Thursday, February 08, 2007

Robert Jenson on Barth on Time

Robert W. Jenson, Cur Deus Homo? The Election of Jesus Christ in the Theology of Karl Barth. Dissertation submitted to the theological faculty of the University of Heidelberg in pursuit of the degree of doctor of theology, 1959.
According to Barth, God in himself is not atemporal, but temporal. The time which He, in his eternal life, has is the possibility and model of created time. There exists however this fundamental difference between God’s time and created time as such: In God past, present and future are not separated; in merely creaturely time they fall apart into a succession of separate “times”. In God the past is that which is present as the eternally past, as, so to speak, the qualitatively past. For man, it is that which is “no more”. With God therefore, that which in his eternal self-discrimination is rejected is, so to speak, always past, qualitatively past. But when this is carried out in time for the creature, this past achieves a time of its own. That which with God is the ever-present immediate event of the triumph of light becomes in time a history. In time, there was a time when this rejected reality was the present reality. Within the history of Jesus Christ and his people, our time is exactly this time. (53)
[T]he existence in eternity of the God-man involves no strange mythology; it is quite simply the human history under Pontius Pilate which is in eternity, without needing to “leave” its own time and history. We have here to do with an event which is at once and as the same event an event in God and an event in God’s work in time, because it is precisely the passage from the one to the other or better yet, the event of their unity. (85)
The distinction between eternity and time, and the location in eternity of the eternal decree, is not to be blurred. Explicitly, the event of the eternal predestination and of Jesus Christ’s pre-existence therein, is not identical with the history of salvation. Nor is the eternal pre-existence of the God-man exhausted in his immediacy to God’s all-encompassing eternity. (86)
God is indeed eternally present to all creatures. But although they and their time are enclosed in God’s eternal time, they are in their time and not in his. Jesus Christ is in God’s time. (87)

8 comments:

Shane said...

How is there supposed to be temporality without succession in God?

WTM said...

Shane,

That is a very good questions, and one for which I have no overwhelming answer. Of course, we must admit that Barth (and Jenson explicating Barth) isn’t concerned with strictly commonsense understandings of things, although he certainly pursues a kind of rationality or logic with the utmost rigor. In this case, Barth simply redefines what is the most basic aspect of “time” and identifies that most basic aspect as God’s time, not created or human time. Certainly, at a basic linguistic or low-flying epistemological level, we only know God’s time as “time” because we experience created time. But this does not mean that, theologically speaking, created time is the most basic.

Now, when it comes to God’s time and human time, the idea is that the basic structure is the same. “Analogia entis!”, one might suspect. This is neither the time nor the place to get into that, but I will say that with a proper understanding of the relation of creation to God, and with the relation of creation to covenant and specially to Jesus Christ, much of what Barth takes away with his rejection of AE is given back on a radically different basis – at least it seems to me. In any case, God’s time is structured in basically the same way as ours with a form of past, present and future.

But, there remains a fundamental distinction between God’s time and created time, namely, the absolute nature of these distinctions. In created time, these distinctions are insurmountable: what is past is gone forever, and what is future is not yet real. However, in God’s time, these distinctions are not absolute, but are held together in a close relationship of unity-in-distinction and distinction-in-unity, much like the logic of the Trinity (as Hunsinger has shown; “Mysterium Trinitatis” in Disruptive Grace).

It is on the basis of God’s decision in this eternal time (if we can express it dialectically) that created time comes into being in its absolute distinction between past, present and future. But, because created time is dependent upon eternal time, those distinctions which are absolute for the creature are not absolute for God, in whom past, present and future find their unity.

That’s the best I can do at the moment. I need to read some of the most pertinent material on this in CD for my thesis, hopefully sometime this week, so I may be back with more.

Anonymous said...

"God’s time is structured in basically the same way as ours with a form of past, present and future."

Really? So says Barth, but what would Augustine say!

WTM said...

Perhaps an equally interesting questions is: What would Boethius say?

I have actually read a couple articles where it is said that Barth's view of time / eternity is basically Boethian, albiet with a twist. I haven't spent enough time (pun intended) on this subject to make any judgments.

S. K. Anon said...

"What would Boethius say?" I don't think this is an interesting question at all.

Phil Sumpter said...

Did you read the dialogue between Hunsinger and N. Kerr on Faith and Theology? Hunsinger seems to reject both Jenson on this and his interpretation of Barth.

I feel that this is important for me but I'm struggling to get my conceptual categories around it. I had a bash in my review of Nicene Christianity, especially Jenson's article, but I have to say it's real tough!

Anonymous said...

For Barth, it seems that, as Jenson says, everything has already happened in God's pretemporal eternity. Everything including the incarnation, the crucifixion, and so on really happened already in eternity. Then, time would be just a repetition of the eternal events that have already happened. Then, Jenson's question is: What is the significance of this repetition? Why does the events have to happen in time? What is the significance of time, for Barth?

WTM said...

Anon, I don't think you have really grasped what Jenson is saying about Barth. It seems to me that the point is this: the history in question is already in eternity. This history can't be in eternity without being at the same time history. So, it isn't a question of repetition, but of the history or time of Jesus Christ (fundamentally, and working out from there) existing as history and time also within eternity in a pre-temporal form. Does that make any sense?