Thinking About...Nowness

Trolling about the internet (where else?) I came across this quote from David Gelernter (via NYTimes columnist Ross Douthat): “Nowness is one of the most important cultural phenomena of the modern age.” That quote got me thinking about nowness.

Now

Ours is a culture that want things now. We expect things now: Video on Demand. Live-streaming music. Hot and ready pizza. Constantly updated RSS or Twitter feeds. Fast-acting relief. Satisfaction for longing. Removal of pain.

This spring I’ve discovered that nowness makes gardening hard. Plant a seed and wait 10-14 days before germination? Try telling that to someone who has only known life with high-speed internet. Then wait another 60-90 days before the sprouted seed has produced its fruit? Forget about it. 60 days might as well be a century for those who know now’s nowness.

Past and Future

How does the Christian message connect to the cultural phenomenon of nowness? Christianity is a faith rooted in the past (the not-now). It is a faith staked (and scandalously so) on the historical particularity of a human Savior. Simultaneously, Christianity also stakes much on the future (once again, the not-now). The just celebrated Easter holy day proclaims a message of a future resurrection from the dead, something that isn’t experienced fully right now. As the apostle Paul writes, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Living Faithfully in the Now

Ironically, it’s Christianity’s very not-nowness—its historical and eschatological character—that informs how believers should live in the now. Christians (and their churches) are at once strangers to the now and committed to the now. Because Christians draw their identity and meaning from what Jesus did in the past and from who they will be in the future, they are liberated from the cultural bondage of nowness. But Christians manifest their true past-future identity now because God wants His people to faithfully present (and re-present) their faith and hope in a particular historical moment.

Scholar Brian Walsh succinctly connects the future Christian hope with the present Christian ethic writing, “One of the central ways in which we answer the question, ‘how should we live?’, is by answering the question, ‘what are the contours of our hope?’” In other words, it is the historical Christian faith and the anticipated Christian hope that determine the shape of the Christian now.