The turn of the intellect away from the world and toward eternity is a forecondition of informed and confident adult belief in orthodox Christian doctrine. Most theological confusions, and ergo most misprisions of doctrine, most doubts, most schisms, and most heresies, arise because it is so difficult for us to break the habit of thinking about theology in any but the mundane terms under which we live our daily lives. As we learn to reason under the aspect of eternity – a feat no more difficult in principle than reading English, a score, water, the sky, a proof, but nevertheless always somewhat tricky – the confusing fog of apparent paradoxes and contradictions slowly resolve into clarity.
When we begin thinking about God, we naturally treat him as supreme, to be sure, and unique, but nevertheless one being among many, as we are. And this notion is not after all wholly incorrect, for God does play a causal role in the world, not just as the theater, language, stage, director and author of its play, but as an actor; viz., the Incarnation, the manna of the Eucharist, the scriptures, the Church, and so forth. So it gets doubly confusing.
Things get much clearer when we realize that, while God is indeed a participant of our world – walks about in the Garden in the cool of the day, enjoys a meal of fish, olive oil, bread, and wine, gets killed, rises from the tomb and ascends into the sky, sits a throne in the New Jerusalem, comes riding on the clouds as King at the van of his Host Sabaoth, etc. – he is not bound by the world and its terms, but is rather himself the bound and engine and coherence thereof.
How do things get clearer if we turn to the perspective of eternity? Take for example the Immaculate Conception of Mary. In merely mundane terms, it is simply incomprehensible. The argument of the Catholic Church is that Mary was the first beneficiary of the Atonement, and so was conceived already reconciled to God. But in the order of time, Mary’s conception was over and done with by the time the Atonement got started. It would seem then that the Atonement could not have had any causal effect upon the character of Mary’s conception.
We forget that worldly things have their existence, character and meaning from God. He is prior to them, and to everything else. They are what they are by virtue of what they are to God; the order of their being is his. So their natures are constrained by him, but not vice versa.
The order of time – the temporal structure of this world, the events thereof and their causal relations – completely supervenes upon God. It precipitates out of him, as it were, and that all at once. So far as God is concerned, the Atonement and the Immaculate Conception – and all other events – happen now. Each of our nows is a participation in his now (this being the ontological basis of Advaita (a, “non” + dvaita, “dual”) Vedanta). He informs each such event in view of its role in the whole story of all the worlds. So each event bears the stamp of all events; in this is the causal coherence of the worlds. Thus since time eventuates in eternity, there is no contradiction involved in Christ’s Atonement of any events, where or when soever.