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Eternity in our hearts?

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From the Toy Story 3 thread.

Is time uncomfortable for us because we "were made to be eternal"? I hear people say things like this a lot, and while I understand what the intent is, I am not sure what it actually means. So we were made to be eternal and now exist in a different ontological state? We were initially created in such a way that time as we now experience it is an aberration?

No, nothing like that, obviously. But I think we can still say that while temporality is natural to us and not an abberation, it is not sufficient for us. This world is our home -- we are not aliens here -- but at the same time we are not satisfied with it. There is in us something that will not be satisfied with less than glorification, of ourselves and our world.

How far does this idea extend? To natural cycles, relationships, aging?

This is a difficult question. On the one hand, I tend to take for granted something like the standard scientific narrative of evolution, which means that aging and death were around long before the fall, including in human ancestry. Yet my Catechism tells me that "Even though man's nature is mortal God had destined him not to die" (1008), and that it is only through human sin that "Death makes its entrance into human history" (400).

It seems, then, that in giving spiritual life to our first parents, God did not give us immortality, but did order us toward eternal life as our true vocation or the fulfillment of our nature. Had we obeyed, it would seem that glorification and immortality would have been our reward. Instead we sinned, and death entered the human world. But the vocation to eternal life remains, calling us to look beyond this life and this mortal world.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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This has the potential to be a great discussion. As we have it, though, I think we should all listen to Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. No other Christian work of art so beautifully wrestles with these notions of immortality, the end of the world, and its regeneration through Christ Jesus.

Edited by Ryan H.

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No, nothing like that, obviously.

Though when one hears such a statement in an evangelical context, it often means precisely that. Whether one locates it in pre-millenialism or not, there is a tendency in pop evangelicalism towards thinking of this space between Eden and the eschaton as something worthy of denigration. It is something we are just passing through until... Or: if only our neighbors knew how inconsequential the world really is... Or: We feel sad and stuff because we weren't created to live like this... Such thoughts are often biblical (especially given John's vision of the end times), but they can be very easily misapplied. I don't think there is a label for this, but I tend to think of it as the scrapheap mentality.

But I think we can still say that while temporality is natural to us and not an abberation, it is not sufficient for us.

Oh, most definitely. And this is why that pressure we feel is better described as the tug of eschatology rather than some ill-fitting or unnatural condition of existence. What is the time version of Paul's immortality metaphor in 2 Cor. 5 ("not unclothed, but further clothed")?

It seems, then, that in giving spiritual life to our first parents, God did not give us immortality, but did order us toward eternal life as our true vocation or the fulfillment of our nature. Had we obeyed, it would seem that glorification and immortality would have been our reward. Instead we sinned, and death entered the human world. But the vocation to eternal life remains, calling us to look beyond this life and this mortal world.

I am on board with that little narrative.

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Guest stu

[posted this before reading MLeary's post. it relates to the last point about the 'tug of eschatology' versus 'some ill-fitting condition of existence', though.]

I also think this is a very interesting topic, but for me it would need a bit of clarification before I'd know quite how to get into it.

I sometimes find the basic point that SDG is making to be fairly convincing - the paradoxical idea that there is, as Henry de Lubac said, a natural orientation to the supernatural. So, our natural state is to desire something more than our natural state, and in terms of time this would mean something like a desire for a temporality that is more than temporal, rather than a desire for an escape from temporality.

But once I ask myself what I mean by any of that, I get into difficulty.

The way the term 'eternity' is used confuses me. Sometimes it seems to be used with a basically linear understanding of time in mind, so that 'eternity'='everlasting', i.e. time just going on and on, with no stopping point - unending duration. Sometimes it is used in more of an oppositional sense, so that you have time and eternity as a pair - eternity as 'not-time'. The most likely way to actually think along these lines is to think of time in terms of movement, so that time is moving, eternity is static - i.e. eternity as a kind of stasis.

Both of these are pretty bad, in fairly obvious ways. The problem with the first usage is that here there is no 'other' to temporality as we know it, there is simply infinite duration. And this means that you're also thinking of God in terms of quantity - God just lasts longer than we do - which also goes along with thinking of God's power as a kind of super-power, and in general, thinking of God as like another acting being, only of infinite proportions. The problem with the second usage is that eternity becomes a kind of denial of temporality, change, becoming, happening, etc, so that really when you say 'eternity' you're just saying 'not-this'. God then becomes the world's opposite.

I don't know if that helps to clear things up, talking about time is difficult... Perhaps it outlines two pitfalls, though: to desire 'more than' our natural temporality is not simply to desire an infinite duration - time as we know it to extend and extend; nor is it to desire an escape from all this change, things coming into being and passing away. Otherwise, to become 'unsatisfied' with our temporality would be either a kind of greed, or a failure to love life as it has been given.

