How is God related to time? What is time? What is eternity? Is God eternal, or temporal, or something else? When applied to God, do any of these terms make sense?
The theological problem of God’s relationship to time is one whose depth far exceeds the brevity of the questions typically used to suggest it. It touches on many other issues in theology, indeed impinging on matters central to the most important doctrines in Christian theology. Moreover, this problem and many of the questions it raises are areas of great concern in many branches and schools of philosophy. Add to that the interest in the nature of time generated by the scientific developments of the twentieth century. All considered, the theological question of God, time, and eternity is a topic both deep and broad, with many avenues of inquiry open to pursuit.
The theology of Karl Barth is an important resource for theological reflection on time and eternity. Barth grappled with these questions throughout his theological career. His explicit statements on God, time, and eternity have attracted the attention of numerous theologians, who have found in his writing much that is suggestive for creative, new approaches to this topic.
Yet much of what Barth says has been difficult for theologians to unravel. His statements on God and time, and on God and eternity, are spread throughout his writings. The most significant statements appear to cover a period of almost thirty years. Moreover, his reflections on these matters find their place in theological discussions from a variety of doctrinal loci. These difficulties have led some to despair of adequately articulating Barth’s theological conceptions of time and eternity, while it has led others to propose overly broad or simplistic renderings of Barth’s thought.
It is the thesis of this work that a proper apprehension of Barth’s theological conception of time and eternity is best achieved by understanding three important contexts: the doctrinal, the conceptual, and the developmental. By understanding those contexts, we may see that Barth’s understanding of time and eternity is one means he uses to express theological convictions that are more basic, or rather, of much greater importance to Christian theology and to his theological program. In short, for Barth “time and eternity” are not so much philosophical or scientific concepts as they are theological terms meant to point to fundamental theological realities.