In seminary classes and church teaching, you often will hear a phrase used in regards to the kingdom of God/eternal life/salvation. It is “already, but not yet.” This phrase is used to convey that God’s present in-breaking into our world has already occurred, but the restoration of all things has not yet occurred. It is in process. Salvation has come, but it is still coming and awaits a future event of Christ’s triumph over the empires of the world.
This is all fairly correct. However, I think Pope Benedict XVI in his new encyclical letter on hope states it much better:
Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.
What I find so fascinating with his description is that the reason why salvation is present now is because the future touches our current reality. The Pontiff is wise in that he is able to describe how the quantum and the faith are related to one another.
Although Pope Benedict doesn’t say the following, I think it fits in the same vein. The past is constantly breaking into the future as well. Humanity has a very scarred past– sin! We find ourselves as individuals and as a whole destroying the world. The Pontiff describes this point in his judgments of Marx:
His error lay deeper. He forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man’s freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.
What I really love about the Pope’s message is that it breaks free from the typical chains of individualist conservatism and communitarian liberalism. In his letter, the Pope clearly states that salvation is a social reality; nevertheless, our inward state will constantly destroy us. Both the self and the society needs the in-breaking of salvation. The future will ultimately prevail over our past. Indeed, the past of God and the future of God collided in a single moment in the person of Jesus Christ, and we are now seeing the affects of this collision.