Past Present Future and Advent Modes of Time in Light of Theological Eschatology

The preconception of the unity of time has been philosophically so predominant that the difference in the three modes of time—past, present, and future—can be considered "the unsolved and constantly suppressed problem in the conception of time within metaphysics."136 In theology, the trinity of the time modes has understandably stimulated a connection to the doctrine of the Trinity. On pp. 98-101, I showed how Dalferth relates the Father as the timeless ground of everything, the Spirit as multi-temporal companion of everyone, and the Son as temporal mediator of salvation to one another. This addresses the three modes of time only indirectly. In his book, Negative Theologie der Zeit, philosopher Michael Theunissen chooses a more direct path. He proceeds from the bold supposition that, when speaking of the trinity of faith, love, and hope, Paul was thinking of the divine Trinity. Theunissen then connects faith, as something that grows out of the experience of fidelity, with the Father. Hope, which looks into the future, belongs with the Son, as the one who is coming. Love, as the foundation, is contemporized through the Spirit. Thus, Theunissen arrives at the combinations of past/faith/Father, future/hope/Son, and present/love/Spirit. It is interesting that, in this way, because it belongs to love as the greatest of the three, the present takes a prominent position in Theunissen. He also views the present as the "place" in which eternity is most readily understandable.137 A philosophical justification for the primacy of the present is provided by the thought that only the present exists, whereas the past no longer exists, and the future does not-yet exist. Nevertheless, the question then arises whether the present, as the infinitesimal point between past and future, exists at all. Theunissen's emphasis on the present is worth noting, because many contemporary theologians tend to favor the future.138

The question then arises, which mode of time should have priority, the present or the future? Georg Picht suggested a thoughtful solution by linking the three modalities of necessity, reality, and possibility to the three modes of time. When the past is linked to necessity, the future to possibility, and the present to reality, then the present must be understood as something other than a "nothing" between past and future. It is given a prominent position instead: "Past and future are related to (a possible) present; necessity and possibility, to (possible) reality."139 It is therefore impossible to describe the present merely as a point on a line. It must instead be understood relationally, because "The present-ness within a communication network constitutes reality. Outside of the multidimensionality of the reference system in which reality appears to us, the word 'present' has no possible meaning."140

This understanding of the present is consistent with the concept of the light cone network. Time is both the relation of the many and the unity of the whole. It is "a multidimensional, open structure with mobile parameters" and, as such, "the universal horizon of the phenomenality of phenomena as such."141 This temporal structure that is held together by the present as the mode of reality is transcended, however, by the possibility of that which can be true,142 so that all human thought moves within the difference of two forms of one and the same time that are not reducible to each oth-er.143 Whenever the question of possibility is asked, we get in touch with the future. Even if the present as reference point is constitutive, an understanding of time that takes seriously the modality of possibility cannot, for this reason, be bent back onto an eternal present. One can conclude from this that an appropriate understanding of time has, so to speak, two centers— present and future—and therefore must always be interested in openness.

In his account of the background of eschatological thought in the twentieth century, Ratschow identifies "a deep restructuring in the understanding of time" as the main motif.144 This restructuring, which already began during the Age of Enlightenment, went in the direction of an orientation toward the future and took shape in a belief in progress that was influential in virtually all areas of life: "Development becomes the key that fits all locks."145 Wherever the enthusiasm for progress grew, tradition—and therefore even the past—lost its importance. The present also forfeited some of its significance by falling victim to the search for usable development opportunities for the future. This process was closely tied to the upswing in science and technology.

The elaboration of the primacy of the future is quite visible in Western philosophy during the twentieth century. Heidegger, Bloch, and Whitehead are only three of the philosophers who also strongly influenced the eschato-logical thinking of Pannenberg and Moltmann.146

Amidst all the enthusiasm about the future, an important distinction in the concept of the future should not be neglected. On the one hand, future can be understood as that which results from the past and the present— thus, as an extrapolation from that which exists, that is, a prediction that can be more or less reliable. This idea forms the basis for the belief in progress. If the future were not that which is set free from existing possibilities and which can also be optimized by skillful exploitation of precisely these possibilities, then the striving for progress and world improvement would be without meaning. On the other hand, future can be understood as that which comes towards me "from what is ahead." Time flows, then, as imagined by Augustine: from the future, through the unextended present, into the past.147 An understanding of time defined in such a manner is particularly suitable for expressing the future's own trait of unpredictability. While purely deterministic thinking must hold to the first-mentioned understanding (that of becoming), a more fatalistically oriented feel for life can take refuge in the second understanding (that of coming), unless it wishes to understand the future as the advent of the faithful God, as Moltmann does.148

