“The rule, in the devastation, is the tick-tock that brings death”

We may distinguish, for the purposes of this investigation, two fundamental types of cosmic temporality, the difference between them being given by the different relations they bear to the LORD. These two kinds of cosmic time I call metronomic and systolic. The former, metronomic time, belongs to the devastation in which we live, and is the only time in hell; and the latter, systolic time, is proper to Eden, where, however, it always had the potential to become metronomic, is coexistent with and gradually transformative of metronomic time here in the devastation, and is the only time there is in heaven.

Metronomic time, as the name suggests, is regular and measurable: its law (nomos) is measure (metron). The means of measuring it are various, and include the movements of the sun or other heavenly bodies relative to the earth, and the rates of growth and decay of material substances. The former give us days and nights and months and years; the latter provide smaller intervals, down to and beyond the zeptosecond or the ictus. But all these means of measure are derived from—or just are—kinds of creaturely motion … Metronomic time, therefore, is measurable duration. It is cosmic, regular, repeating, providing duration that is what it is independently of how it seems to creatures such as ourselves. Every event—and therefore all states of affairs, each of which is an event-ensemble—occurs within the manifold of creaturely motion, and can therefore have its temporal relations to other events and states of affairs by way of duration measured …

The creatures whose lives are measured and brought to death by metronomic time are, without exception, brought into being by and beloved of the LORD; that is always and necessarily true. Time itself, as a defining feature of creation, is intended and loved; spatio-temporal presence to himself is what the LORD intends for creatures, and the spatio-temporal relations we bear to one another are therefore also features of us that are loved. But time-as-metronomic is nevertheless an artifact of the fall. It is what time is like when it has been devastated. The principal mark of that devastation for us—the sign that shows us most clearly that metronomic time is devastated time—is that time is a metronomic countdown to death. To observe any creature for long—whether ourselves or others, human or otherwise, animate or otherwise—is to observe its decay, its ineluctable loss of goods it has now as it approaches its last loss, which is of life if it is animate, and of continued existence if it is inanimate …

It is not that decay toward death or nonexistence is the only thing visible to the close observer of creatures. We can also see in them, as the LORD certainly does, evidence of growth and beauty, increase in order and love, occasional and unanticipated (certainly irregular) responses to grace that brings those creatures that make them closer to the LORD rather than closer to death or annihilation. But these are the exception, not the rule. The rule, in the devastation, is the tick-tock that brings death. The other things, the acts of life and growth, do not belong to the metronome, and they are, now, in the devastated world, occasional contradictions of it, signs that it is not everything. The metronome’s omnipresence and unavoidability, its literal unendurability—the fact, that is, that we cannot live long with it, cannot put up with it, cannot survive it—is, exactly, time’s devastation.

Paul J. Griffiths

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