Updated: Feb 27, 2022
I’ve been thinking a lot about time. Whilst doing my New Testament Greek I learned that there were two Greek words for time, Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is the simple passage of time, ‘it was 6 o’clock, it is now 9 o’clock’, that’s Chronos. Then there's Kairos. Kairos is not just simply a passage of time, it carries the sense of a significant time, an opportune time or a season. So when we say ‘it’s time to expand the business’ or ‘it’s time that we settled down and bought a house’, this is Kairos.
One of the most famous meditations on time as Kairos is found in the Old Testament of the Bible in Ecclesiastes. The writer talks of ‘a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to harvest’ etc. And there are definitely times where certain things work out and other times when they don't. One of the hardest things in life is understanding the Kairos - the times and seasons. I think it was Kierkegaard who once remarked that one of the tragedies of life is that we have to live it forwards but we only understand it backwards. In relationships, career, and every other aspect of life we can, like Eric Morecambe’s piano playing, be trying to hit the right notes just in the wrong order.
I reflect that there have been times when opportunities were lost yet but the right thing has happened. There were jobs, particularly in my early career, where I was gutted not to get it but, time revealed that I had dodged a bullet there.
It is easy to be out of time, to come in to early or too late. It was Nietzsche’s madman who, upon giving the Victorian readers the idea of the death of God, remarked that he had come too soon and that society wasn’t ready for that idea just yet. I take a different view on God to Nietzsche, but I'm sure that, like me, you recognise his sense being ahead of the curve; only years later do you hear ideas enthusiastically put in staff meetings or church councils that you had suggested 2-3 years ago to somewhat raised eyebrows.
It goes without saying that we can also be behind the curve as well. There may be aspects of our lives where we are still persisting in doing the same thing but the world, or our particular part of it, has moved on. We do what we've always done because we've always done it. I am reminded of the story of Samson who after a severe number 1 all over tried to carry on as before and did not know that the spirit of God had left him. Things had moved on and he hadn’t noticed. I know very well how hard it can be to know what time it is.
There are times and seasons but how to spot them? One of our problems in life is that we are busy and there is so much going on that we don't look around us or look within us and listen to what God, the universe, our heart (whatever your metaphysical belief system calls it) is saying. There is no substitute for stillness - time and space to think.
Equally, particularly in difficult times, it is good to get advice. What are those 2-3 wise friends or family saying? Everyone needs that one person in their life who isn't afraid to tell you when you are being an idiot.
Time (Chronos) moves on but what time (Kairos) is it? In which aspects of our lives do we stick and which do we twist?
What needs to be stopped and what needs to start?
Where are we in danger of being left behind and we need to move? Conversely where do we need to make a move and urge others to catch us up?
May we all have sufficient space and stillness to reflect and may we each find those relationships where people will give us the truth whether we want it or not. May we each work out what time it is.