In the “signature chapter” of my book, Balanced Living: Don’t Let Your Strength Become Your Weakness (Wipf and Stock, 2009), I mention several different “tensions,” common to our living, which challenge us to seek appropriate “balance.” Indeed, one of these “tensions” involves the question, “What Time Is It In Your Life?”
Which, as we embark upon yet another New Year, would seem (pardon the pun) a rather “timely” subject to explore. In fact, there are surely those today who would argue that, as a culture, we are not only in “too much of a hurry,” but are also exposed to too much stimulation (from the media and otherwise) too fast to assimilate, much less reflect upon very deeply.
In a Hebrew-Christian-Muslim worldview, “time” is both real and defining, containing meaning and purpose. Unlike the Platonism of the ancient Greeks, or the cyclical, non-historical perspective of the classical Eastern Religions, in which “time” is a meaningless concept.
For Jews, Christians and Muslims, life has both a beginning and an end. Or in the words of a once-popular beer commercial, “You only go around once.” Except Jews, Christians and Muslims would say, “You only go through once.” Since our historical worldview is linear. Indeed, the idea of “re-incarnation”–another chance–is foreign in Hebrew-Christian-Muslim theology and ethics, a factor that seems to heighten the urgency and intensity of our living. ‘Though it would also appear that, within the finitude of such a linear worldview, there are also “second chances,” or even more perhaps.
In the Christian New Testament, there are two Greek words for “time.” One is chronos; the other, kairos.
Chronos is calendar and clock time; it is measurable and predictable. It characterizes most of our living, be it well or poorly organized. My wife and I, for instance–if we hardly “have a marriage made in heaven”–it is also (almost) not an exaggeration to say that “we are never late.” Whereas, I’ve had any number of ministers who have confided to me that their “worst marital arguments” have typically been on Sunday mornings, involving just trying to “get to church on time.”
What’s that great axiom of the psycho-pest? “If you’re early, you’re anxious; if you’re on time, you’re compulsive; and if you’re late, you’re angry.”
Kairos is more accurately translated “timing,” or “timely.” Unlike so many of the seemingly tedious moments so often characteristic of chronos, those unique, even rare moments of our lives when so much is at stake, when important decisions are made, or events occur which can, in fact, be life-altering–these are what the New Testament speaks of as kairos. Since so much may often “turn,” if you will, on what happens, indeed the consequences of such times.
My friend, a theologian, is also a passionate football fan. When we’re together at a game, much of what is happening is mere chronos. But then, there are times when it’s “fourth-and-one.” Are they going to “punt,” or “go for it” (a “first down”); are they going to “kick a field goal,” or “go for a touchdown?” That’s when my theologian-friend exclaims: “It’s the kairos, the kairos!” And those sitting around us assume he’s “speaking in tongues.”
In a worldview that embraces the importance of “time,” the tenses of life–past, present and future (in English, at least)–they are significant. There are, for instance, those who seem to spend most of their lives, as we say, “living in the past.” As though they are somehow “stuck back there,” somewhere, either developmentally, or in terms of particular events or decisions; “holding on,” it would appear, to a particular “success,” or even a perceived “failure.” As though whatever it may have been, positive or negative, was the most important thing they ever did, or that ever happened to them (past tense).
At the other extreme are those who may, arguably, “over-value” the future. I say “arguably,” for if such an emphasis may be prudent, as in considerate, thoughtful, even realistic, proactive “planning” and “preparation,” it can also be delusional, when a “waiting for my ship to come in” may distort the reality of the past or sabotage a more responsible way of living in the present; as it were, a “running from” the claims of at least two other important dimensions, in time, both with comparable claims on our lives.
I suppose, of the three, living most fully in the present is the healthiest priority. Not a casual carpe diem. Nor a clinging to or running from the past, but being sufficiently informed by it, as well as having made peace, with an attitude of gratitude for both the good and the not so good of it. While also living into the future with integrity, joy and conviction, a sense of reasonable hope and promise.
Perhaps you’ve seen the following clever observation. A friend sent it to me some years ago. It reads: