Thursday, May 20, 2010

John Howard Yoder on the Bible, God, and Time

"The amillennial view...says that the ultimate fulfillment of the purposes of God for history will be an end to history, but an end that has no duration to it, no time, space or body to it. It will just stop and then there will be eternity. The fulfillment will have about it something like a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, something like a man returning from the sky, something like a judgment, and something like a bottomless pit. But it will all happen at once. Then it will be over, and we will be in timeless fulfillment. The idea that fulfillment is timeless is itself the most clearly nonbiblical of these [eschatological] positions. It is Platonic. It creates the problem of how you move from a temporal system to an atemporal system. Eternity is not having time anymore. It is getting off of temporal boundedness. A blackboard has only two dimensions. The room has three dimensions. When we get off the board into the third dimension we pay less attention to that limited universe in which there are fewer dimensions. Time does not matter. Eternity is not temporal. It is atemporal. The difficulty with that view is that it is Platonic. In biblical thought, the eternal is not atemporal. It is not less like time, but more like time. It is like time to a higher degree. The kingdom is not immaterial, but it is more like reality than reality is. If real events are the center of history -- certainly the cross was a real event, certainly the resurrection is testified to as in some sense a real event -- then the fulfillment and culmination of God's purposes must also be really historic. The God of the Bible is not timeless.

"In the old debates about the Trinity, one of the ways of stating the question that Tertullian and Origen discussed was whether God was ever speechless. Was God ever without the Logos? The answer was: "No, God from eternity had the Logos." We must say essentially the same thing about temporality if we are to understand the biblical vision of history. We cannot conceive of an atemporal God reconcilable with the biblical vision of God. We can conceive of a hypertemporal God who is more temporal than we are, who is head of us and behind us, before us and after us, above us in several directions, and who has more of the character of timeliness and meaningfulness in movement rather than less."

--John Howard Yoder, Preface to Theology: Christology and Theological Method (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002), 275-76

1 comment:

  1. But then what really is the difference between the atemporal God we cannot conceive and the hypertemporal God who is somehow in all times simultaneously? And given that time is essentially the medium and measurement of change, and there is a strong witness in the Biblical corpus that suggests that God is unchanging, does this even make sense? I had thought that God's experience of temporality was tied to God's embodiment in the Incarnation, and that like embodiment, isn't sensible to apply to the Godhead as a whole.

    There's some science in here, too. If space and time are two forms of the same thing, as posited by relativity theory, and God created but is not bound by space - that is, if the physical universe is created ex nihilo - then it follows that time, like space, is a creation of God that does not bind God, the Incarnation excepted.

    (Just found your blog today, and I really like what you've written.)