Is a Theology of Time Possible

After all of our considerations, the question of whether a theology of time is even possible is still justified. Already in chapter 1, it became clear that neither time nor eternity is a unified concept. They are related to each other in a variety of ways and linked to metaphorical meanings. The second chapter confirmed this impression. In the examination of "Time in the Bible" (pp. 64—81), it became apparent that, for a successful study, we would have to define what cannot be defined clearly on the basis of biblical material alone. The chapter on science was able to contribute important insights, for example, on the relativity of time, but it could not offer clear ideas that need "only" be applied in theology. How should a conclusive theology of time be constructed on the basis of such an ambiguous starting point?

By using Moltmann's eschatology, I will show the basic problems with which a theology of time must struggle. To this end, I will analyze the content of a theology of time as it is found in The Coming of God. I am not primarily concerned with specific problems in Moltmann's approach. Rather, from the inconsistencies of his concept, I conclude that a sound theology of time is not possible as a closed thought structure, but only as an open one.

According to Moltmann, time starts with the beginning of creation, namely, in the form of future, from which the present originates.189 As in

Augustine, time is therefore oriented from the future toward the past. It is characterized as irreversible. This time arrow can evidently be distinguished in its direction from the time arrow that belongs to thermodynamics (see pp. 166-68), which is oriented from the past toward the future. Although Moltmann refers to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, he does not make this difference a topic of discussion.190 His reception of scientific concepts seems somewhat strange when he says: "Reversible time is a kind of timeless time, for this form of time is itself timeless, like Newton's absolute time."191 As shown in chapter 3, reversible time is not "timeless" at all; reversibility of time does not mean that t = 0, but rather that +t and —t yield the same result. Furthermore, the meaning of the relation of space and time (see pp. 140—49) to each other does not appear to be taken seriously when Molt-mann asserts that creation begins in time and will be consummated in space.192 Whereas the space of creation is simultaneously outside and inside God, 193 time remains without a direct relation to God. A type of eternity does, in fact, stand in relation to time, but time does not of itself have a relation to eternity; temporality reflects instead the absence of God.194 The "source" of time is not eternity; instead, the future—understood as advent, not as future195—is the transcendental possibility of time per se and the unity of time.196

In contrast, in another passage, Moltmann says that, at the moment of origin, time emerged from eternity.197 Temporal creation is an open system (cf. pp. 166—72). The "essence" of its time is future, but the "constituting category" of this time is the present. Precisely where the difference between the essence and source of time and its constitutive category lies remains incomprehensible. Thus, the primacy of the future and the primacy of the present seem to compete with each other. Moltmann needs the primacy of the future for establishing the eschatological "time arrow" and the primacy of the present for anchoring eternity in existence. Because future and past are categories of nonexistence—the future is not yet and the past is no longer—only the present remains as the category of existence and of eternity in time. The "now" of the present "is 'the event of eternity in Being.'"198 Moltmann can also say of the Sabbath, however, that it is "the dynamic presence of eternity in time"199 and that, in the sabbatical rhythm, time is regenerated out of the presence of eternity. In the rhythm of the Sabbath, "interruptions of 'time's flow,' earthly creation—human beings, animals and the earth—vibrate in the cosmic liturgy of eternity."200 How this is compatible with temporality as the reflection of God's absence remains a mystery. Then again, Moltmann emphasizes that the unity of eternity and time does not lie in an eternal present, but instead in the creative Word of God,201 which, in turn, is not necessarily consistent with the statement that the simultaneity of the (remembered) past and the (anticipated) future is contemporized eternity or the image of eternity.202

Eternity is not timelessness, but rather the fullness of time.203 Molt-mann gives the impression that eternity consists of several different eternities; namely, the absolute eternity of God, which is to be understood as universal simultaneity, and at least three relative eternities: the relative eternity of the new creation,204 the relative eternity of the simultaneity of past and future in the present, and the relative eternity in creative acts effected by human remembering and anticipating.205 At least in its first form, relative eternity participates in the absolute eternity of God.206 The relative eternity of the new creation also means "the aeonic time, the time filled with eternity, the eternal time."207 According to Moltmann, it corresponds to the eternity of God in that it is reversible, symmetrical, infinite, and, in that respect, timeless.208 This correspondence, however, is actually a contradiction, because eternity has just been described not as timelessness, but as the fullness of time. In fact, relative eternity/eonic time appears to be an unfortunate and homeless hybrid: On the one hand, it is a part of absolute eternity; but, on the other hand, it is one side of the two-part structure of time (infinite cycle of time and transitory time arrow).