(btw, von Balthasar's book A theology of history is quite interesting, although quite speculative, on all this. He talks about the 'temporal constitution' of the Son:

This temporal constitution is so far from contradicting his eternal being as Son that it is what directly, intelligibly and appropriately reveals that eternal being in this world. It is because the Son is eternal that he assumes temporality as his form of expression when he appears in the world, elevating it so as to make of it a precise, suitable, perfectly fitting utterance of his eternal being as Son. It expresses, clearly and precisely, the fact that the Son in eternity makes nothing his own in any way that contradicts its being given to him, continually, ceaselessly, by the Father; and so his procession and experience in this world of that whcih is his own is going to be, not all in one flash, but somethign received from the Father, possessed only in him and through him, and hence continually offered up to him, given back to him and again received as yet another new gift of love.’ p34

I'm sure Toy Story 3 is more than up to deaing with these issues in an endearing and lighthearted way...)

Edited by stu

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Thanks for that von B quote, Stu. That line of thinking about how time and the incarnation relate is something that I struggle with, as it is something that I think leads to a more robust natural theology than the one I have always assumed on the basis of a few Reformed presuppositions. This part of von B's thinking struck me as odd when I first encountered it, because it is very Christocentric in a way that Reformed theology isn't. There are a lot of interesting ideas about time that flow from that shift in perspective.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Guest stu

Since I am sat online waiting for girlfriend to appear on Skype, I'll take the opportunity to throw some other stuff in, even if this thread hasn't really taken off. (perhaps I should say something outrageous about ejaculation - that seemed to work in a previous theological thread... ;) )

Simone Weil has interesting thoughts about time and sin, which are a little similar to von Balthasar:

‘One way or another, it is the cry of pride that “the future is mine”. Humility is knowledge of the contrary truth.

If the present alone is mine I am nothing, because the present is nothing. . .

All sins are an attempt to escape from time. Virtue is to submit to time, to press it to the heart until the heart breaks. The one is in the eternal.’ (First and last notebooks, p102)

'To wait is the extreme of passivity. It is to be obedient to time. Total obedience to time obliges God to bestow eternity.’ (p110)

For Weil, the acceptance of temporality is one way of describing what is meant by virtue - she is suspicious of talk of 'eternity' without this kind of acceptance, because she then thinks that 'eternity' will simply be a way of avoiding the contemplation of our finitude.

In another place, she says that music is 'time that one wants to neither arrest nor hasten.' The appreciation of music, as the most temporal of the arts, encourages the simple reception of what arrives, because to want to 'hold on' to a particularly beautiful section of a piece of music ruins the experience, as does a desire to hurry it.

For Weil, the key thing is that we have to accept time as it is, before we have any genuine sense of what we might mean by eternity. In other words, we tend to have a concept of eternity, something not subject to time, always in the background, 'compensating' for the passing away of time, which helps us avoid 'pressing it to the heart'. For Weil, most notions of eternity are corrupt, because they are simply a counter-balance to the nullity of the present. We refuse to accept that we are creatures of time, and so imagine either a static, never-passing away 'eternity' after the manner of unchanging physical stuff, or an unlimited supply of time. Which is to avoid the reality of our powerlessness to be otherwise than in the present moment.

Humility is to accept this powerlessnes - no-one can be anything other than how they are, right now. In a sense, everyone is innocent, because they cannot be other than they are. But this is an innocence which is only realised along with a kind of abandonment of the sense of one's own reality, stability, or substance.

Anyway, I'm not sure how that connects up with the idea that we have 'eternity in our hearts'. But Weil is very, very interesting on time, well worth reading if you can get hold of the notebooks, or Gravity and Grace.

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Since I'm currently listening to the Tolkien Professor podcasts all about Tolkien's works & worldview, I thought I would mention his exploration of this. In Tolkien's fiction, he viewed humans as more "supernatural" than the elves, whom he considered supremely natural. The elves were bound to the Earth(Arda in The Silmarillion), but men were not. It is a continual theme that it is good for men to love the world, but it is not good for them to cling to it, to desire an immortal presence there in the manner of the elves. The key point of this is that the true home of humans is not the Earth. They die, and go(as Tolkien says, "the elves know not where") to their true home.

The point that Tolkien is exploring is that humans are made for something greater than this world. Death, properly, is not an ending but a transition.

The interesting point is that Tolkien's exploration of the role of sin & death is his continual theme that no evil can be done in despite of the Supreme Being. Everything, even evil, is worked together for a good even greater than what would have existed prior to the interventions of evil. In other words, evil cannot even achieve the triumph of diminishing the plans of the Supreme Being. It's greatest actions only contribute to a greater good.

Again, this is Tolkien's fictional exploration of these ideas, but I think it brings up some food for thought.


owlgod.blogspot.com - My thoughts on all kinds of media

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