Time cannot be nailed down. As St. Augustine famously noted in his Confessions,
“There are three times; a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future. For these three do somehow exist in the soul, and otherwise I see them not: present of things past, memory; present of things present, sight; present of things future, expectation.”
The past is gone; there is no way to empirically verify it. The present is always shifting from future to past; passing us by before we have a chance to scrutinize it. And the future is only expectation; a potentiality that is never promised. When we, as Christians, attempt to understand time, we must always recognize our own subjectivity; realizing that God is our locus in history.
From a Christian perspective, history is identity-forming. Unlike modernist and scientific historians, Christians attempt to do history from an admittedly localized viewpoint. Christian history is not a “meta-history”, an effort to systematize all preceding events and actions into an all-encompassing, and eventually totalizing, account of the world. We are not so far removed from the history we tell. History forms us as we tell it. When a past narrative is formed, inherent in the formation is the subjects place in relation. As the apostle John stated in his gospel, “I write these things that you may believe”. Our account of the past tells us who we are. When Christians speak of the historical death and resurrection of Christ, intrinsic in this history is an ontological claim on reality; more precisely a socio-ontological claim on the being-in-time of the community called “the church”.
In addition to its identity-forming nature, history also speaks prophetically. History is not done in an ivory-tower. It is not a metaphysical construction, immune from the dust and dirt of real life. History is alive. It is always adding new elements from the collapsing future that will forever change its course. For most philosophers and historians, this kind of thought has led only to suspicion and nihilism (a la Marx and Nietzsche, respectively). Yet Christians have experienced the freedom of God. The church understands that its God is free, that is, He is not bound to the inevitable destruction that is dialectical materialism, or the eternal recurrence. The absolute focal point of Christian history is this: the entrance of God into our world at the Incarnation. At this point, History is thoroughly Christological. Seen through the lenses of Christ, history becomes explicable. Yet even at this point we realize that Christology, and therefore Christian history, is never completed. Our understanding of Christ isn’t finished, for we have not yet witnessed His promised coming and our glorious resurrection. Here Christians must acknowledge their fragmentation, the already/not yet nature of the Christian’s position. A foot in both worlds, the Christian understands his past in order to know where he is going in the present, always awaiting the future action of the God of freedom known to him through Jesus Christ, his Lord.