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Eternity

Eternity


The concept of eternity qualifies both discussion about God and about human destiny, although in different but analogous way. Most believers would profess that God is eternal and many of them believe that eternal life is the prospect of human life in the wider context of the divine life. However, believers, theologians, and philosophers disagree about the meaning of these professions. With the declaration "God is eternal" religious believers express their faith that God encompasses all time for them as creatures because divine life has all the time it needs without beginning or end. God is present at any time in the course of history; divine existence is everlasting, so it endures without any possible limitation. This notion of eternity is found in biblical literature.

The word eternal, meaning "everlasting," can be used in a strong and weak sense. In the strong sense it refers only to God with the entire divine reality, which always has existed and will exist without end. In the weak sense eternal might be used to describe creatures that enjoy eternal life that has a temporal beginning but will have no end. Human beings have their creaturely constraints (birth and death), and it is God's grace when they (or their soul) receive eternal life beyond death, which is life in relation to the eternal God. Apart from these meanings, eternity is sometimes used in a nontemporal way: To live sub specie aeternitatis means to lead one's life according to eternal ultimate normativity.

Theologians and philosophers often disagree about how to interpret eternal. Many of them understand "God is eternal" as affirming "God is wholly timeless." So they imagine the divine being as outside time, without a temporal location (a moment of existence), and without duration (a period of subsistence). There is an anthropological argument pro timelessnes, presupposing a realistic theory of time (time flows and exits independent from events) that runs as follows: Human life is limited both by the borderline cases of birth and death (moments) and by the periods of its past, which are no longer available, and of its future to which it has no access. As temporally living beings, humans are imprisoned in time, continually losing parts of their lives (present events). Such an "imprisonment" in any temporal series is considered to be a denial of the perfectness of the divine being. Therefore, the Roman philosopher Boethius (c. 480524) equated God's perfect eternal life with timelessness: "eternity is the instantaneously whole and perfect possession of illimitable life."

So far, the argument entails that God knows everything simultaneously because the past, present, and future of God's life are instantaneously grasped in all its relations to creation. Therefore, the past, present, and future are all present to God in one divine point of view. Boethius illustrates God's point of view outside of time with the image of a person standing on a mountaintop who sees what happens along the road in the valley. That person sees, as it were, simultaneously the past, the present, and the future of people walking along the road. The mountain metaphor, however, makes unequivocally clear that this all-encompassing simultaneity spatializes the concept of time: God observes all temporal relations between events as if they were spatial relations between objects in a landscape. If the omniscient God knows all the events of past, present, and future simultaneously, God is simultaneous both with these individual events in order to observe them, and with the sum total of these events because God must be outside of time to observe the temporal series as a unity. Because divine knowledge is true by definition, God's observation of the temporal order is how it "really" is; all events are simultaneous, synchronized. In other words, the notion of a causal chain as a temporal structure is useless because causes and effects are simultaneous, which makes the temporal order arbitrary and causal circularity a serious option. This appears to be equivalent to the assertion that time has no temporal metric and merely a spatial topology. Given this reconstruction, time is merely illusion or appearance (in line with an idealistic theory of time). And therefore, the temporal "imprisonment" human beings might experience is illusory as well. Without coping with such issues, a timeless view of God's eternity is incoherent.

For classical theists, however, eternity conceived as sempiternality (of never-ending duration) raises several theological problems. Divine essence cannot be identical with existence because a temporal God continually loses part of being as past and is not fully actual because of the divine future. Moreover, a temporal God cannot be simple because the divine existence is composed of past, present, and future, each with its own logic. Lastly, to reach the present for a sempiternal God takes an infinite amount of time, subdividable in a finite and an infinite part ad infinitum. These interpretations of essence and simplicity, however, are disputed, whereas the third issue misses the existential point that there is no moment in history in which God is absent. The use of temporal language has the advantage that it can make sense of the notion of divine action and involvement in history.

Contemporary theologians like Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928) and Jürgen Moltmann (1926) argue that God's future already exists (in a tenseless sense) from which God acts in the present, a movement opposite to the arrow of time. So God's eternity is an entering in time in which everything is shaped by and from God's future, which is declared to have ontological priority over past and present. However, God's action from God's future implies that all past, present, and creaturily future are simultaneous with God's future. Thus, in God's view, the complete history of created reality appears to be a timeless block universe, whereas from the perspective of creatures history is experienced as temporally ordered. Pannenberg interprets the divine eternity as simultaneity, the perfect possession of the fullness of life, which is claimed to be the opposite of timelessness. Both the whole of creaturely history and this divine life is present to God in such a way that God's eternity embraces the totality of time.


See also Life After Death; Time: Religious and Philosophical Aspects


Bibliography

craig, william lane. "omniscience, tensed facts, and divine eternity." faith and philosophy 17 (2000): 225241.

helm, paul. eternal god: a study of god without time. oxford: oxford university press, 1990.

leftow, brian. time and eternity. ithaca n.y.: cornell university press, 1991.

moltman, jürgen. the coming of god: christian eschatology. london: scm press, 1996.

padgett, alan. god, eternity, and the nature of time. new york: st. martin's press, 1992.

pannenburg, wolfgang. systematic theology, vol. 3. grand rapids, mich.: eerdman's, 1998.

pike, nelson. god and timelessness. london: routledge and kegan paul, 1970.

stump, eleonora, and kretzmann, norman. "eternity." the journal of philosophy 78 (1981): 429458.

stump, eleonora, and kretzmann, norman. "eternity, awareness, and action." faith and philosophy 9 (1992): 463482.

swinburne, richard. "god and time." in reasoned faith: essays in philosophical theology in honor of norman kretzmann, ed. eleonora stump. ithaca n.y.: cornell university press, 1993.

luco j. van den brom

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eternity

e·ter·ni·ty / iˈtərnitē/ • n. (pl. -ties) infinite or unending time: lasted for all eternity. ∎  a state to which time has no application; timelessness. ∎  Theol. endless life after death: immortal souls destined for eternity. ∎  used euphemistically to refer to death: he could have crashed the car and taken them both to eternity. ∎  (an eternity) inf. a period of time that seems very long, esp. on account of being tedious or annoying: a silence that lasted an eternity.

