Being Present to Eternity

1 Corinthians 7:32-40

As we noticed yesterday, Paul’s primary purpose in this chapter has been to articulate how the Christian community ought to behave in response to the nearness of God’s coming reign.  These eight verses essentially summarize Paul’s point.  Paul is concerned that the pressures of marriage might distract members of the Corinthian community from focusing all of their energies on the Lord’s will.  Nevertheless, Paul is more concerned with those who remain unmarried and yet burn with passionate desire.  As far as he is concerned, marriage is appropriate in these circumstances.  Paul summarizes his point well in verse 38: “he who marries his fiancee does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.”  Both marriage and non-marriage, therefore, are acceptable states in the Church.  Members of the church, however, must understand that their attachments in this world are temporary when placed in the context of the new creation that God is bringing into being.

“God has no history.  He is too completely and utterly real to have one.  For, of course, to have a history means losing part of your reality (because it has already slipped away into the past) and not yet having another part (because it is still in the future): in fact having nothing but the tiny little present, which has gone before you can speak about it.  God forbid we should think God was like that.  Even we may hope not to be always rationed in this way.” — C.S. Lewis

We have (finally) come to the end of Paul’s prolonged discussion about marriage and sexual ethics.  These eight verses essentially rehash the argument that Paul has been making throughout the entire chapter: while our relationships and human attachments are important and worth maintaining, we should remember that they are temporary, in light of the fact that the present form of this world is passing away.  The fact that he hammers this point home so insistently indicates that Paul expected the Lord to return at any moment, certainly within his lifetime.  The last 1,960 years of history, however, seem to fly in the face of Paul’s expectations.  The Lord hasn’t yet returned, and this leaves us with two unappealing possibilities: 1. Paul might have been a little delusional, or even worse, 2. God doesn’t keep God’s promises.

Neither of these options, however, takes into account the fact that God does not have the same relationship to Time that the world has.  Last night, those who attended the Curate’s Study at Heavenly Rest had a lively discussion about the God-view of Time.  The conversation centered on C.S. Lewis’ reflection on Time in Mere Christianity (which is where our “quote of the day” comes from).  Lewis affirms that “God is not in Time; Time is in God.”  God does not “exist” in the way that human beings and other creatures exist.  God does not move sequentially through Time, experiencing moments as we experience moments.  Lewis uses the example of prayer: if there are millions of people praying to God at any given moment, God does not have to assign people a number and hear these prayers in sequence.  Rather, God experiences these prayers in eternity; God’s “existence” is completely beyond Time.  Indeed, all of the history of the universe, past, present, and future, is contained within God.  Thus, what we do in 2012 and what Paul did in 50 are both present to God.  To paraphrase Aslan’s remark inThe Last Battle: God’s ‘moment’ contains all moments.

In this “God-view” of time, the return of the Lord continues to be imminent; the world is still on the very cusp of redemption.  This is not an easy concept to grasp, by any means.  C.S. Lewis invites us to “leave it alone” if it’s not something that is helpful to us.  Nevertheless, it is important for us to remember that we are called to be in touch with eternity.  All of history is eternally present to God; we are called to allow the eternal to be present to us.  We must be aware, as one New Testament commentator has put it, that we have been given “bodies with a future,” that our lives, while currently Time-bound, are ultimately made for eternity.

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