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The Fullness of Time

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August 7, 2011 Tags: Earth, Universe & Time
The Fullness of Time

Today's entry was written by Mark Sprinkle. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Picture credit: John C. Taylor

This week I’d like to highlight a more well-known work of art, craft, and technology as we consider the qualities of time from a point of view that is both distinctively Christian and that keeps in mind some of the images and analogies for contemporary conceptions of the universe that we’ve been exploring. The image above is a side view of the rippled disk of gold-plated stainless steel that forms the center and visual heart of the “Chronophage,” John C. Taylor’s extraordinary clock for Corpus Christi College of Cambridge University.

This first Chronophage clock was unveiled and introduced to the world with remarks on the mystery of time by physicist Stephen Hawking on September 19, 2008, and Taylor’s own sense of mortality and the relentlessness of time’s passing away is its central message. The meaning of the clock is clear enough from the form and actions of the wonderfully horrible locust-like creature that sits atop the clock and is the literalization and externalization of the “grasshopper escapement” that makes it run. Its legs march forward, inexorably pulling the round disk of time along, while its fanged mouth snaps shut once each minute to mark another chunk of time gobbled up and gone. As if the implications weren’t clear enough, the hourly “chime” is a sound like that of a chain rattling into a coffin, and the Chronophage’s spined tail quivers as if to say “here, O death, is thy sting.”

While a second major theme of the work is the subjectivity of time as we experience it, and another post could be devoted to the way Taylor freely mixes the “relativism” (and therefore, he seems to say, the untrustworthiness) of human subjectivity with the very different “relativistic” qualities of time as it connects with matter and energy, here the emphasis will be on the irony of having this machine for symbolically devouring time bear the name of Christ (the Corpus Christi Clock), considering how radically different the understanding of time that it emphasizes is from the way time is understood with regard to the identity and work of Jesus. Yet as the image above suggests, the form of the clock itself offers (perhaps inadvertently) an alternative or counterweight to the view of time we get if we look only at the creature than sits atop it.

Taylor has identified his own fascination with Einstein’s theories of space/time as an inspiration for the clock, stating the central disk of the clock represents the flow of time outward from the Big Bang, which is its center. This is provocative imagery, for it presents a picture of time more akin to an everywhere-expanding universe than a finite and incrementally-measured line. Malcom Guite considered the Chronophage and suggested that the way God continues to “pour out” time as a gift is one alternative to the view of time being ever consumed, and that fluid metaphor is highly appropriate to the form of the clock’s pool-like face, complete with the suspended rebounding droplet.

While that image gives a more hopeful and renewal-focused perspective on the narrative, directional sense of time, it also comports beautifully with another element of a Christian sense of the cosmos, which is that time (unlike space) has a definite center from which this eternal filling occurs, not just a beginning and an end. In other words, naming Jesus as both the Alpha and Omega is not just to say he was “there” at the beginning and has now run on ahead to the end, but to say that He subsumes both, because past and future are known relative to Him in communion with the Father and Spirit. While we affirm that Jesus entered the narrative flow of history two millennia ago “in the fullness of time,” (Galatians 4:4) we must also affirm that it is He who was then and is yet doing the filling, the completing, the ordering of time—of bringing it to its ultimate “fullness.” (Ephesians 1:10)

But what help is this dual sense of the “fullness of time”—with Christ as the center of time, not just its beginning and the end—in our discussions of science and faith, or in our approaches to complicated Scriptural texts? Does this help us in any way in dealing with the first chapters of Genesis, for example, or with the fifth chapter of Romans? First and perhaps most simply, it may help us recognize that contemporary science does, indeed, provide new ways of thinking about the world that enrich historical understandings of God’s cosmos, rather than providing proofs of His existence or handiwork within it. But this space/time analogy for the centrality of Christ may, indeed, help us wrestle with scripture better, too.

It is nothing new, for instance, to mark the similarities between the books of Revelation and the creation account in Genesis: both are prophetic revelations of events that the human author/recorder did not directly see or experience, rather than eye-witness accounts. Leaving aside the well-trod area of literary genre studies other than to note that in such prophetic visions the symbolic and reportorial elements are almost inextricably intertwined, what is most interesting about this symmetry between the beginning and end of the Bible in this context is that it reminds us that Christ is the very emanating center of time, not just the middle of time.

Thinking about time as fundamentally Christ-centered rather than strictly unidirectional—as constantly infilling and renewing rather than being constantly devoured and lost—may be a useful complement to the Evangelical recovery of the narrative quality of the Gospel. For while a version of the story of God’s relationship with mankind that stresses the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Renewal sequence is useful to remind us of many of the verities of orthodox Christian faith (including the real and lasting ramifications of our decisions and actions in earthly time), it also makes it easy to think of Jesus merely as an “if a, then b” solution to the problem of human sin and the brokenness of the world, as opposed to also being the pre-and always-existing summation of the goodness, power, and mystery of the Triune God intersecting with the material cosmos of which we are a part.

With the ever-creeping Chronophage, John C. Taylor has given us a remarkable gift towards humilty—a reminder that it is good and right to contemplate the limits of our earthly, material existence. But Taylor has also given us an intimation of renewal in the still, golden center of his Corpus Christi Clock—an equally-powerful (and more beautiful) reminder that eternity is an inestimable gift, freely given, but paid for by the very Body of Christ.

