Time Eternity and the Trinity

Dance presupposes time, but Johnson does not particularly deal with this. Robert W. Jenson, on the other hand, considers the doctrine of the Trinity also on the basis of time. His starting point is that the biblical story that deals with God and ourselves is true with respect to God and for God.53 Like Vanhoozer, he wants to understand God's nature as narrative,54 which means that, in God, there must also be room for surprise and genuinely new things. From this, Jenson then concludes that God's eternity cannot be merely the absence of time, but, rather, that eternity must be for God something like what time is for us.55 In this conclusion, the description of what is meant by eternity remains open and general: "it only denotes whatever it is on which a particular spiritual community relies to join the poles of time, to knit future and past into a coherent fabric."56 According to this, eternity is what holds past, present, and future together—i.e., it is what constitutes coherence. Eternity thus becomes the principle of meaning: the supposition of an Archimedean point whose appearance can vary considerably, however. There are therefore a multitude of eternities. The Christian interpretation of eternity is based on the Trinitarian God whose hallmark is life: "'God' simply as such denotes what happens between Jesus and the one he calls 'Father' and the Father's Spirit in whom Jesus turns to him. . . . 'God,' simply as such, denotes a life, as the Eastern tradition has put it, a complex of 'energeia.' "57

This life of God surrounds time, thus it must appear correct when Jenson concludes that "Time ... is the accommodation God makes in his living and moving eternity, for others than himself."58

Jenson also specifies a direction of time in God. While the Father appears as the "from where" of divine events, the Spirit represents the "to where" of divine life. For the Son, God's "specious present"59 remains. Jenson pays particular attention to the Spirit as the power of the future. He sees a close correlation between the Holy Spirit, the narrative structure of God's nature, and the freedom in God that makes what is still to come into more than a mere consequence of what has already happened: "The Spirit is God as his and our future rushing upon us, he is the eschatological reality of God, the Power as which God is the active Goal of all things. . . ."60

Jenson does not draw parallels to science at this point. However, his description of eternity as diverse and his depicting God's eternity as alive and mobile, while simultaneously adhering to Karl Barth's talk of eternity as "pure duration," are interesting. The definition of time as the home that God creates in divine eternity for that which is different from God goes beyond the three differentiating models of time and eternity that are outlined in chapter 2. It does not allow time to dissolve into space, even if it is very close to spatial categories. It is also consistent with the biblical description of the nature of God as love, if love is understood as that which, in its essence, receives the Other. The link of eschatology to the role of the Spirit of bringing otherness and novelty to the Father and the Son is also interesting.61 At the same time, this connection elucidates, once again, the insurmountable difficulty of all attempts to link a dynamic and relational time-eternity understanding to the differentiation of the Trinitarian persons. If Dalferth allocated the eschatological perspective to the Son,62 then Jenson is just as certain of his position when he links eschatology to the Spirit. While the role of the Son remains diffuse in Jenson, in Ted Peters, it is the Spirit that has a very weak profile. Peter's Trinity instead resembles a duality that is held together by the Spirit as a connecting link,63 a difficulty that Peters shares with all approaches that allocate to the Spirit the role of the unifier within the Trinity.

One cannot avoid the impression that all of these Trinitarian models include a relatively large portion of arbitrary speculation. The problems shown on p. 109 have not yet been solved. In what is now a broader perspective, we can see that a Trinitarian understanding of God certainly corresponds to the paradigm that prefers relationality and thus also has a fixed place within the framework of a study that deals with a relational theology of time in the perspective of modern science; yet, it may not be able to explain such a theology. The attempt to develop the most precise Trinitarian models possible, in order to use them to explain the relationship of God, time, and eternity, proves not to be the most fruitful path.

Nevertheless, the explicit articulation of a Trinitarian concept of God can make an important contribution to the dialogue between science and theology by offering a beneficial contrast to the one-dimensionality of the Newtonian concept of God. The newly awakened interest in Trinitarian theology also clearly shows what may appear to be self-evident to theologians, but what is not at all so familiar to many scientists and laypersons, namely: Not only does science change and advance in knowledge; theology does the same thing. At the beginning of his book God and the New Physics, Paul Davies supports the opinion that science offers a more certain path to God than does religion; and Stephen Hawking concludes A Brief History of Time with the remark that, if we discover a complete theory, "then we would know the mind of God." In both books, God remains even more ab stract than in Newton. The question of what kind of God they more or less explicitly identify with a world formula remains basically unanswered. This lack of sophistication vis-à-vis theological complexity is perplexing. A certain amount of specialized scientific knowledge is expected of theologians who deal with science, and rightly so. However, this demand evidently does not apply in reverse—as these two examples show—yet it should. A dialogue that is to succeed will have to consciously take into consideration the entire scope of competence of all dialogue partners.

Trinitarian thought can make an important contribution to both interdisciplinary discussions and a theology of time, but its potential alone does not suffice for constructing a theology of time. Rather, even after considering the findings from chapter 3, our impression from chapter 2 remains, namely, that eschatology is the theological place where the most can be said about a relational theology of time. Eschatology allows reflection upon time as multi-temporality or a complexity of times—indeed, it even demands such reflection.

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