Time in a One-Storey World

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It seems to me as I’ve looked over my posts on the “one-storey” world, that one thing I have not paid much attention to is time. Part of the “two-storey” construct which dominates our modern world-view, is a tendency to view time in a purely linear, historical progression. Thus for some very conservative two-storey Christians, time begins at creation, and moves along in a linear fashion. Thus the timing of Adam and the fall become critical historical problems. There are those who are thus forced to argue for a “young earth.” A museum opened this past year in which the young earth was celebrated, the dinosaurs depicted as cohabiting the world with Adam and Eve. It adds a whole new dimension to life in the Garden of Eden.

This same treatment of time may have an emphasis on the “last days,” in some cases arguing strongly that we are in just such days. The “Left Behind” series of novels celebrates this linear view. And although, properly speaking, the end of history may be referred to as the “eschaton,” the linear, two-storey version of time and life on earth, actually lacks an eschatological dimension. There is nothing about the end that is different from the rest of time with the sole factor of its timing. It is the end, because it is the last thing in a long progression. Prophecy about such an end is not about the nature of things, but simply about the progression of things. This is not Biblical eschatology.

Of course, this is a hallmark of the two-storey worldview. It is inherently secular (even when it’s religious). That which is significant and of everlasting value has been placed “off world” in a second-storey. This world simply continues until it is brought to its cataclysmic end, trucks running off the road, airplanes crashing, and all the rest of the tragic scenario of Dispensationalism (of course it’s quite possible to be a two-storey Christian without at the same time being a Dispensationalist).

However, as noted, this modernized world-view has no proper eschatology, and does not have a proper Christian view of time. Christ, we are told in Scripture, is the “Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 21:6). This is not simply a way of saying that He is eternal and was here when everything was created and will be here when everything ends. To view Him in such a manner, is to privilege creation in a way that sets it on a par with God, only shorter.

Scripture does not tell us that Christ was the Alpha and He will be the Omega – He is already both, always. When Christ walked among His disciples, the end of the age had come upon them. It is thus that His ministry is marked with the character of a “Jubilee” year, the 50th year in the Sabbath Cycle, in which everything is set free, and restored to its proper owner and order. Thus when St. John the Baptist sends word to ask whether Christ is the Messiah, Christ’s answer is couched in the language of the Jubilee:

Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me (Matt. 11:4-6).

In the same vein He announces His ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:16-19).

This passage is a traditional Jubilee passage. The Jubilee itself, though occurring every 50 years, is also a type of the eschaton, the Great Day of the Lord, when the Judge will come and all things will be set right. The healing ministry of Jesus must be seen in this light. He does what He does, because He is the Omega, and where He walks the Jubilee has come. He is the End of History tabernacling in time.

By the same token – all that is associated with Him takes on this same cast. Thus, we are no longer citizens of this world, but citizens of Heaven:

But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,21 who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3:20-21).

Thus the Church, though in this world, is not of this world. Properly, the Church is an eschatological moment. It Baptizes into the death of Christ and raises in the likeness of His resurrection, thus casting time aside and treating these historical events as present, because in the presence of Christ all moments are present. The Church eats of an eschatological meal, enjoying the food of the Messianic banquet now, because in Christ that moment is already made present to the Church.

Dostoevsky’s famous Grand Inquisitor is a frontal assault on the Church acting not as eschatological community but the arbiter of history. In Dostoevsky “poem,” the Grand Inquisitor will have nothing to do with Christ other than to threaten Him for heresy and subject Him to the Inquisition. The Church will achieve what it sees God has having failed to do. There are a thousand ways to run this story – whether it is the Liberation Theology of South America, or the Swastika bedecked Churches who sought to Baptize a demoniac regeme. At points in time Christians have lost the proper identity of the Church as an eschatological moment and, through various schemes and arrangements, has either sought to prop up regemes that were judged useful to the Church’s needs, or even to have simply replaced the regeme with the Church itself. This is the ultimate triumph of secularism. To declare the Church as the Kingdom Come when it is living as nothing of the sort is to dress up a donkey and call him “Aslan.” Some may fall for it, but none of us should. It is a false eschatology.