Mark Sprinkle is an artist and cultural historian, and was formerly Senior Web Editor and Senior Fellow of Arts and Humanities for The BioLogos Foundation. A phi beta kappa graduate of Georgetown University, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, where he studied how artworks embody complex relationships in different cultural contexts. Since 1996 he has been an independent artist and frame-maker, also regularly writing and speaking on the role of creative practices in cultural mediation and renewal, especially in the area of science and Christian faith. Mark and his wife Beth home-schooled their three boys, and are active in the local home-school community in Richmond, Virginia.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #63748

August 11th 2011


Thank you for a provocative essay, however I must take issue with one aspect of it, which as usual involves the relational nature of reality.

Relational and relative are cognates, they have the same root, but they have very different meanings in the English language, which creates much confusion.  Einstein’s Theory is about relationality of the universe, not its relativity.  It says that all things are related or relational, which is true.

It does not mean that all things are relative, which in English means that there are no constants in nature and what is true for in one setting is not true in others.  The speed of light is a constant.  E = mc2 is true in all settings, however time and space are not absolute, but are related to each other and to every observer.

Postmodernism is relativistic, but not relational.  Today’s “science” is relativistic, but not relational.  “Science” has made teleology a dirty word.  It proudly claims that the universe has no purpose or meaning.  However it is purpose and meaning that give the universe form and direction.  If evolution truly is random and without direction, then the universe is truly relativistic and without meaning and purpose.  To be sure it is not the role of science to determine what is the meaning and purpose of life, but it is also not its role to say that it has no meaning and purpose.

Of course Christianity says that life does have a meaning and purpose and that Meaning and Purpose is Jesus Christ, the Logos.  This does put Christianity at odds with today’s science.  We do affirm that YHWH and reality are relational as opposed to liberal postmodern relativism and conservative modern absolutism.   

Time is not negative, because it is in time that God’s Will through the Logos is revealed and God’s people live in relationship to God living out the divine purpose of their lives.  

beaglelady - #63754

August 11th 2011

“Science” has made teleology a dirty word.  It proudly claims that the universe has no purpose or meaning.

Roger, you are confusing science with scientism. Science has nothing to say about purpose, because the tools of science have no way to address it.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #63758

August 11th 2011

Beagle Lady,

I would like to think that you are right, but it is clear that many people are trying to blur the difference between science and scientism as much as possible.  They do it by declaring to be against Western absolutist dualism and embracing postmodern physical monism.

Their Bible Jacques Monod’s  Chance and Necessity seems to be accepted uncritically in most scientific circles, including BioLogos.  Their dogma that evolution is based on random chance is embraced by atheists and rejected by theists.  BioLogos tries to rationalize it, but this is the real bone of contention between the two sides. 

I have tried to bridge the gulf in my book, but I have not found anyone else interested in taking on this challenge (as opposed to papering it over.)   

beaglelady - #63759

August 11th 2011

Actually, evolution isn’t random. 

Anyway, you could send free review copies of your books to scientists, especially believing ones, to get their opinions. Do you have the confidence to do so?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #63763

August 11th 2011

Beagle Lady,

Of course, evolution is not random. 

Do you have any names and addresses of scientists?  I am open to anything.

You can send them by email.

beaglelady - #63765

August 11th 2011

I’m not handing out contact information but that’s something you can research for yourself:

You could start with the scientists affiliated with BioLogos. You could contact the National Science Foundation - http://www.nsf.gov -  and get some names.You could visit the nearest natural history museum and find affiliated scientists, and probably even meet them.   Perhaps your library can help you.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #64002

August 12th 2011

Beagle Lady,

Thank you for the suggestions.

However this is a side issue.  There are serious problems between the way modern science sees life and  Christianity does that cannot be papered over.

Random Arrow - #64021

August 12th 2011

Mark - “ this machine for symbolically devouring time bear the name of Christ (the Corpus Christi Clock).”

Mark, thank you for the entire article.  I’ll take seriously your header tag: worship.  Then, art.  And I’ll not nit-pick science.  Because I like what you’ve done. 

I think that one of the most curious and nearly inaccessible scripture passages is about the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4-5ff, πλήρωμα). 

My personal problem with the phrase—fullness of time - isn’t too few interpretations.  It’s too many.  Fulness taken as a noun. Maybe verbal-noun.

I wonder?  Do you feel that we humans have an innate drive to aestheticize time?  If not in temporal narrative, then in graphic art?  What are your feelings about graphic novels?  The synoptic gospels as?  If yes, what troubles that causes us?



Random Arrow - #64022

August 12th 2011

Mark, afterthought.

A one sentence re-write for you using your own pov?

Change this –

“having this machine for symbolically devouring time bear the name of Christ (the Corpus Christi Clock) ...”

To this—

“having this machine for – symbiotically – devouring time bear the name of Christ (the Corpus Christi Clock) ...”

Where the faux-time bearers of the name of Christ are us – in wrong interpretations of Christ. Being devoured by them and for truth’s sake?


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