“I am the beginning and the end.” This is said to us who live in the bondage of time, who have to face the end, who cannot escape the past, who need a present to stand upon. Each of the modes of time has its peculiar mystery, each of them carries its peculiar anxiety. Each of them drives us to an ultimate question. There is one answer to these questions — the eternal. There is one power that surpasses the all-consuming power of time — the eternal: He Who was and is and is to come, the beginning and the end. He gives us forgiveness for what has passed. He gives us courage for what is to come. He gives us rest in His eternal Presence. – Paul Tillich, The Eternal Now
I stand before the violent-now. A violence without end, unceasing and unabated, extending into the far voids of the past and future. Such violence, cruel and savage, stretches across space and time. I see it before me winding across the multiple preludes of time. And yet, it seems unbelievable. I feel its pressure pushing against me. An abominable force that seems so farcical and absurd as to be beyond rational belief. Nevertheless there it is. A violence perpetuated by the powerful and elite on society’s most vulnerable. A violence seemingly without end and without boundaries. Unrestrained, the instigators of this violence are not content with temporality. They want it to be more. The violent-now wants to be the eternal-now.
Paul Tillich described the present as a place of peace and rest. Situated between the past and future, the present exists as a presence that carries us between the “no more” and the “not yet.” As a moving boundary, the present has no claim or place of its own. It exists only as “flux.” The present gives us nothing to hold. It has no foundation or place to call its own. Unlike the future and the past, the present is undefinable. For as soon as we name it, give it substance, the present slips into the past. And yet, our thoughts rarely dwell on the present. Instead our gaze lies on either the future or the past. We long for better days in an unwritten future, and dwell upon (for better or worse) the inscribed past.
The riddle of the present is the deepest of all the riddles of time
But between both is something of immense importance. The present comprises the ever moving boundary between our past and future. This boundary, renewed without ceasing, is our certainty of the eternal. For within the present is the eternal-now, which Tillich explains, is our hope. The in-between contains our hope that we can break the bonds of our past. Furthermore, the present offers an escape from a seemingly inescapable future. It is our present that the proprietors of power wish to take away. A violent removal of our present subsequently harms our perspective of both the future and the past.
In the present our future and our past are ours.
There seems to be no end to the violence inflicted upon us by society’s powerful and elite. Seemingly without hesitation, the present is wrest away from us and put in its place is the violent-now. What constitutes the violent-now? It is the wholesale subjugation and rejection of our present, thus shackling our past and dictating our future. Where the eternal-now offers rest and peace, the violent-now institutes fear and anxiety. Where the eternal-now unites the violent-now divides.
This violence is real, and we see the effects of it day by day. It’s not that this violence suddenly appeared. Violence has and will continue to remain a part of human existence. Sadly, that shadow has haunted humanity from the very beginning of time. The violent-now doesn’t represent the generalized violence of humanity. The violent-now is a reaction against the present. It is a counter movement to the eternal-now and the rest, peace, and security it represents. Where the eternal-now offers hope, the violent-now grinds that hope into the ground. Where the eternal-now promotes justice, the violent-now removes justice whenever possible. Where the eternal-now lives in truth, the violent-now despises truth.
The violent-now isn’t a condition or state. Unfortunately, it’s nothing so abstract. The violent-now is the continual perpetuation of injustice against the marginalized. It is the wholesale destruction of the present with the objective of removing the future (hope) and the past (tradition) from those who live in-between. The violent-now is an attempt at stopping and rolling back what social progress has been made over the last fifty years. The violent-now is thus a war against the present. The objective of this war is to remove the present and institute a past of the elite’s choosing, thus dictating what future can come from it. Consider the violence inflicted upon society by those in power. The powerful employ the violent-now in a multitude of forms.
