Beyond the Time That Remains: Christ’s Reconstitution of Time

The experience of gathering around the death bed of a family member creates a time experience which the New Testament refers to as Kairos. It is a time of summing up; each moment is saturated, as the time that remains is short.  This is the culminating point –  a point of passage.  Ordinary chronos passes by in a rapid succession of moments – endured and forgotten.  The sacred times of our life, the times of fulfillment or kairoi, are definitive as they mark meaning, final identity, and telos.  The stories we tell to explain who we are, these are the kairoi – the definitive events which constitute our person-hood.  The Hebraic notion of an event oriented time is fused with biblical narrative so that the present is an extension of the past leading to a future messianic time – the pleroma or fullness of time.[1]  Every story and all time is oriented to this eschatological purpose.

The announcement of the Gospels is that the messianic time has arrived: the kingdom of God is at hand, today is the day of salvation.  One could sum up Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees as time controversies.  Sabbath marked the deep significance of creation, temple, and priesthood for the Jews, so that Jesus’ implicit and explicit claim to be lord of the Sabbath was a revolutionary sort of blasphemy in Jewish eyes.  The meaning of the Sabbath held the meaning of the cosmos.  Jesus, in claiming that both he and the Father were at work in the Sabbath, was claiming that creations meaning and purpose is to be found in himself.

John’s gospel begins with the inauguration of redemption time – “in the (re)beginning.” Creation time is reconstituted in re-creation and John begins with a seven-day episode culminating in the wedding feast (pointing to the final wedding feast of the lamb), followed by Jesus’ entry into the Temple.  At Cana he says, “My time is not yet,” but Passover by Passover (the time when death passes over) the time approaches, until Judas is told to go quickly as the time is at hand.  Just as the Gospel opens with the words of Genesis, marking the re-beginning, it closes with the final words of creation pronounced from the cross – “it is finished.” This does not mean, “I’m done for.”  Jesus is conscious of the significance of the occasion, as he “knew that all was completed” (eidos panta tetelestai, 19:28).  Here is the echo from the seventh day in which all of creation is declared “finished” and Sabbath begins. With Jesus’ pronouncement from the cross, re-creation time is finished; new creation time begins from here.  John plots it so that the death (during the final Passover) and resurrection constitute the seventh and final sign of the book.

In the language of John Walton (applied to the work of Christ), the cosmic temple will now begin functioning as it was designed to do.[2]  The seventh day event marks the point when all preparation has been made and God has come to rest in the cosmic temple. Christ has put all things in order and has subjected death itself to his rule; YHWH, the title Christ has claimed throughout the book, will take control of the cosmos.  The seventh day marks the point at which the divine takes up residence in the temple and this is the significance of the empty tomb.  Two angels, like the seraphim of the Ark of the Covenant, sit at each end of the place where he lay marking the new holy of holies.  The six days of functional dedication are complete and the cosmos or temple of God can begin to fulfill the purpose for which it was created.  The seventh day at Cana points forward to the seventh sign in John.  Betrayed as night fell, the resurrection comes, literally in John, with the dawning of the new day.  All is finished, the six days of the first chapter culminate in the wedding feast “on the third day” (from the fifth) John tells us – an obvious pointer to the resurrection.  The six signs performed in the Gospel culminate and end with the seventh; the resurrection appearances.

The writer of Hebrews sums up salvation as an entry into this seventh day event of rest. The seventh day contains creation’s purpose and the activity of the seventh day is to be that which we enter into “Today.” “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).  To miss this rest is the equivalent of being left dead in the wilderness or being left subject to the slavery of fear of death (life in Sabbath is bracketed by these alternatives in Heb. 2-4).  It is on the order of missing resurrection and missing the promised Kingdom.  To miss the seventh day is to miss time’s purpose – all chronos and no kairos.

In Paul’s depiction, this is precisely what has taken place in the lying futility which is sin (the “lie” – psuedos – or “futility” – matiotēs of sin seem to connote the same thing for Paul in Ro. 1:25 and 8:20).  Sin has put time itself out of joint, as creation has been subjected to the “bondage to decay.”  There is a futile suffering which has infected the cosmos but which has impacted humans with the chronic suffering of Gen. 3 and Ro. 7.  This hopeless futility due to sin constitutes the “law of sin and death.”  Chronos, under this law, is absolute and infinite; the experiential equivalent of the Newtonian Universe. As Jürgen Moltmann describes it, the law of sin and death is an immanent law and for this reason contains no hope.  Hope would transcend the immanent present for an alternative future.

