I have never been big on time travel movies. Don’t get me wrong, the thought of time travel is intriguing. But the convoluted nature of some of these films makes it hard to get past the many inconsistencies. I am more than willing to adhere to the film’s understanding of time, but when the storyline breaks its own rules, that’s when I bail ship (now I’m the one being inconsistent, but I did not mind About Time).
Theologians and theoreticians attempts at understanding time is nothing new and will surely continue in the future. One can turn to Augustine’s thoughts on the matter in the Confessions, or more modern discussions of A Theory and B Theory. Into this mix, I would like to throw in Hamann’s reflections on time.
Like Augustine, Hamann addresses the issue of time in an autobiographical context. Whereas Augustine writes retrospectively in around 397, Hamann writes his London Writings ad hoc in 1758. There are many passages we can look at, but I want to look at just one.
As part of the London Writings, Hamann’s Biblical Reflections comprises of his reflections during his intensive reading of the Bible at and immediately after his conversion. Commenting on Deuteronomy 4:39, “know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other,” Hamann writes,
The whole duration of time is nothing but a to-day of eternity. The whole of time made up a single day in God’s economy in which all hours cohere and are included in one morning and one evening. The coming of our Saviour was the noon-day of time. The creation which cost God six days shall not last longer than to-day. God! what is eternity, and what is the Lord of eternity! How many millions of days it has taken, how many millions of revolutions the earth has made before it has reached to-day’s; and how many millions will follow which Thou hast numbered as all that have passed have been numbered. Just as this eternity of days which have been and will be in the world are nothing but to-day for Thee, so is the present day an eternity for me, even the present moment is an eternity for me. N I, 70
Hamann juxtaposes the temporal nature of a day with the eternality of God. However, it is not a matter of the differences between the experience of time for humans and God. Rather, time is defined by who God is and what he has done. As God intervenes in the present, his eternality (human past and future) is brought along. With the incarnation the eternality of the divine is condescended to the noon-day of man.
Since it is God who defines time, we need more than reason to understand time. Hamann goes on to write,
Lord, thy Word makes us wise, even if it teaches us nothing more than to number our days. What a nothingness, mere smoke, a spiritual nothingness they are in our eyes when reason numbers them! What a fullness, what a treasure, what an eternity, when faith numbers them! Lord, teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart to wisdom. All is wisdom in thy ordering of nature, when the spirit of thy Word illumines our spirit. All is a labyrinth and disorder when we try to look for ourselves. N I, 70
In response to Deuteronomy 4:40, ”Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” Hamann writes,
The Christian alone is lord of his days, because he is heir to the future. Our time is so bound up with eternity that one cannot separate them without extinguishing the light of their life. However dissimilar in their nature, their union is the soul of human life, as the union of the soul and the body constitutes temporal life. N I, 71
Human time and eternity cannot be separated. The bond between the two is set firm only because the eternal One has entered into our time.
For more on Hamann and time, take a look at Oswald Bayer’s chapter “Created Time” in A Contemporary in Dissent.
 Quoted in Ronald Gregor Smith, J. G. Hamann, 1730-1788: A Study in Christian Existence (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960). 129,