Chronos Governs the Day. May Kairos Govern Our Lives.

Chronos Governs the Day. May Kairos Govern Our Lives. August 3, 2019

Pocket watch, savonette-type; Isabelle Grosjean ZA – Self-published work by ZA; GNU Free Documentation LicenseCreative Commons

“Ordinary Time” in the Christian calendar does not signify ordinary, but ordering according to Jesus’ life, teaching, and call on our lives. It pertains to those times of the year beyond Christmastide and Eastertide. However, the distinction between Ordinary Time and Christmastide and Eastertide is porous. God’s miraculous workings through Jesus and the Spirit during Christmastide and Eastertide permeate Ordinary Time in the Christian calendar. In fact, these events permeate and transform every day of the year. Of course, the secular calendar does not make any such distinction or connection between Christmastide, Eastertide, and Ordinary Time. The secular calendar operates only by way of chronos or quantitative and sequential time. All such time is mundane unless intersected and indwelt with God’s presence. Kairos or qualitative and opportune time—which in the Christian calendar is bound up with the events of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and Pentecost—should influence how we operate in chronos or quantitative time throughout the whole year.

Here is how one source discussed the difference between these two concepts derived from Greek words for different dimensions of time and as developed in the Christian context:

When we think of time we think of hours and minutes, watches and clocks. We think of how time flies or drags.

More recently, to respond to the perception that modern life means busyness and having no time, we use expressions such as time poor or time sensitive.

Lack of sequential time worries us. It usually means we find it difficult to allocate time to pray and reflect and organise our time that truly reflects our deeply felt priorities. Failure to do this prudently places modern people into a dazed state of inattentiveness and unreflectiveness. This deeply worries us. This is time as “chronos” from the Greek word. We derive the word chronology from this.

Then comes biblical time. This is called “Kairos”. It is not so much a matter of a clicking clock, but time as “the favourable time”. It is the opportune or right time. It is a great and supreme moment to refresh ourselves and come back to what really is important in life.

Chronos or quantitative time governs the day. But it should not govern our daily lives. Rather, we must prayerfully consider how to live in accordance with kairos in every moment. Unfortunately, we often frantically try and squeeze as much juice out of the turnip of chronological time before it’s too late. Perhaps such turnip-of-time squeezing is on the increase the more we seek to displace eternity in our society and eclipse the Christian calendar with the secular calendar. It shows up when we fail to imagine the reality of Jesus’ incarnation in time and the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost.

We find the effects of the displacement and eclipse of sacred or kairos time in the Christian life on such occasions when waiting with agitation for someone to stop speaking so we can talk, when growing quickly impatient to the point of cutting in line at the store, or when riding someone’s bumper or cutting off other drivers to get further down the road. The displacement of kairos in the Christian life entails that we have little time for others, since we and our time are priceless, not them or theirs. Time is money and time does not stand still for anyone. When we live like this, time becomes relationally void and meaningless no matter how much we fill up our moments with things to do. From this vantage point, we can never do enough with the time available to us since we know that it keeps slipping away, as do our relationships.

Back in the 1960’s, Karl Barth addressed the subject of time and space. If his words were true then, they are even more true today:

If only one could say why all these people rushing by so quickly are in such a hurry, why it is that they are so terribly pressed, as may be seen very forcibly today on every street! What do they propose to do with the time and energy saved? When people of such different places and localities are so surprisingly brought together, what do they think of saying to one another? How far is the enhanced speed of our movements to and fro really necessary or rewarding? Are people in such a hurry because they are afraid of something? What are they afraid of? Be that is it may, what have the automobile, the airplane, and the rocket brought about in human life that is not just different but better as compared with the time of walking and the stagecoach, better, that is to say, in terms of true pleasantness, the understanding and mastering of serious problems and needs, the real relations between people? Have they given us a more open, profound, fruitful, beautiful, and kindly view of the cosmos around us, a more vital one than that of Goethe? Do not modern travelers rush undeviantly past a hundred noteworthy things, blind where their forefathers could see, and perhaps flying over them altogether up in the void?[1]

Where are we going today with our increasing flurry of activity? Anywhere meaningful? Once we get there, do we truly rest, or do we immediately begin thinking of our next move to make to fill the time of day?

Having spoken of the failure to imagine the penetration of chronological time with kairos, such as the incarnation and Pentecost’s permeation in time, we find that qualitative or sacred time permeates life in such a way that we can live meaningfully moment by moment. Let us consider briefly Jesus’ life to unpack this reality.

Note how Jesus engaged others. He was not hurried, though people tried to hurry him along, as in the sequence of events involving Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:21-43), or the account of Lazarus’s death (John 11:1-44). In the case of the woman with the issue of blood, his presence healed her. Though she had ‘inconvenienced’ him by touching his robe for healing on his way to Jairus’ house, he did not push ahead. He paused and addressed her, humanizing and dignifying her in the process in the eyes of others. Jesus then proceeded on his way and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jesus’ time or hour was not in accordance with others’ time, as in the case of Jesus’ brothers’ exhortation for him to go showtime (John 7:1-39). Since Jesus came in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4), and that he knew his time was in God’s hands, he did not worry that he would ever be late to fulfill his destiny and enter into his glory.

As we participate in Jesus’ life through the Spirit, we enter the kairos time zone known as his hour of glory. It is not quantitative time, but qualitative time, as we live into his cruciform, resurrected glory. What does that entail?

Living into Jesus’ hour of glory entails humbly serving others, which means we will consider others better than ourselves. What does that entail? Rather than rushing them to finish speaking so that we can talk, we will let them complete their ideas, listening attentively and inquisitively, realizing that listening is a form of love. Rather than cutting in line or cutting off others on the road, we will wait our turn in line and allow them to merge. We will allow people to ‘inconvenience’ us at various points on life’s journey when we discern it will affirm their dignity, knowing that our time and theirs is in God’s hands.

We have written here of Jesus’ hour of glory (See John 7:30; 12:23; 13:1; 17:1). In contrast to John’s Gospel’s emphasis on this kairos theme, 1960’s pop cultural icon Andy Warhol spoke of how in the future people will be famous for fifteen minutes. Whether we are talking of fifteen minutes or fifteen hundred years, fame which is often associated with the cultural elite, comes and goes, like fleeting, sequential time. But God’s glory—which favors humble service of others behind the scenes and defers to them in conversations and in checkout lines and on life’s highways—remains forever. Which will it be for you and me? Chronos and fame govern the day. But may kairos and humble glory in service to God and others govern our lives forever.


[1]Karl Barth, The Christian Life, vol. IV/4 of Church Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981), page 231.

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