For Moltmann, the eschatological moment is simultaneously the final moment; in it, time is transformed into eternity.209 This happens via the eschatological self-unlimiting of God. Then, there is neither death nor time—which, strangely enough, does not signify the end of time, however, since the eternity that then breaks through is presented as relative eternity. As eonic time presented as the cycle of time, as reversible time, it is the image of God's eternity: "In the aeonic cycles of time, creaturely life unremittingly regenerates itself from the omnipresent source of life, from God." 210 Does this mean that eternity is in fact only infinite time? What is the precise difference between absolute eternity and relative eternity? There is no clear answer. Instead, according to Moltmann, the irreversible time of history is fulfilled "in the cyclical movements of life's eternal joy."211 Due to the indwelling of God in this new, eternal creation, "a mutual perichoresis between eternity and time also comes into existence."212

It is remarkable that reversible time appears to be superior to irreversible time. In the realm of nature, it is just the opposite. The inability of physical equations to express irreversible time has certainly been considered a defect (see pp. 166-72). For Moltmann, on the other hand, the reversion of irreversible time is an expression of universal salvation, the restoration of all things, which also includes the return of all times. All times are therefore brought back together with all things, so that they can be transformed and transfigured. "The unfurled times of history will be rolled up like a scroll, as

Revelation 5 intimates."213 Apart from the fact that in Rev. 5 the issue is the opening of the scroll sealed with seven seals, it seems that Moltmann is in fact less concerned with the reversion—the rewinding—than with a revi-sioning—an examination from very precise points of view—or, as he says elsewhere, with the new creation of all things.214

Despite its unquestionable merits, Moltmann's eschatological work disappoints the reader precisely in the area where the interest of this study lies, namely, in the formulation of a theology of time that also deals constructively with scientific concepts. Moltmann certainly gives the impression of having considered physical theories, but he uses them guided by spontaneous association rather than by hermeneutical insights. His explanations of time and eternity remain difficult to comprehend because they are fraught with contradictions and a lack of clarity; many good ingredients form a mixture that is difficult to digest. It may be that, if there had been more thorough kneading, a smoother composition would have emerged. As it is, individual ingredients can be easily identified: Theunissen's Negative Theologie der Zeit and Picht's Zeit und die Modalitäten, the Thomistic notion of aevum, the Jewish Sabbath tradition and the teaching of zimzum,215 Greek philosophy, some process philosophy, and Orthodox theology. To use another metaphor: Here, many valuable pearls are gleaming, but they do not become a necklace. Is this an indication that a theology of time in the form of a beautiful pearl necklace is, in fact, an impossibility?

An explanation for the weakness in Moltmann's theology of time (and for the difficulties of any theology of time) is provided in a reversion to Sauter's eschatological typology.216 Sauter divided the eschatological approaches into three major groups according to their respective emphases, namely, the "Last Things," universal history, and the coming God. I have shown that this division corresponds quite well to the division into the on-tological, the quantitative, and the eschatological differences of time and eternity. In my opinion, however, Moltmann's thought does not fit within any one of these categories; instead, he moves in and among several of them simultaneously. On the one hand, he moves the end, the cosmic shekina of God, the restoration, the new earth and the new heaven into the focus of his eschatology. On the other hand, he deals with history—yet not as a universal history—within the framework of a theology of struggle and of messianic hope. Previously I emphasized this as one of the strengths of Moltmann's eschatology. At this point it nevertheless becomes clear that it is precisely this strength that makes his theology of time so problematic. Namely, it appears to force him to mix the conceptual worlds of ontologi-cal, quantitative, and eschatological accounts of time and eternity, which leads to the lack of clarity that has been described. If one strives for the greatest conceptual clarity possible, then it is reasonable to select one of the three models. During the course of this study, it has become evident that many arguments spoke in favor of the eschatological model. First, this model impressed us with its power to overcome the dualism of time and eternity. Second, it implied the possibility of speaking reasonably of the temporal openness of God. Thus, the nearness of the reign of God and the fullness of time could be conceived of as a unity with simultaneous differentiation, which ultimately would contribute to the comprehensibility of the "already" and the "not-yet." Third, it corresponded in a most promising way to the scientific theories that speak of dynamic development and complexity. Without thereby making theology dependent upon scientific theories or "exploiting" physical theories theologically, a hermeneutics that rests on the self-evidence of the discussion and the desire for contact leads here to an enhanced understanding.

