Not all people who live at the same time are contemporaries

Not all people who live at the same time are contemporaries

I came across this statement in a discussion on Karl Rahner’s theology in The Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth Johnson. It stopped me in my tracks. I don’t know enough of Rahner’s writing to offer any comment on what he intended by that statement, rather what follows is what I make of it.

I find this such a powerful idea. I am frequently baffled by the opinions that others hold. A current example would be the upset in the ultra-traditionalists blogosphere over the Pope Francis washing the feet of two young women on Maundy Thursday. The temptation for me is to divert myself into writing about my frustration at this response. But the idea that not all people who live at the same time are contemporaries gives me a way to defuse my own reaction.

Somehow this simple statement allows me to accept the fact that others will think quite differently to me. I must be true to myself and to the understanding that I have, but my task is not to convince others of that. I must be prepared to hold my opinions up for examination, and in so-doing allow for the possibility that I need to rethink and reconsider, but this is all that is required of me. The rest is in God’s hands. I need to let God be God.

Rahner is insistent on the mystery of God. Perhaps this phenomenon of the differences of thought and opinion is part of the way in which God reveals Godself. None of us hold a sufficiently large fragment to speak with certainty of the whole, but each of us holds enough of the nature of God, to be led further into it.

My task then, is to sit lightly to the detail – in Ignatian terms to use what leads deeper into the mystery and set aside that which prevents further exploration – but to hold firmly to the journey. To trust that in so-doing I will be led by God. If I can trust God’s hand in my own wanderings, perhaps I can trust that others will be led along very different paths but to the same end – even though we may never agree on the detail of description of the scenery along the way.

5 thoughts on “Not all people who live at the same time are contemporaries

      • Yes, as I said when I shared your blog, I had been wresting with this idea of difference for ages. Oddly enough, or perhaps not, it was all the wrangling in posts on Facebook which provoked my exploration. I saw my own tendency to oppose views expressed by others reflected back at me and became increasingly unhappy about the atmosphere of conflict and negativity. Like you, I have found the struggle has led to liberation and the concept you outline adds another dimension.

  1. Shew … that is powerful. Thanks for sharing your insights – they certainly make the scenery on my journey better!

  2. Yes, I also agree that one cannot be sure we understand what Rahner’s full meaning behind the statement is.
    It just appears, on second thought, to be possibly somewhat of a lamentation. It does not take much intellect to conclude that we are all created unique, God deals with each uniquely, so of course, we will not necessarily be contemporaries in belief, understanding, vision, emotions etc.
    I learnt in 12 step programs that two siblings, a year or three apart have a completely different take on a parent or separate sibling – leading to an obvious conclusion about ‘reality’!
    In an accident several witnesses will have a different conclusion as to what happened or to the cause.
    The Southern Cross ComBox was a huge learning curve to understanding that affiliation to the same Church did not bring out any ‘sameness’ of opinions, let alone faith.
    Do contemporaries have to have one heart? The heart of flesh that Godde wills for us?
    Just my tuppence worth on the subject…

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