time, order, perspective… some musings.


hannahswiv: Murphy: we need the Spirit to bring the historical Jesus into focus as the Son of God, and makes him make sense. #HSWT2013

This was among the interesting ideas put on the table at a conference I was at at the end of the week. Being as I’m a history nerd, it caught my attention. As did one of the questions that followed the paper it was a part of (on the Holy Spirit and Imagination), about whether by seeing the Holy Spirit as the element that enables us to believe that Jesus is the Son of the Father we would end up putting the emphasis of revelation on the Spirit rather than on Jesus (which apparently might be theologically problematic). However, it made me want to ask the following:

hannahswiv: If we stop thinking of time as linear, do we remove the problem of the life of Jesus coming ‘before’ the revelation of the spirit? #HSWT2013.

(and then I was told yes, yes, it did, and that there was a TARDIS in a side chapel… who doesn’t love twitter backchannels?)

I mean, we see time as linear – but we’re in time, and so we see it as one thing after another, happening to us (or happening before us, or that will happen after us). And this, currently, is on my reading list. If you’re not in time – like God isn’t in time (Genesis and John both making clear that God is before time) – presumably you see things differently (think, Doctor Who, and the way the Doctor can see all of time, but his companions – such as Rose in Bad Wolf can’t hold that). We can imagine how, but we can’t actually know how. I kind of imagine history lined up in front of God like a set of scrabble tiles, myself. But if you don’t see time as linear, then can there be before or after in the revelation of God, or just a series of moments of revelation, which different people will become aware of (or not) in different ways?

But then how do we understand time and history, and God in history, if you believe that God acts in history?
When I was an undergrad I wrote an essay on Herbert Butterfield’s understanding of Christianity and Historiography (which I loved doing, btw). Butterfield’s probably most famous for taking on the ‘Whig Interpretation’ of History – arguing that you can’t read history as a teleology of progress (either religious or secular) – and you should read Giles Fraser on this re. the new history curriculum. And he also argues, in other work, that (a) you can see God in history and that (b) you can’t use God as an explanation in history. He argues that in addition to the flow of historical events (time to crack out the Braudel on different ‘speeds’ of historical time), you have what might be called ‘crazy-random-happenstance’, or chance, or, as Butterfield calls it – providence. Butterfield is pretty clear that he thinks Providence is God – but that that’s just because he believes in God. He’s pretty comfortable with the fact that you might not, and that historical interpretation can handle the concept of ‘chance’

Human history happens in some kind of order, and we see it and understand it in some kind of order, but if God can see all of time, then he can see all of history, and understand it in all its insanity. Just because for us history happens in succession, that doens’t necessarily mean it’s progressing in the sense of getting better. Things change and move on, and some get better and some get worse – and what those things are depend on your perspective. And you can believe that God acts in history and that history does not progress towards some Good in some kind of absolute, definable way. If you believe in God, and that history can point towards God, then I don’t think that you need to think that it would do so in accordance with human-historical-order.


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