God in Contrast to Time

Because it has become increasingly more evident in the course of this study that the question regarding the relationship of time to eternity necessitates the search for dynamic relational models, an article by Ingolf W. Dalferth sparks particular interest, because Dalferth pleads for a revision of the idea that God and time are mutually exclusive. His most important arguments for rejecting the notion of God and time as exclusive alternatives can be summarized as follows:162

1. The notion of God's timelessness is not of Judeo-Christian origin; it rather entered Christian theology by way of Neoplatonism.

2. The purely negative category of timelessness is not found in the Bible, and it in no way does justice to the acts of God that are therein described.

3. One can speak of life in a theological way, even of divine life, only when one speaks also of time.

4. If God is timeless in the sense that God has neither a place nor extension in time, then, according to the analytical philosophy of religion, all statements that relate God to time, in terms of place or duration, are meaningless or necessarily false. The notion of a Creator interacting with creation is then impossible.

5. In the view of process theology, God is not only related to time, but is even conceived as a temporal process.

6. From a christological perspective, God proves God's divinity precisely by becoming temporal without thereby ceasing to be God.

7. A doctrine of the Trinity (for example, that of Jürgen Moltmann) that is based on a theology of the cross presents the Trinitarian history of God as the perichoretic interlocking of all ages, which means that God should be thought of in terms of a Trinitarian history of time.

Such, or similarly stated, arguments for a revision of the notion of God's timelessness have been variously received. Duane H. Larson163 argues for temporality within the Trinity, whereas Paul Helm164 and Brian Leftow165 hold fast to the timelessness of God, and Alan G. Padgett166 presents the hypothesis of God's relative timelessness.167 Both the position of timelessness and that of temporality pose problems that must be overcome. Dalferth approaches these problems by initially choosing a christological and Trinitarian concept of God over a traditionally theistic one because, in his view, without the christological foundation and Trinitarian structure, God's existence as Creator cannot be properly conceived in keeping with a Christian understanding.168 In the next step, Dalferth supports the thesis that time exists only in the plural: not the time, but rather only a multiplicity of times, since the fact of our temporal existence does "not in any way result in a universal structure of time in which all causal sequences of events are localized in a clear and irreversible order."169

With respect to the structuring of time in the Christian tradition, Dalferth introduces a basic distinction170 between "the ontological time difference between eternity and time" and "the eschatological time difference between the old and new ages."171 Whereas the first deals with the mythical time difference between archaic time and present time, the other concerns the apocalyptic time difference between present time and end time. In the first case, the concern is with a reference back to primeval times, which must always be reenacted through rites and festivals. Current events are understood in light of what has always been. The second model of time is marked by a forward-looking perspective, by the interpretation of events "in light of that which does not yet exist but which, unyieldingly will come."172 It is this eschatological difference between the old and new ages that comprises the orienting principle of the Church year. Whereas in apocalypticism the tension between the present time and the soon-to-be-dawning end of time is constitutive, Christian theology stresses the tension between the old age and the new age: In the Christ event, the new age has already dawned once and for all, as Paul in particular emphasizes. Jesus' death on the cross brought the old age, the age of Adam, to an end; his resurrection allowed the new age, the age of Christ, to begin. That part of the old age that is now still effective is overlapped by the new age that has already arrived. The "voluntary eschatological changeover to the new age" (2 Cor. 5:17) takes place in human beings through faith.173

If this interpretation of the Christ event in terms of a theology of time is correct, then the eschatological time difference would also have to be the decisive interpretation of time in the Christian context. However, as I have shown in my analysis in chapter 1, one must conclude that this is only partially the case, and in a rather weak manner. Dalferth notes that the onto-logical difference between eternity and time has been superimposed on the eschatological difference. This shift leads to a "neutralizing of the basic contrast between old and new ages into an epochal sequence in the continuum of a presumed world history."174 As a consequence, the tension between the old and new ages is first reduced to a temporal sequence. Then old and new ages are jointly compared to eternity. As a result, most of the eschatological tension is lost. This preference for the time-eternity contrast in the Christian reflection on time, at the expense of eschatological difference, "does not originate in the basic Christian experience, but it has nevertheless dominated the main tradition of theological reflection on time since the Ancient Church."175 According to Dalferth, the ensuing way of thinking has contributed successfully to the dissolution of a specifically Christian consciousness of time.176

Using three models as examples, Dalferth explains the extent to which descriptions of God's relationship to time, which are based on the ontologi-cal difference between time and eternity, are unsatisfactory.177 The first example is provided by Christian Platonism. There, in timeless eternity, God has a relationship to an eternal world that is the foundation and archetype of the temporal world. The breach between time and eternity is thereby shifted to the world. This means that the relationship between eternal and temporal worlds and the relationship of God to the temporal world remain unclear. If God is related to the temporal world only via the devious route of the eternal world, then the question remains whether anything genuinely new can happen at all in the temporal world. The Platonic model thus invites a conservative position, which hardly leaves room for an eschatological breakthrough into the temporal world.

The second model differentiates the conception of God rather than the conception of the world. Here, by distinguishing between a timeless-eternal God and a temporal God, God—rather than the world—is considered dipolar. The "timeless-eternal" describes the "possible" as the primordial nature of God. The "temporal" describes the "real" as the consequent nature of God. It remains questionable, though, how eternal primordial nature and temporal consequent nature relate to each other. Because God cannot be conceived in this model without a relationship to the world, the thought of a creatio ex nihilo becomes problematic. If it was difficult to imagine a true innovation in Platonically oriented thought, then in this model of process theology it is difficult to think of anything other than change. Both examples strive to overcome the gulf between time and eternity by introducing a third party. They are distinguished from each other in that, in the first case, the third instance is introduced as eternal world on the side of eternity; and, in the second case, it is introduced as temporal God on the side of time.

In an apparently elegant manner, a third model avoids the difficulties of the first two by consistently contrasting God and eternity, on the one hand, and world and time, on the other. But then the question immediately arises of how one should conceive of God's acts within this conception. Timeless action appears contradictory, because "action" is always related to time. Consequently, either God could not act at all as Creator, or God could act in God's own time without any temporal relationship to world time, or God appears as the timeless enabling ground for events in time, which, however, undermines the talk of a living God, as appears to me to be the case in Leftow.178 All three alternatives have one element in common: They basically render God irrelevant for the conception and structuring of time.

The difficulties of Christian Platonism, process theology, and modern theism show that it is insufficient to simply claim that there is "some kind" of relatedness between God and world. Instead, the how of the relatedness of God to the world must be discussed in theological terms. For this reason, Dalferth believes that his task is "to emphasize theologically the nature of this relatedness as the nearness of God that makes all things new and gives everything a new quality."179 He believes that this cannot be achieved by dualistic thought about the world or God. "In order to correct the self-inflicted loss of relevance of the God-concept, we need a new elaboration of the concept of eternity."180

Before I discuss Dalferth's suggested solution (see pp. 98—101), the char acteristics and consequences of various types of distinctions between time and eternity require further and more detailed analysis.

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