The End of Time? – T.F. Torrance

I commented on Ann Jervis’ paper at SBL on “Christ and Time” a few days ago. In her paper, she explained how Christ connects time with life not death. Ultimately, death gives way to life and so there is no end of time, life is lived eternally “in Christ time.”

This week in reading T.F. Torrance’s Incarnation I found another interesting discussion of Christ’s relation to time. Torrance, in my reading, seems to argue for a similar conclusion as Jervis that time is an eternal reality. His argument is working from a different starting point, the incarnation, but he affirms that in Christ’s incarnation the eternal is now ‘in union with time.’ Torrance says, 

…The Christian faith pivots upon the fact that here in time we are confronted by the eternal in union with time…Everything in Christianity centres on the incarnation of the Son of God, an invasion of God among men and women in time, bringing and working out a salvation not only understandable by them in their own historical and human life and existence, but historically and concretely accessible to them on earth and in time, in the midst of their frailty, contingency, relativity, and sin. Whatever christology does…it stands or falls with the fact that here in our actual history and existence is the saviour God.

Torrance even goes so far as to connect God with time (offering an answer to the question asked of Jervis in the session). Torrance says, “The unity of eternity and time in the incarnation means that true time in all its finite reality is not swallowed up by eternity but eternally affirmed as reality even for God.”

One further note from Torrance, I really like how he captures the way we describe God’s activity on earth. He explains that many see it as a divine act in the created world (a view he uses) but he prefers to see it as ‘an eternal act in time.’ He says, It

…is not the perception of revelation divorced from history. Nor is it the perception of history by itself, divorced from revelation, but it is the way we are given within history to perceive God’s act in history, and that means that faith is the obedience of our minds to the mystery of Christ, who is God and man in the historical Jesus.

The connection of not only creator and created but eternity and time in our understanding of God is fascinating. Revelation as the eternal being joined with the temporal is a wonderful way to explore the mystery of God with us.

The End of Time?

I have just returned from SBL’s Annual Convention and as always it was a great time. Caught up with old friends, met new friends, and even put a few faces to cyber-friends.

Even though the main reason I make the annual trek is the people, there is another part of the conference…the papers. And as always, I heard really good papers, good papers, and others.

One paper I was really looking forward to this year was Ann Jervis’ “Christ and Time” and it did not disappoint. Last year at a conference at Princeton, Dr. Jervis gave what she called a preliminary look at “Paul’s Understanding of Time” and since it was a smaller conference I had the privilege of discussing the ideas with her at length (a great reason to attend at least one smaller conference each year). When I saw she was going to be giving a paper on the topic at SBL, I knew it would probably be a highlight of the conference.

In her paper, Dr. Jervis offered a critique of the Pauline Apocalyptic School’s view of time (see Paul’s Apocalyptic Imagination). She focused on three points of difference:

  1. The End of Time: According to Jervis, contrary to what many in the apocalyptic school assert, time will not end (or in some cases has not ended). What Paul does say will end is death, and in the defeat of death time will be drawn together so it may be seen more clearly. In other words, there is no last day in Paul just a last day for death to disrupt time.
  2. Time and Eternity: Jervis also concludes that eternity is not a distinct Pauline category. In her view, time and eternity are not different ages; there is not a moment when time stops and eternity begins. She is not claiming that life will not reach into eternity but that eternal is a qualification of life. Eternal life, according to Jervis, is the nun kairos lived without death and therefore without sin.
  3. Christ Changes Time: Finally, Jervis based her claims in the fact that Christ connects time with life not death. For those in Christ, time is now invaded (a play on common apocalyptic motif) by life. Death gives way to life and so there is no end of time, life is lived eternally “in Christ time.”

Dr. Jervis ended by illustrating that time is often seen as the story of conflict in humanity’s relationships with each other, creation and God. She stated that if this is your definition then time will certainly end. But in her view time is not a story about conflict, that is the result of sin and death’s disruption of time, but a story about relationships. Thus, when in Christ humanity’s relationships with each other, creation, and God are restored so is time; time is eternal.

I find the discussion of time in Paul fascinating, especially since so many rely on the now-not yet paradigm when interpreting Paul without ever defining what now and not yet mean. In this manner, I appreciate Dr. Jervis’ efforts to define time by Christ and in particular to struggle with this very complex topic.

(One further note, one questioner asked how, in her view, does God relate to time? This was a very good question and one I look forward to hearing her answer as she continues to ponder on “Christ Time”)