Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Who was, and is, and is to come

 God describes himself in Revelation as the one who was, and is, and is to come.  There are all sorts of things that could be unpacked out of this (about God's relationship with time, about the nature of eternity, etc.) but I have been thinking this morning about the importance for the Christian life of keeping these three dimensions in mind.

If we forget that God is the one who was, we will tend to lose touch with the objective, once-for-all, foundational works of God.  This is a particular danger in our culture, which lives very much in the present (and perhaps to an extent in the future) but tends to regard the past as dead.  For the Christian, the past lives - because the God who was also is.  Moreover, the past - unlike, in our human experience at least, the present and the future - has a fixed character, a decided shape.  (This is true despite whatever attempts at revisionist historiography we might make; revisionism only appeals because it claims to account for more of the actual shape of things, to incorporate more of the evidence).  As against the subjective moment of the now, and the necessarily somewhat imaginative view of the future, the past is laid down.  It is therefore a solid rock for our faith.

If we neglect that God is the one who is, there is a real danger of a sort of functional deism.  We will live as if God wound up the universe, and perhaps also the church, and then left it to run.  We will tend to forget that Christ is presently reigning, that God is presently active.  Our worship will become all about remembering, rather than receiving.  We will typically not expect much now from God.  We may well neglect prayer, particularly that important prayer in the NT for the giving of the Spirit in greater measure.  We will tend not to pick up on those little signs of the kingdom , the shoots of grace growing in a generally barren world.

If we neglect that God is the one who is to come, it is likely that we will over-invest in the present.  That may look like settled, comfortable, compromised Christianity, which replaces the future hope of the kingdom with a paid off mortgage and foreign holidays.  But it may also look very zealous, a life lived in expectation that the kingdom of God can be ushered in by our efforts, prayers, whatever.  If the former, there is a real danger that - when it comes to the crunch point of realising we cannot serve two masters - we will choose to serve comfort.  If the latter, there is a real danger that we will be disappointed, perhaps disappointed enough to abandon the life of faith.

Is it pressing things too much to align those three great aspects of Christian discipleship - faith, love, and hope - with these three temporal dimensions?  To think of faith based on who God has shown himself to be in the past; of love as driving communion with God in the present; and of hope as reaching out for his future coming?  Of course they don't map on perfectly, but it seems to me there might be something there.

The key thing - and it is perhaps the main point of the biblical use of these descriptions - is that he is the same God.  The God of the past, of creation and of incarnation, is God in the present, and it is the same God we await in the future.  He is himself, perfectly himself, at all times.  He has not changed, nor will he.  Whether we look back, or up, or ahead - there he is.  Great is his faithfulness.

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