“Who do you say that I am?” (2): Time

The second theme about the nature of Jesus that Justin Lewis-Anthony (see previous posts 1 | 2) identifies from Bosch’s Christ Mocked is time.

Lewis-Anthony discusses the “Long Now“, a project to build a 10,000 year clock that will tick once a year, whose hand will move once a century, and that will chime once a millennium. (The prototype, now in the Science Museum, was built to chime – twice – on 1 January 2000, or “02000” as the Long Now Foundation prefer to express it.)

The Long Now is intended to counter the “domination of the Short Now and the Small Here” that the founders of the project, musician Brian Eno and computer scientist Daniel Hillis, had observed in contemporary New York – a domination that, as Eno put it, “doesn’t translate into terribly productive social behaviour”, as it discourages long-term thinking across generations and centuries.

Lewis-Anthony observes that living in “the Long Now and the Big Here” is:

…not so very different from the traditional Christian goal of living life in the light of eternity. But there are important differences between between a Long Now and Eternity.

To see this, we need to see time is not simply linear but multidimensional, “possessing at least four different modes”. The first three of these are:

  • chronos: the passage of time, of “one damn thing after another”;
  • kairos: “time as experienced by the soul” – time as the “opportune moment”, measured by “movement towards the good”; and
  • aeon: the time of “immaterial substances”, of the angels and spirits, who experience “duration and the possibility, but not the necessity of change”.

As Lewis-Anthony points out, the Long Now does nothing more than elongate and extend chronos, while the other concepts (particularly aeon) are hard for us to understand or imagine.

However, Lewis-Anthony identifies a fourth mode of time, which he dubs tyknos (thickness). He derives this concept from C.S. Lewis who, in one of his Letters to Malcolm, suggests that, while “to be God is to enjoy an infinite present”:

The dead might experience a time which is not so linear as ours – it might, so to speak, have thickness as well as length. Already in this life we get some thickness whenever we learn to attend to more than one thing at once. One can suppose this increased, so that though, for them as for us, the present is always becoming the past, yet each present contains unimaginably more than ours.

Lewis Anthony adopts Paul Tillich’s phrase “the Eternal Now'” to describe this “thickening” of time, this escape from the tyranny of chronos and its relentless linear flow. As Tillich puts it, “It is the eternal that stops the flux of time for us.”

This then brings us back to Bosch’s painting, and what it says about “living in Jesus’ company”:

In Jesus’ company time is thickened and space is thinned so that heaven breaks through. Matter becomes weighted with the glory of God and time is transfigured into eternity. Is this the reason why in Bosch’s painting Christ’s robe is both white (bright with the glory of heaven) and so very thinly painted (so thin, that the preparatory drawings of the artist are visible underneath)?

Whether Lewis-Anthony is right or not in seeing these themes of trust and time in Bosch’s painting, he is surely correct in recognising that Bosch’s Christ poses to us with particular intensity the question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Lewis-Anthony suggests that even the very asking of the question is part of the answer to it – so that we might say that Jesus is the one who asks “Who do you say that I am?”, just as Yahweh in the Old Testament was the one who could say “I am who I am”. As Lewis-Anthony concludes:

To hear Christ ask the question of us is to begin to find the answer in the whole of our lives. The question is the heart of all; the rest is commentary.

In that sense, the whole of the Christian life – as we encounter the gospel proclamation in word and sacrament, in our life together with our fellow Christians, and in the services we perform for our neighbour – can be seen as a constant re-asking and re-answering of Christ’s question: “Who do you say that I am?”

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2 Responses to “Who do you say that I am?” (2): Time

  1. Chris E says:

    There was a service running over Easter that would send you short SMSes at roughly the point at which each part of the first Easter took place, someone I know signed up to this service.

    Apart from the banality of some of the texts, one thing it seemed to do is to translate kairos (now is the hour) back into chronos. It just ended up reducing Easter to a steady stream of interruptions.

  2. Rick Ritchie says:

    This makes me wonder about a passage. Ephesians 5 contains the counsel:
    Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,
    making the most of your time, because the days are evil (Eph. 5:15-16).
    It’s funny to call the days evil. This seems to be a figure of speech. My first guess as to what this means is that the days are evil because they are short. I could wish them longer. Except that would count against creation itself. (Unless the days used to be longer before the fall. Which I have no reason to believe.)

    I think it is we who might prove evil. But the days are mentioned here for some reason. This reminds me of the phrase “the deceitfulness of riches.” We deceive ourselves when we think of riches. Maybe like the riches, we imagine we have more days than we actually do. Or each day seems an eternity in itself. We think only of the penultimate ending of night when there is a night coming (death) when no one can work.

    Anyway, this makes me think there is something we have to be careful of in thinking of time with “thickness.” I don’t think Lewis necessarily fell into this. But if we aren’t careful, we can start thinking that there is something “wrong” with the limits of time. Rather than being a good created structure, we think of it only as an impediment. And perhaps there is some mercy in our limitedness after the fall. We can do less evil. But also, perhaps the limitedness is not so bad after all. We have time enough.

    I have to wonder what it means for Jesus to enter our chronos and minister from within it. Did he stop doing this after his earthly ministry? Or does he perhaps administer his church using a human nature which respects some of these limits? Hard to say. I think we have to be careful to assume he’s always availing himself of divine power to accomplish everything. Or at least of assuming the divine power is always supernatural in doing things like thickening time rather than sanctifying it. (2 Peter 1 offers some interesting clues as to how we share in divine power, and it lists attributes like self-control.)

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