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Eternity

Eternity. Not a long time, since ‘eternity’ does not enter into the dimension of time. Brahman and God have been thought of as ‘being’ of that eternal state, where there is no passing of time, although the passing of time is simultaneously present to Brahman/God. Thus Boethius defined eternity as interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio (‘the total, simultaneous and absolute possession of unlimited life’).

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eternity

eternitybanditti, bitty, chitty, city, committee, ditty, gritty, intercity, kitty, nitty-gritty, Pitti, pity, pretty, shitty, slitty, smriti, spitty, titty, vittae, witty •fifty, fifty-fifty, nifty, shifty, swiftie, thrifty •guilty, kiltie, silty •flinty, linty, minty, shinty •ballistae, Christie, Corpus Christi, misty, twisty, wristy •sixty •deity, gaiety (US gayety), laity, simultaneity, spontaneity •contemporaneity, corporeity, femineity, heterogeneity, homogeneity •anxiety, contrariety, dubiety, impiety, impropriety, inebriety, notoriety, piety, satiety, sobriety, ubiety, variety •moiety •acuity, ambiguity, annuity, assiduity, congruity, contiguity, continuity, exiguity, fatuity, fortuity, gratuity, ingenuity, perpetuity, perspicuity, promiscuity, suety, superfluity, tenuity, vacuity •rabbity •improbity, probity •acerbity • witchetty • crotchety •heredity •acidity, acridity, aridity, avidity, cupidity, flaccidity, fluidity, frigidity, humidity, hybridity, insipidity, intrepidity, limpidity, liquidity, lividity, lucidity, morbidity, placidity, putridity, quiddity, rabidity, rancidity, rapidity, rigidity, solidity, stolidity, stupidity, tepidity, timidity, torpidity, torridity, turgidity, validity, vapidity •commodity, oddity •immodesty, modesty •crudity, nudity •fecundity, jocundity, moribundity, profundity, rotundity, rubicundity •absurdity • difficulty • gadgety •majesty • fidgety • rackety •pernickety, rickety •biscuity •banality, duality, fatality, finality, ideality, legality, locality, modality, morality, natality, orality, reality, regality, rurality, tonality, totality, venality, vitality, vocality •fidelity •ability, agility, civility, debility, docility, edibility, facility, fertility, flexility, fragility, futility, gentility, hostility, humility, imbecility, infantility, juvenility, liability, mobility, nihility, nobility, nubility, puerility, senility, servility, stability, sterility, tactility, tranquillity (US tranquility), usability, utility, versatility, viability, virility, volatility •ringlety •equality, frivolity, jollity, polity, quality •credulity, garrulity, sedulity •nullity •amity, calamity •extremity • enmity •anonymity, dimity, equanimity, magnanimity, proximity, pseudonymity, pusillanimity, unanimity •comity •conformity, deformity, enormity, multiformity, uniformity •subcommittee • pepperminty •infirmity •Christianity, humanity, inanity, profanity, sanity, urbanity, vanity •amnesty •lenity, obscenity, serenity •indemnity, solemnity •mundanity • amenity •affinity, asininity, clandestinity, divinity, femininity, infinity, masculinity, salinity, trinity, vicinity, virginity •benignity, dignity, malignity •honesty •community, immunity, importunity, impunity, opportunity, unity •confraternity, eternity, fraternity, maternity, modernity, paternity, taciturnity •serendipity, snippety •uppity •angularity, barbarity, bipolarity, charity, circularity, clarity, complementarity, familiarity, granularity, hilarity, insularity, irregularity, jocularity, linearity, parity, particularity, peculiarity, polarity, popularity, regularity, secularity, similarity, singularity, solidarity, subsidiarity, unitarity, vernacularity, vulgarity •alacrity • sacristy •ambidexterity, asperity, austerity, celerity, dexterity, ferrety, posterity, prosperity, severity, sincerity, temerity, verity •celebrity • integrity • rarity •authority, inferiority, juniority, majority, minority, priority, seniority, sonority, sorority, superiority •mediocrity • sovereignty • salubrity •entirety •futurity, immaturity, impurity, maturity, obscurity, purity, security, surety •touristy •audacity, capacity, fugacity, loquacity, mendacity, opacity, perspicacity, pertinacity, pugnacity, rapacity, sagacity, sequacity, tenacity, veracity, vivacity, voracity •laxity •sparsity, varsity •necessity •complexity, perplexity •density, immensity, propensity, tensity •scarcity • obesity •felicity, toxicity •fixity, prolixity •benedicite, nicety •anfractuosity, animosity, atrocity, bellicosity, curiosity, fabulosity, ferocity, generosity, grandiosity, impecuniosity, impetuosity, jocosity, luminosity, monstrosity, nebulosity, pomposity, ponderosity, porosity, preciosity, precocity, reciprocity, religiosity, scrupulosity, sinuosity, sumptuosity, velocity, verbosity, virtuosity, viscosity •paucity • falsity • caducity • russety •adversity, biodiversity, diversity, perversity, university •sacrosanctity, sanctity •chastity •entity, identity •quantity • certainty •cavity, concavity, depravity, gravity •travesty • suavity •brevity, levity, longevity •velvety • naivety •activity, nativity •equity •antiquity, iniquity, obliquity, ubiquity •propinquity

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