More than once, it has become clear that the attempt to express dynamism and to describe the transcendent God as the coming God (and the God who has already come) breaks through the framework of traditionally objectifying conceptuality and seeks other forms of expression. Already Moltmann's God in Creation concludes with the metaphor of dance. This metaphor reappears in The Coming of God?11

Metaphors go beyond rational thought in their appeal to intuitive understanding, but they always remain subject to the critique of lacking conceptual clarity. What Moltmann does is narrate eschatological history. For this reason, a criticism of his work that applies only the method of logical conceptual analysis to this narration is not adequate.218 Ricoeur's theory seems once again confirmed: Time must be narrated. It cannot be confined within a simple, unambiguous concept.

If it is possible to draw a conclusion from this, then it is as follows: Because time cannot be abstracted, but occurs instead as lived time, it cannot be captured theologically in a fixed system. It can be talked about only under the auspices of dynamism and relationality.

The Relation to the "Other" as the conditio sine qua non of a Theology of Time Beginning with the first chapter of this study, it has become increasingly clear that an abstraction of time is not possible. There is no such thing as one single generally valid concept of time. One can view time as a convention or a construction and consider it an aid for structuring and organizing life, but one can come close to it only as lived time and narrated time. From the anthropological perspective, time is "life-time" and, just so, the medium of relationships: relationships to living things and nonliving things, to one's self, and to God.

A chronological-linear concept of time alone does not do justice to these facts. Visualized through the image of the infinite straight line, it cannot even render comprehensible the irreversibility of time that is firmly anchored in experience. Time is more than can be expressed in a geometrical figure, regardless of whether the figure is a straight line, a circle, or even a spiral. Theological reflection has repeatedly shown that an open understanding of time marked by the "already" and the "not-yet" is indispensable. From scientific observations, I was also able to conclude that, for an adequate understanding of time, a consideration of the respective proper times of systems is essential. The significance of proper time is not exhausted by marking an individual extension on a universal timeline. In a broader sense, the meaning of proper time includes also internal time, as can be observed in biological, political, and economic systems.219

I consider it important and productive to bring a concept of time that is broadened by this perspective into the discussion with interpretations of time that tend to be accepted uncritically by sheer force of habit. As an example, we shall take a look at Eccles. 3:1—15. Is it not precisely this internal time, in its relation to external time, that actually explains the significance of the words of Ecclesiastes—"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven"?220 The text would be banal if it dealt merely with chronological-linear time, with an infinite conveyor belt on which birthing and dying, weeping and dancing, war and peace are transported like small parcels. However, a look at some commentaries on this passage indicates that the interpretation that claims that Ecclesiastes is giving prominence to a temporal determinism is presented as the only reasonable one. Even if the views are somewhat divided with respect to details, general agreement prevails regarding the emphasis on the fateful character of time. The commentators formally indulge in determinism: Everything happens according to a fixed plan; "every single fact is determined";221 every event happens beyond human control;222 God's acts overpower and overshadow all human actions;223 all actions are predetermined, and every human activity is therefore useless;224 only one and the same thing is repeated over and over;225 we are dealing with the helplessness of human beings vis-à-vis the time that is determined by God, whereby the twenty-eight uses of the word time (c-t) elicit a feeling of fatalism;226 indeed, we are dealing with the "emphasis on the absolute dependence of all earthly things, with a strong emphasis on the exclusiveness of God."227 It is striking to me how securely these deterministic glasses fit on the noses of the commentators. An opening of the closed concept of time in the direction of internal time and multi-temporality is not considered. Yet, it need not necessarily be the "music of the unamend-able"228 that is found in these verses; it can just as well be the roundelay of multi-temporality.