Since these two conceptions of the future point in precisely opposite directions, they seem at first to be irreconcilable. Which of the two variants is then the more appropriate? It looks as if the first concept of the future is favored strongly by a world marked by technology and feasibility: What comes is the result of more or less well-used, actual possibilities. At first glance, the recognition that this does not exhaust what future means recedes to the background. The saying "Man proposes, God disposes" seems to be reversed: "Man disposes, God proposes"—and what God proposes plays no role. Understanding "what is ahead" is then more a matter of futurology than of eschatology.149 The more successful the structuring of the future is, the less interesting are the "Last Things"; the more tangible the heaven on earth, the more superfluous the new heaven. It often goes unnoticed that this tangible success has at least some of its roots precisely in that which it ultimately rejects, namely, in a life style and a world order that is oriented toward an eschatological goal.

This description is incomplete, however, as long as it refrains from asking how the problems related to the unforeseen and the far removed future are dealt with in the framework of futurology. The question arises: Where does an understanding of the future that is shaped by science and technology place the unpredictable if it excludes a future coming "from what is ahead"? This thought leads back to chaos theory as the attempt to accommodate the unforeseeable within the time that flows forward by turning the unforseeable into a question of greater complexity. In this, Augustine ultimately appears to be wrong about the direction of the flow of time from the future to the past; for what is fascinating about chaos theory in this respect is that it sees the unforeseeable coming not from the future, but essentially from the past. What happens in the process of self-organization is deterministic, but unforeseeable.150 Thus, chaos theory seems to neutralize the view that it is possible to distinguish between two types of future: futurist becoming that emerges from the past, and adventist coming that approaches from the future. Where general experience sees causality resulting from freedom, the theory of self-organization points in the opposite direction: Freedom can be explained by causality. Again, it becomes clear how quickly a model of linear time that is preoccupied with the directions of the flow of time reaches its limits. From the perspective of chaos research, the distinction between a future dependent upon the past and a future reliant upon what is ahead proves to be a questionable construction. For understanding the unforeseen, the direction of time need not be reversed. The "new," that which results from a weak causality or the indeterminate—here the terms overlap151—need not come from a direction other than that which is predictable or that which is determined by strong causality.

The distinction between futurist and adventist future becomes obsolete if it cannot be liberated from its ties to spatial-directional thinking. A theological distinction between future and advent that is content to let the future proceed in direct causality, more or less determined, from the past, but expecting the advent, determined solely by divine causality, to come from the future, cannot be reconciled with the insights of modern science. Such a model tends to restrict the concept of future. The future then appears as a reservoir of possibilities that are successively exhausted, something which ultimately must lead to a reduction of evolutionary possibilities and complexity, unless God is viewed as the force that continually refills this reservoir with new possibilities. This understanding of God, however, would approximate a "god of the gaps" concept and lead to more problems than solutions. Here, scientific theories suggest a different understanding: Future does not mean a reduction of possibilities, but, instead, an increase in possibilities and complexity. The dead end of linear conceptions of time can be avoided only by thinking of time in terms of openness toward the future. The possible conclusion, on which science and theology can agree, is in this case: "Time is, in a privileged sense, future."152

The theological distinction between futurist and adventist future is therefore pointless if it is tied to a one-sidedly linear understanding of time. The difference between advent and future cannot be qualified by using different directions of time. Within the framework of a relational understanding of time, however, this differentiation remains relevant. Here, dependence upon the past and dependence upon the future, or determinism and indeterminism, are no longer contrasted in order to correlate future and determinism, on the one hand, and advent and indeterminism, on the other. Development that is dependent upon the past is not identical to deterministic development, and events that are dependent upon the future are not identical to indeterministic events. Indeterminism belongs to the whole of development. It does not compete with "normal" regularities; it occurs within the framework of the given. The adventist future no longer has to be conceived of as a competing indeterminism; it can just as well represent an emerging indeterminism.153

A relational understanding of time accentuates the adventist future as the mode of eschatological time, since, more than the futurist future, the adventist future guarantees the openness of the two time centers—present and future; and it presupposes plurality and interaction. Departing from here, attention is drawn to the category of the new, which breaks through and makes old that which exists.

