International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Time and Eternity: The Question of Time in Church, Science and Theology

by Antje Jackelen

Introductory Essay by Hubert Meisinger

The hermeneutical precepts of Jackelén’s approach comprise a natural longing for the dialogue between science and theology and the intention for dialogue partners to encounter each other in reciprocal “beneficial tension” [6] (“eutonia”); the aim of such a relationality being that science and theology live together practically. Accordingly, the tasks of theology are identified as the critique of reductionism and an advocacy for the broader public to open up a forum which enables intellectual and social contact.

In a detailed phenomenological analysis of the language of time and eternity in six different hymn-books originating from Germany, Sweden and the English-speaking world, Jackelén finds that, whereas in older hymns the lifetime of humans is a kind of prelude for the truly essential – eternity, in modern hymns it is eternity that makes present time worth living. To her mind this reflects the present outlook on life which is characterized by the feeling of not having enough time. She also explores the notion of newness, a characteristic of something that breaks into current time unexpectedly and with great impact. The coming of Jesus, for example, is portrayed as something new in some hymns.

Her second chapter on the notion of time in the Bible and theology shows that a dualism between cyclic and linear time is inadequate, as is that between time and eternity. Both pairings should be related to, and distinguished from, each other dialectically.

The third chapter (on the notion of time in the structure of scientific theories and the history of science) characterizes time, in a first approximation, as not marching but dancing – something very positive and active.

In her last chapter Jackelén carefully develops “aspects of a theology of time” [183] with special reference to relational thinking about the future, the doctrine of the trinity and the notion of eschatology. She favors an eschatological and dynamic model defining the relationship between time and eternity wherein both being and becoming have to be similarly articulated.

Finally, Jackelén turns towards eschatology as key for a relational understanding of time in its existential dimension: “What can we hope for?”. She distinguishes between a future that is an extrapolation from past and present (as in the French futur), and an adventive future, marked by “coming” (as in the French avenir). Future in the sense of futur can clearly be found in the belief in progress in science and technology. Future in the sense of avenir is a future from ahead (Augustine). It is a future in which we can expect the “advent of the faithful God” [210]. Eschatology, she says, provokes the futurum by the adventus.

Time is no abstraction but is “lived time”, dynamic and relational. Thus there cannot exist a closed theology of time, but only a thought model which leaves room for newness. Accordingly, God is not deterministic but has left the house of Newton long ago – or has never been in it. Fortunately more and more theologians have begun to realize that we can no longer knock at Newton’s door to say “hello” to God. To use one of her central metaphors: We should invite God to dance and follow the rhythm of God’s music.