Dr. Heinrich Emil Brunner (1889-1966), a Swiss Reformed theologian, published his Gifford Lectures in Christianity and Civilisation (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, 1948 & 1949). Chapter IV in Brunner’s first lecture series (The Foundations) is titled: The Problem of Time. Life in our modern world contains a common theme: there is too little time! “Everyone knows that the haste and rush which characterize our life are something typically modern, and probably a symptom of a deep-seated disease.” (page 45) When I worked in London, I attended a company course on cultures. I learned that one major cultural differentiator was time. Western cultures had a shorter time horizon than eastern and southern cultures. When I traded in Asia, it took much longer to negotiate deals than in America. Asians placed more value on long-term results and revered their elders.
“That which exists must have duration, persistence; it must be changeless, being satisfied with itself. It is not possessed by an urge to get what it does not have, to become what it is not yet. … Reality is – as we heard in a previous lecture – the One and All which cannot change, and therefore has no relation to time. It is timeless, motionless, self-satisfied eternity.” (page 46) Humans are mortal and timebound. God is eternal and timeless.
When we read Scripture, it is the eternal Word. Yes, it was written at a historical point in time by inspired mortals. However, the Word is timeless truths. “Is not the Gospel the promise of eternal life? Is it not said that God is unchangeable? … God creates the time, He gives time. As He, the Almighty, gives man room for his freedom, so He creates time for him.” (page 48) Time is God’s gift to mortals. “Christian man, through his faith in Christ Jesus, is time-superior, time-exempt; he lives already in the coming eternity. … His true, ultimate hope is not based on what can be achieved within temporal history, but upon that realization of the divine purpose.” (page 51)
The Age of Enlightenment (1637-1789) placed faith in the progress of mankind through the development of reason. The more society is ‘cultured,’ the ‘better’ the human. During the Industrial Age (1760-1914), it was believed that through education and universal progress, human society would solve all problems. Two world wars and the needless millions of deaths amongst the most civilized and educated countries negated this enlightened rational theory. “This idea of a universal progress of such a natural upward movement is irreconcilable with Christian faith.” (page 57) Brunner rejects two elements of human “evolutionist thought.”
“First, the identification of moral evil or sin with the primitive; and, second, the assumption that the development of human intelligence, technical skill and cultural enrichment mean in themselves a progress in the sense of the truly human. The Christian conception of man includes the belief that the higher differentiation of intellectual powers, as well as the increase of the means of civilization, is most ambiguous with regard to goodness and to the truly human. … Civilized man, with the highest scientific and technical training, and commanding the accumulated wealth of ages of civilized life, may still be morally bad, even devilish, and if he is, he is so much the more dangerous.” (page 58)
Christianity is the opposite of the progress of humankind in which mankind ascends. It is “a movement coming down from above to below, from ‘heaven’, i.e. from the transcendent, to earth. … That is what is meant by resurrection, parousia, eternal life.” (page 58)
So, is there any existence of the eternal in our mortal world? Brunner answers in the positive. “There is one element which, whilst being an experience within the Christian life, will also be the element of eternal life, namely love in the New Testament sense of Agapé. Neither the State, nor culture and civilization, nor even faith and hope, are that element which remains in eternity, but love alone. For God Himself is Love.” (page 59)