He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. -Ephesians 1:5-10
Thus, Jesus’ unity with God – and thus the truth of the incarnation – is also decided only retroactively from the perspective of Jesus’ resurrection for the whole of Jesus’ human exsitence on the one hand (as we have already seen) and thus also for God’s eternity, on the other. – Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God And Man, p. 321.
One of the most difficult concepts to grasp in relation to what the Christ-event means for us is “time”. That is why Jeremy Begbie’s book on music is so important, for me at least, as he is focused on how the revelation of the Father in the Son through the Spirit (and Begbie is nothing if not a thorough-going Trinitarian) demonstrates the fundamental reality and created goodness of our temporal existence.
And, yet, as the Scriptures tell us, the resurrection fundamentally changed Creation, including time. Paul speaks in a couple places of “the fullness of time”, as in the epigram above. God’s time is often misconstrued, whether through lack of thought or confusion or some confusion of the two, as coinciding with our temporal existence; thus we often read of those who, say, decry “the delay of the parousia”, or wonder why evil and injustice continue to exist, if God is loving, just, and powerful enough to alter reality.
Pannenberg used the idea of “the fullness of time” to explicate, first and foremost, the dogma of the Two Natures – that is, that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. This is a reality for God in God’s time, which we often call eternity, yet it is hidden there until its temporal revealing at the resurrection. Pannenberg goes so far as to declare this hiddenness included being hidden from Jesus the man. While I’m not sure I’ll go that far, Pannenberg’s singular move here presages a larger understanding of God’s time that, perhaps not ironically, can best be understood musically.
When we listen to music, we never hear the whole piece all at once. We listen as it unfolds in time, our expectations rising and falling, feeling tension rise then be released, and finally a conclusion – perhaps a revisit of the beginning understood in a new way; perhaps ending in a place we never would have expected – that brings the whole to a close. We cannot grasp the whole, as greater than the parts to which we’ve been listening, until it is over. In essence, music pulls us toward its end, at which point all that has gone before makes sense as parts of that whole.
In much the same way, God’s time, which is not “eternity” as generally understood as being “no time”, but the time both demonstrated and fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, not only make sense of all that has gone before. It also is God’s future toward which all creation is being moved by the power of the Event itself. Temporality itself is reshaped in this moment; what’s past is not dead and gone, but caught up in the New Life revealed in the risen Christ. The present is our momentary passage forward to the future that is God’s future, which we proclaim when we declare our faith if Jesus crucified, dead, and buried, and raised on the third day.
To speak of the fullness of time is to speak of God’s time, fulfilled once for all yet still unfolding here and now, in which we participate as faithful actors of God’s Divine future waiting for us. This is one of the deepest, most mysterious parts of faith: to trust that God’s time is enough to bring us through all the horrors and joys of existence, including death itself, to the end God has said awaits us all, as revealed in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.