The act of forgiveness is a true eschatological triumph. Trapped in history, modern man sees no way forward but to fight for domination: to the victor goes the spoils. Forgiveness is weakness and a good way to lose tomorrow what we gained yesterday. However, in radical obedience to the gospel of Christ, Christians behave in an eschatological manner: we forgive our enemies because we have already seen the outcome of history in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and thus do not need to force the behavior of our enemies in order to create a desired outcome. In the light of Christ’s triumph, we may forgive those who hurt us, because we know of the forgiveness that is and will be ours. The forgiveness of enemies is a proclamation of the victory of Christ – both now and forever.

The resurrection itself is the great sign of our forgiveness. Having obtained death as the outcome of our disobedience, we obtain the forgiveness of death in our resurrection. In a thousand ways in which the life of the Church is made manifest in this world – it shows forth not a linear progression through history – but an inbreaking of the Kingdom. Time has been ruptured, fulfilled, overcome.

We may live in a one-storey universe – but this one-storey universe is not a linear progression of events. It is the arena in which the Lord of time, transcends time. It is the arena in which the Cause is born in the midst of time. Thus St. Maximus can say that the “incarnation is the cause of all things.” In this one-storey universe icons become windows to heaven, doorways to the eschaton, for each portrayal in an icon is drawn in an eschatological manner. Thus we can see an icon of St. John the Baptist (with his head on his shoulders) with his head also on a charger lying at his feet. This is only possible for we are seeing all things together as we gaze through a window that shatters the boundaries of time.

It is also a reason why it is quite problematic when Orthodox Christians see themselves primarily as the keepers and conservers of the past. We do not look back and think that the 1st century was the best; or the 4th; or the 8th; or the 15th; or the 19th, etc. We are “stewards of the mysteries of God,” which no time can limit or define. We are the same Church in the 21st century as we were in the 1st century because we have always been the Church which is Christ’s eschatological bride. We are the Church of all centuries because we will be and are the Church at the end of the age.

Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

14 Responses to “Time in a One-Storey World”

  1. Sophocles Says:

    Father bless,

    Excellent, excellent post!

  2. Steve Says:

    I think there’s another element to the end-times two-storey world as well that has disturbed me recently. There is a breaking-through during the end times (tribulation, etc.), from one storey to the other, but it’s the Anti-Christ breaking through into this world.

    When I count the number of video games I’ve played that involve beings from hell breaking through into our world, there really doesn’t seem to be much difference between end-times prophecy and the goriest video games of the secular world. The message: hell is coming to get us and we have to (try to) stop it.

    This seems utterly opposed to the breaking-through that Jesus Christ did when He came down incarnate, born of the Theotokos. The world, fallen and groaning, but good pierces through to our world. A Savior has come to rescue us. It’s a good message. Good news, indeed.

    So I would like to posit (and this is pure speculation on my part, forgive me) … a certain directionality to the two-storey world. In a Manichean world evil is just as powerful as good, and humans have (valid) reasons to fear hell breaking through.

    In a Christian world God is more powerful than evil and hell and the demons have more to fear from Him. I’ve been Manichean too long. No more.

  3. Margaret Says:

    May God bless you richly, Fr. Stephen! Thank you!

  4. fatherstephen Says:

    Steve,

    There is much to think about here. It was only recently that I began to see that second-storey metaphors did strange things with time (secularizing it into a purely linear direction). I certainly suppose that the Dispensationalist account could be seen in a Manichaean manner. The Scriptures seem to indicate that things get much worse before the end – but I think our eyes should remain firmly set on Christ’s Kingdom and its in-breaking. We have seen the end of history in Christ already. We do not need to live in fear.

    I read a comment in an article today in which a famous, recently deceased writer said of herself (before her decease of course), “I’m not a Christian writer, I’m a writer and a Christian. In subtle ways this is part of the two-storey world. “My writing is one thing, and my religion is another.” Even if you are writing a story that’s about something else, it’s still the product of a Christian and should be recognized as such (by the writer for sure). But it’s this pernicious 2 storey view that gives us secularism and religion as false dichotomies.

  5. Allen Says:

    Fr. Stephen
    Thank you, for this post. Being young in Orthodoxy (and old in Evangelicalism), you helped me to understand how the past is in the present i.e. all moments are present in Christ, Alpha and Omega. A great joy to be rid of the darkening of a linear conception of time. All glory to God!