The psychoanalytic and the biblical cure for chronos converge on the concept of hope.  Hope, in Moltmann’s description, “has the chance of a meaningful existence only when reality itself is in a state of historic flux and when historic reality has room for open possibilities ahead.”[3] That is, time is not the enemy but the avenue to an unfolding eschatological reality.  Paul’s description of hope allows for a full engagement with the vicissitudes of suffering as this suffering, and even death, are no longer definitive or determinative of life in light of the hope of certain glory. The “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Ro. 8.18) as neither “death nor life” can separate from the love of God (8.38-39). Hope embraces the dynamics of change as it is focused on certain future fulfillment of a promise which cannot be obtained “within the framework of the possibilities inherent in the present.”[4]

The psychoanalytic equivalent of hope depicts the necessity of escaping the immanent experience of time but lacks the real-world possibility of a reordering or reorientation to time.  The past has a grip on the present and the goal of analysis is to shake off this hold through a psychoanalytic break.  Lacan’s “Augenblick” – “moment of vision” or “the glance of an eye”[5] – is that moment in which “the past is illuminated by the future coming towards us in the present” or “the point at which we encounter how things look differently in the light of the future possibilities, revealing the potentiality of our past.”[6]  Lacan, without being fully aware of what he is doing (borrowing, as he has, from Heidegger who has lifted from Kierkegaard) is describing Kairos filled hope.

This parody of Christian hope, the point and goal of analysis, has no basis on which to create a stable identity outside the futility of the death drive (the psychoanalytic equivalent of the law of sin and death).  The goal of therapy, therefore, is not to overcome the futility or frustration but to conceive it in its “becoming” so as to overcome neurotic defenses.[7]  (Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Žižek, and Freud himself, are the true nihilists, doing their best, given the prospect of absolute futility.) The neurotic defenses that arise against the lack of control of the body (and the world) thwart the attempt to realize thought in action.  (In Paul’s depiction, the body and mind cannot be coordinated due to sin.)  Therapy seeks to account for the past prior to its having already determined the present and future.  Psychoanalysis attempts to break into psychological time as if it is not subject to the reality of history (personal and cosmic).

Christ’s historical time intervention brings the future age to bear on the present so as to directly counter chronological futility.  Hopeless futility is answered for the first time in Romans 8.20, which echoes and resolves an original futility.  Paul acknowledges the emptiness or “futility” which arises with the Fall but directly counters it with an ontology of hope in which the futility is accounted for and allowed by God due to his hope: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own choice but through the choice of the one who subjected it in hope” (8.20). The hope here is not, first of all, human hope but God’s (human hope is a participation in the divine hope).  This divine hope accounts for and counters futility from an ontological ground which resolves this futility. While Paul allows for openness (the vicissitudes of suffering) he also brings a God’s-eye view to the perspective of history in 8.29-30 and from this perspective all of history falls between the call and accomplishment of his purposes in those whom he has hope (or whom he has predestined).  As James Dunn puts it, “Paul deliberately sets the whole process of cosmic and human history between its two poles, pretemporal purpose and final glorification as the completion of that purpose.[8]  History is penetrated and book-ended by Christ, reconstituting temporality.

This reconstituted messianic time is the key marker of the shift in human experience – “now” is the fulfillment of promise laid out from Pentecost. This messianic time is variously described as “Sabbath rest,” “Today,” “resurrection time,” “time of need,” “fullness of time,” “time of salvation,” or “day time.”  The alternative is to live out life in “this present evil age,” to miss the time (“Today”) of salvation, to remain among the walking dead (as opposed to the resurrected), to be abandoned in time of need, or to be people of the night.  Sabbath time is not a leisurely Saturday by the pool but a relinquishing of the pressing burden of the chronic/chronos.  To begin to live out this Christian reality is, in the most intimate sense, to change up experience of time by entering messianic time.

Paul pictures this fullness of time as gripping the entire cosmos in something on the order of new birth.  From one perspective (or with a lack of perspective) the travail and groanings of creation might be counted as pure futility.  With the perspective of hope, the sufferings can be counted as like the pangs of childbirth: “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Ro. 8:22-23, NASB).  Creation is going to be set free from the corruption of a futile chronos through the redemptive kairos enacted in the children of God (Ro. 8:21).

Paul warns, “Don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Ro. 12:2).  A new time has dawned.  In the description of N. T. Wright, the whole of history – cosmic history, human history and Israel’s history –  are coming together in the Messiah to generate a new kind of temporality in a new sort of humanity.[9]  This alternative time has its origin and end in the preexistent, ascended Christ. It is available “now” as Christ has broken into time so as to break open past and future for “Today.”

 

[1] See Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains.  Agamben is working out a thesis which sees messianic time as a suspension of the law.  My point is that this suspension, beyond Žižek and Agamben, depends on Christ’s breaking into time.

[2] I am not aware that Walton draws out this obvious connection.

[3] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of Christian Eschatology, trans. James W. Leitch (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 92.

[4] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 103.

[5] Taken by way of Heidegger from Kierkegaard.  Kierkegaard is simply referring to Kairos.

[6] Marcus Pound, Theology, Psychoanalysis and Trauma, 144. Pound references Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Southampton: Blackwell, 1962), 387.

[7] Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View, 6.

[8] James Dunn, Romans, 486.

[9] N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 550 ff.

Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

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