In addition to the version of closed determinism, there is also that of open relationality. The latter could be argued more or less as follows: It makes complete sense to speak of an internal time of the processes named in the pericope; and it also makes sense to conceive of "eternity" (colam) not as the antithesis of human time, but instead as God's "proper time," which is related to the other times but does not merge into them. In this pericope, Ecclesiastes does not make a dualistic contrast of time and eternity. The text speaks of God's (proper) time with which God has accomplished everything in a perfect way. It is the gift and mystery of life that God has laid God's own (form of) time—namely, eternity—into everything. God's proper time is included in this relational structure, but it assumes a unique position in this structure. Thus, an understanding of God's relationship to time that automatically ascribes to God one and the same relation to all times is also overcome.229 From this viewpoint, one can speak of human discernment in relation to time, as well as of the dependence of world time on God's proper time (v. 11); and the overarching dynamic nature of these proper times can be expressed—the relativizing of present and future, the possibility of still being able to do something with that which has already hardened into a necessity (v. 15). Thus, a relational understanding of time contributes to elu-dicating those parts of this pericope that several commentators have referred to as crux interpretum.

"Everything has its time, and everything has its internal dynamic" would then be a more appropriate paraphrase of the words from Ecclesiastes than, for example, Paul Gerhardt's formulation: "Everything has its time, but God's love is eternal."230 Paul Gerhardt is evidently not the only one who presupposes the notion of limited intervals of time on a line that is contrasted to God's eternity. Rather, it once again seems reasonable to suspect that, in much of theology, there is still the uncritical assumption that God is at home in Newton's time. This attitude is actually understandable, since Newtonian mechanics functions perfectly in the realm of our everyday life. Consequently, what is known and what has proved itself to work is universalized and also carried over into conceptions of God. Understandable, but nevertheless careless. It is much more astute to recognize the illusory in the assumption of universal time and, subsequently, also to consider theological approaches critically. Especially eschatological reflections on classical themes, such as judgment and the intermediate state, seem to assume that God measures with Newton's time and that the only category available to God is the category of "determinism." Here, insights from the natural sciences can sharpen our consciousness of the fact that the alternative does not mean either strict determinism or complete relativism, either rigorous rationalism in keeping with the Enlightenment outlook or the all-encompassing arbitrariness of an extreme postmodernism.

This train of thought also opens up the possibility of understanding eternity indeed as temporal, but nevertheless as incommensurate with chronological time. There is something process-like in eternity,231 This is expressed not only in a passage like John i4:2f., but also in the announcement of the reign of God (Mark 1:15). Nearness means unavailability and not-yet-present. However, it also means presence as that which is coming and, thus, as an interruption of linear chronology.

From this perspective, a solution to the dilemma posed on pp. 82—97 offers itself: Can God be temporal and still be God? Can God really be God without being temporal? We can now see that this way of asking is confined to a static-dualistic way of thinking and therefore juggles with false alternatives. A relational conception of time, by contrast, assumes the temporal openness of God,232 which is qualified eschatologically. In this sense, one can speak of the "constitution of our time through God's selection from divine time"233 and also of eternity as the internal ground that enables temporal life.234

A good theology of time does not confine itself to discussing amounts of time or the antithesis of time and eternity. It instead considers an increase in complexity that occurs "in, with, and under" nonlinear interactions. Only in this way can it approach an adequate understanding of time, which acknowledges that time is not encountered as something abstract, but rather as lived time and life time.