See, everything has become new!154— The Category of the New It was shown (see pp. 93—97) that the central idea of the eschatological difference between time and eternity lies in the category of the "new." It is only the "new" that makes the "old" old. The category of the "new" is linked to the privileged position of the future and to the differentiation within the concept of the future. Essentially, the "new" is a relational concept. Even if the "new" that breaks through is something radically different from that which becomes old due to this breakthrough, it is nevertheless unrecognizable as something new unless it is related to the "old."

Before I discuss the theological significance of the category of the "new," I would like to remind the reader that the concept "new" in human consciousness is indubitably filled with affective values. The values attached to the new tend to be quite ambivalent. A simple example: On the one hand, we are easily attracted by the new; who would reject the most recent computer model as a gift? On the other hand, we also surround the old with an aura of luxury, especially when it finds its way into the display window of an antique shop. When the main concern is the utility value of an object, we prefer the new. If the primary concern is aesthetic value, then the old is frequently preferred. If the category of relevance is added, then this results in combinations that can have significant consequences. When useful, new, and relevant—as counterparts to old, aesthetic, and irrelevant—form a coalition, there are consequences for the future. The future then risks being understood unilaterally as the future in the futurist sense. Its adventist character is suppressed. If theology is relegated to the sphere of aesthetics, of the old and the irrelevant, and becomes something that is dragged along from the past, then it loses its eschatological character, namely, the dimension that addresses the "new" as advent.

Restricting the concept of the new to an extrapolatively understood future robs the new of half of its nature, namely, the dimension of surprise. A new that does not at least bear the possibility of surprise is not new. Surprise thus makes clear the limits of a future understood only in an extrapolative manner. Without surprise, the future is nothing other than an extended past. It then dissolves in a confirmation of existing conditions, for better or for worse. What it lacks is the dynamics brought about by the surprisingly new. Another power must therefore be added to extrapolation, namely, what we may call "intropolation," that is, the readiness to accept the surprisingly new.155 Here, the "new" is also a judgment of the "old." It belongs to the characteristics of Christian theology, especially to eschatology, that coming is placed before becoming, thereby profoundly provoking the (ex-trapolative) future by means of the (intropolative) advent. It is "the eternal newness, according to which the eternal God is always his own future,"156 that makes this possible. This, again, is linked to the fact that God should be understood as love: "God and love never grow old. Their being is and remains one that is coming."157

How then are "new" and "old" held together? What does the continuity between the "old" and the "new" look like in eschatology? Moltmann speaks, on the one hand, of an analogy between things past and things to come, whereby the "new" is always more than the "old."1581 understand this in the sense that nothing remains of the old, but the structure stays intact so that recognition is possible. On the other hand, he also says that nothing dies; instead, everything is brought back in another form,159 which means that, in this case, the old material is reutilized and possibly fashioned into a completely new structure. Moltmann does not really explain the difference between these two possibilities of understanding old and new. Nevertheless, the difference is significant, as a simple example shows. If I say that I have got myself a new dress, then the primary association is probably that this new thing does not contain any material from my old dress. In this case, the continuity consists in the fact that one is dealing with something that can be identified as a dress. It lies thus in the analogy of the dress. The new dress is not, in this sense, an extrapolation of the "old"; instead, its newness can be understood as more adventist than futurist. It could be, though, that I am very skillful with a needle and thread and that I completely transform the old dress. I could make it shorter or longer, replace the worn collar, dye it, and trim it with piping in the latest color. Does the renovated object thereby become a new dress or only a dress that is like new? Because I have proceeded here according to the motto "make do and mend" [aus alt mach neu] and have thus extrapolated, as far as material and structure are concerned, it is more nearly a futurist than an adventist dress. I could take all of the seams out of the old dress, however, and possibly make a pair of trousers out of the material. Then I would have brought back the old material in a new form. But would it be a new dress? The new structure of the trousers hardly allows one to recognize the structure of the old dress.