  6. Canadian Says:

    Father,
    Though I can’t speak for others directly, comments like “I am a Christian and a writer” or “we’re not a Christian band, we are Christians in a band” are likely from evangelicals trying to remove the dichotomy of “Christian” stuff and non-Christian stuff. The Christian subculture has created its own self serving identity so that we now feel like things are ok only if they are produced by the same subculture. So you get “Christian” business guides, music, travel, art, bookstores, etc. These are not wrong in themselves I guess, but when someone says “I am a Christian and also a writer”, they usually are trying to say that they are not restricted to only writing books which contain scripture or a “Gospel” message in them to sell for “Christian” consumers. All of their writing is (or should be) for his glory because all creation is His, but to be “for His glory” doesn’t mean that He necessarily needs to even be mentioned directly. (Romans 1)
    So all of our writing, singing, playing, working, eating, drinking could be called “Christian” in the sense that we do all these things through and before the face of the ever present God, but when an evangelical says “this is Christian ____” they are usually reinforcing the division rather than tearing it down.
    Darrin

  7. Michael Bauman Says:

    The nature of time is one of the main understandings that separates Christianity from everything else. Time is a measure of decay and death. It has no essential meaning to a Christian (except to help us remember our falleness since time is a product of the Fall). However to materialists, time is absolutely essential, indeed some even worship time.

    My first encounter with the plasticity of time was Willam Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”. Orthodox Christianity has allowed me to experience transcending time even as I am still subject to it.

    It is a sad testimony to the inability of so many Christian thinkers to allow their theology to be conformed to time and the essential dualism that such conformation requires.

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    Canadian,

    I agree with what you say – but it is still language that reinforces the sacred/secular split forced on Christians by two-storey worlds.

    For someone to say “I am a Christian football player,” doesn’t mean that he does try hard to win – but it should mean that he doesn’t cheat.

    The two world language, though it may be trying to make a distinction that seems personally helpful to an artist, is not actually helpful, but bifurcates their existence.

    I assume that a Jewish writer writes on all kinds of things, etc. And we are trapped in our own language. Time to stop.

  9. Top English WP Blogs « Hành trang 8X Says:

    […] Time in a One-Storey World [image] It seems to me as I’ve looked over my posts on the “one-storey” world, that one thing I have […] […]

  10. Mary Lowell Says:

    Father, Bless! Thank you for opening this important topic.

    We are enjoined to leave linear time in the Divine Liturgy and enter eternity, to “mystically represent the Cherubim and Seraphim.” The icons assist us in this suspension of time or, rather, this incarnating of our experience in linear time into eternity where the Church Triumphant, mystically re-presented in the icons, inter-populates the praying community. This amphibious character of Orthodox worship is the intersection of the earthly and the heavenly dwelling together in the habitation of praise within time and outside of time. This nearness of glorified persons, their life and deeds, is materially signified in the icons and all of sacred history, including the Creation, the general resurrection, the last judgment and the paradise of God, is experienced as “Today!”

    Mary Lowell

  11. kevinburt Says:

    Father, thank you. Have you read Neil Postaman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death? In one of the first few chapters he talks about the impact on religion that the clock has had. He took the view that the invention of the clock may have as much to do with the “demise of God” in a secular culture as anything else. good post.
    Kevin B.

  12. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    Another excellent post, Father. Thank you for taking up this topic of time. One of the questions my Intro. to Philosophy students have to answer is what is the different between time and eternity. Usually only a few ae able to make the distinction between time (finite) and timelessness (infinite). Schools these days won’t touch anything metaphysical so most college freshman haven’t a clue. Sad.

    I really appreciate this statement: “Prophecy about such an end is not about the nature of things, but simply about the progression of things. This is not Biblical eschatology.” This is the reason that Dispensationalism is unbiblical. (Not to mention it’s method of stitching together scriptures in a way foreign to the Fathers!)

  13. enfermerolorenzo Says:

    Father, bless!

    Fantastic post. It is noteworthy that modern physics has a similar view of time. I think that the apparently linear nature of our lives (birth, youth, adulthood, old age, death) creates a delusion in us that time is linear, when in fact the reality of time is far more complex. It is curious that the Church figured this out long before the physicists did.

  14. “They don’t know the Gospel…” « Christ Is In Our Midst! Says:

    […] Father Stephen says in Time in a one-story World The act of forgiveness is a true eschatological triumph. Trapped in history, modern man sees no way […]

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