A relational understanding of time has consequences for the understanding of life and the world. Relational thinking, for example, does not tolerate the leveling of differences.235 It opposes the obliteration of the dissimilarity of proper times and rhythms. And it does not tolerate a flattening of time into the simple infinity of a super-continuity or a total synchronici-ty in which everything is available nonstop. In a relational understanding of time, time is conceived as "time for," which always stands in relation to an Other. The primary communicative form that corresponds to this understanding is not information, but, rather, communication. This also results in an alertness to how and where time is utilized as a means of power.236 In a relational understanding of time, time is not merely that which rules over us or that relentless power of transitoriness against which we struggle; rather, it is seen as the time in which, with which, and under which we live and structure life and the world.237

The eschatologically qualified relationality of time also has consequences for understanding the future. In this perspective, future becomes comprehensible as a relational structure consisting of future and advent. Resulting from this is the fact that futurist striving for world improvement and the adventist composure in the expectation of a consummation lying beyond the immanently possible complement each other. Eschatology is not speculation about the grand finale, but rather, above all, the ferment of hope. In this capacity, it certainly does not eliminate the finale, but it is not fixated on it. Eschatology is primarily the expression for the relationality of old and new, of future and advent, of identity and alterity.

For dealing with time, this means that we certainly need our chronometers, which help us to divide up and organize time. However, just as urgently, we need the experiences of forgetting time; we need time periods in which measurable time plays no role. These are often precisely the experiences that offer what affects human life on the deepest level. At least two types of languages are prerequisite for an optimal understanding of time: the formal language of mathematics, in which we can present calculations with positive, negative, squared, and imaginary time, and the language of narrative, which unites phenomenological and cosmological time238 and is a superior means of expression for relationality. Even the physics of complex systems can no longer survive without narrative—if Prigogine is right: "In connection with irreversibility, we reach a description of physics that brings a narrative element into play on all levels."239 At least in this regard, narrated time and time in both theology and science are closer to each other than often presumed. A possible story of time that recurred repeatedly over the course of the study is the narration of time as a dance.240 Its strength lies in its ability to thematize the relationships of process and rhythm, space and time, the unique and the recurrent, detail and generality, individuality and sociality, idea and action, and the like. This flexibility and openness is simultaneously also its weakness. It need not necessarily be a liturgical dance of joy in God, as hymns and theological literature so gladly assume. It can just as well be the Nietzschean dance of the self-glorification of the strong.241

After everything that has emerged from the reflections in the four chapters of this study, we still have the ongoing task, first, of narrating good and appropriate stories of time. In hindsight, it is clear that, in this respect, hymns are guardians of rich treasures. Their narrations on time and eternity offer a diversity that highlights contrasts, so that the Church which sings "any and everything" has experiences that are manifold to the point of being conflicting. Expressing the whole range of the diversity of these experiences, in turn, corresponds very well with the realities of life. In this sense, the hymns of the Church open up a wider spectrum than many theological models can provide. Although they are superior to theology in this regard, the hymns also need supplementation by means of theological reflection. The example of the reduction of eternity to the area of the immanent, which is found in more recent hymns, reminds us of the urgency of theological questions. If, as was clear in the example of death understood as the end, the irrelevance of eternity ultimately destroys time,242 then we must ask: What does it mean for the individual, and for Church and society, if eternity as the Other of time loses all authority for the structuring of life? How could we today motivate and express the necessity for a perspective of eternity? How, for example, is an ethic with a perspective on eternity different from one without any relationship to eternity?

Second, in light of the starting points selected in this study, further reflections in different directions are not only possible—they are highly desirable. The reflections concerning a theology of time that I have presented go beyond the dialogue with the natural sciences in their urge for relationship to the Other. Let me conclude by suggesting a few further questions for which a relational understanding of time could be valuable. On the basis of reflections on time and death in the second chapter, it would be fruitful to examine different notions of reincarnation with respect to their understandings of time. A continuation of reflection in the direction of the mystical experience of time would also be appealing.

The obvious popularity of the topic of time—seen in the number of publications on the subject—surely also results from the fact that time is a difficult aspect in the contemporary structuring of life. Many problems of the modern age have been diagnosed and addressed as a "time sickness" [Zeitkrankheit]].243 For this reason, I consider it promising to reflect upon a relational theology of time not only within the context of the natural sciences, but also in dialogue with other disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, and economics.

Non vacant tempora nec otiose volvunturper sensus nostros: faciunt in animo mira opera.

The times are not empty, nor do they roll idly through our senses: They work remarkable things in the mind.244

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