Because Moltmann is so concerned with the physicality of the New Creation, he comes into conflict with his own preference of the adventist "new." For how new is the New Creation really, if it is essentially a renovation of the "old?"160 It would then more likely be the future of the existing creation, but not its advent. If one wishes to imagine the adventist "new," then it would be reasonable to seek the continuity less in the material itself than in the structure. This viewpoint is consistent with the biblical findings, and it also does not contradict a cosmology that must contend with the instability of matter. The new Jerusalem, which is already present with God, relativizes the "old." This relativizing, however, can be imagined as a rela-tioning, so that "the old cosmos [is] rendered historical by the new cosmos and vice versa,"161 Future and advent belong together, without being reduced to each other. This issue leads us further into the problems of destruction and transformation.

Everything old has passed away162—On the Understanding of Annihilation and Transformation The relationship between the old creation and the new heaven and new earth is traditionally described in two conceptual models. The differences between these models are expressed most clearly with the terms annihilation [annihilation and transformation [transformatio].163 The annihilation tradition was expressed most succinctly in Lutheran orthodoxy, while the transformation tradition is part of the Catholic, the Reformed, and—as the doctrine of the deification of the world—the Eastern Orthodox traditions. The idea of annihilation stresses that everything is dependent upon God's action. It accentuates the difference between creation and Creator, and thus also the discontinuity between the old and the new creation. The conception of transformation, on the other hand, emphasizes precisely the continuity between old and new creation and the nearness or indwelling of God in creation. The first conceptual model elucidates the radicality of the "new." In it, the new creation is advent and only advent. The second model accentuates the link between old and new. It somehow tries to bring future and advent together. In the first case, both the form and matter of the old creation is destroyed; in the second case, by means of a change in form, matter instead appears to be consummated and glorified, which could make it easier to avoid a worldless and bodiless anthropocentrism.164

Until now, continuity and discontinuity appear to be irreconcilable op-posites. However, the application of the three differentiating models developed in chapter 2 leads us further in this case as well. An ontological distinction between continuity and discontinuity results in the following: In light of the human horizon, human beings are dependent upon the thought of continuity. Because, for human beings, identity is tied to continuity, people seek continuity even into the eschaton. This leads, on the one hand, to an eschatology that is basically oriented toward the individual; and, on the other hand, it restricts the sovereignty of God, because continuity on the human side "forces" God, so to speak, to orient divine judgment exclusively toward human behavior. In the ontological model of differentiation, this continuity on the human side then stands in contrast to the discontinuity on the side of God. This, in turn, guarantees God complete freedom. God is the wholly Other; but, for human beings, God risks becoming the absolute Other to whom no relation is possible. The quantitative model of differentiation, on the contrary, largely ignores discontinuity. It builds instead upon continuity. By means of extrapolation, time is lengthened into infinite future. The reign of God grows out of history. Finally, the eschatological model of differentiation concentrates on the dynamic relation of continuity and discontinuity. Discontinuity is expressed in the attempt to take alterity seriously. Before the reign of God is given expressive forms that can be received by human beings, it is initially always that which breaks through, that which breaks off, and that which breaks in. Continuity is expressed in the persistent attempt to conceive of the discontinuous at least in terms of a solid confirmation that—even in the face of the most extreme discontinuity (death)—a relation of human/world/God is possible.165

Here, however, we have reached the limits of what can be clearly stated. Knowing about the radicality of discontinuity, we are unable to speak of discontinuity without images of continuity. The two stand next to each other, yet they are impossible to harmonize. Hymns seem to have the capacity of expressing this. For example, Paul Gerhardt finds beautiful images for both aspects. In the following text, he speaks clearly of the discontinuity in the annihilatio mundi:

The human being, what has it been? In one hour it is destroyed, as soon as the tiny breath of death blows into it. Everything must collapse and fall, heaven and earth must become, what they were before their creation166

In another hymn, he talks eloquently about the opposite. In the face of the summer splendor of nature and the flower garden, he presupposes heavenly continuity:

The mother hen parades her little chicks, the stork builds and inhabits his house . . .

The indefatigable swarm of bees flies hither and yon, . . .

The wheat grows vigorously;

both young and old rejoice in this . . .

Oh, I think, how beautiful you are and you give us so much pleasure here . . .

What great pleasure, what bright light will well be in the Garden of Christ!167

What the poetry of the hymns exemplifies also applies to rational discourse: The two concepts of continuity and discontinuity should not be locked away in a closed system.168 The unresolved tension between them provides eschatological movement and openness.

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