sacrifice: the gift of time by God is an enabling gift. A theological account of temporality does not simplify human-nature relations through time. Instead, it makes these relations more differentiated and complex: three different conceptions of nature (human embodiment, natural conditions of society, totality of all processes) are invoked by the notion of temporality.

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