There is the economic violence waged against the poor. Today, economics is a full scale offensive against those who cannot participate in the system. Wage and income inequality are at unprecedented levels. Furthermore, economic and neoliberal policies continue to push more and more people out of the system, effectively destroying our democracy. Such policies concentrate power into the hands of the few. Consequently, the present becomes one of dependency. The violent-now removes the present economic welfare of the people. The present becomes a burden when the powerful remove economic freedom, security, and liberty from large portions of society.
There is social violence waged against immigrants, minorities, and women. Cleverly, the powerful blame today’s social ills and problems on those without power. By removing the rights, human dignity, and justice from those who need it most, the powerful have created a scapegoat for every occasion and purpose. When you remove the freedom of others, you’re free to impose whatever will or whim you desire. People lose the present when they lose those basic freedoms and liberties entitled to all people. The present vanishes for those who suffer from a powerful assault on their basic human dignity. The violent-now is a desire for division and strife that increases the power of those in power. Therefore, the present is stolen from vast amounts of people whose only desire is to be heard. This social violence ignores the real social policies that can protect and improve the quality of life for vast amounts of people.
There is the environmental violence waged against the planet. Through indifference, apathy, and wholesale disregard, the powerful ignore the Earth’s groans as it suffers the burden of climate change. Again, the marginalized and developing world suffer as they will likely suffer the most from climate change. The violent-now is an assault on the present that will devastate the future for generations.
The violent-now dashes the hopes, dreams, and expectations of those who can only live in the present. It threatens those trapped in the day to day grind of barely making it through each present moment. It instills our fear of survival as gun violence steals the lives of the innocent. The present is now terrifying, and for many the future is a dream and the past is long forgotten. Today, all we have is the present. But that present is continually wrested away from our fingers. In its place is the widespread institution of hatred and division. The present is twisted for the violent gains of the elite, rich, and corporations. Furthermore, politicians do nothing as people are pillaged of the basic necessities to live in the present.
The violent-now is a present built on division and strife. It destroys what is good, fears progress, ignores the call of justice, and removes hope. It institutes a status quo of control and manipulation. It tells us that we must wait in the face of evil, that “now isn’t the time.” How much longer must we allow this violence to dictate our present?
But there is hope. For our God is the God of a present without end. The violent-now, though terrible and devastating, cannot withstand the presence of the eternal. When we think about it, the reason for the violent-now’s failure isn’t a mystery. The violent-now is wielded by men and women who are themselves temporary. It can’t compete with the one who stated: “I am the beginning and the end.” What hope do those who employ violence have when faced with the eternal? For despite all that has occurred, the present still belongs to eternal.
Therefore, we cannot give up our hope, our love, and our charity. The present remains the eternal-now, it remains in the hands of our eternal God.
He saves the needy from the sword of their mouth and from the hand of the mighty. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth – Job 5:15-16
I have hope that the present is changing. Today we’re witnessing an awakening of a new generation of social activism that will no longer tolerate the violent-now. Each day there is reason to hope that political, social, and environmental change still remains a possibility. The eternal-now is still with us despite what violence others may attempt to implement. Our present and our future is within our grasp. We continue on, spurred by the hope that eternal represents.
I have hope in the eternal-now and in the one who offers peace in the midst of violence. Therefore, let us pray and work for the day when justice is served, inequality is eliminated, stewardship of the earth reigns, and all of humanity live in the fullness that is a present without end. Without a doubt, the journey will be difficult. However, my hope is in the one who is and is to come. I place my hope in the one who has already won the battle. The present is already won. It was won not by violence and retribution, but on a cross. Today is the day we say “no” to the “masters of mankind” who would tell us otherwise. Their days are numbered, but our God’s is without end.
As Paul Tillich stated:
There is one power that surpasses the all-consuming power of time – the eternal: He Who was and is and is to come, the beginning and end. He gives us forgiveness for what has passed. He gives us courage for what is to come. He gives us rest in His eternal Presence.
Today, may we finally find rest, hope, and justice in His eternal Presence.
Paul Tillich’s Eternal Now sermon can be read here.