The first chapter of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees is the best opening to any novel I’ve ever read. It is hilarious, well-written, and action packed. Most importantly, it gives the reader a deep understanding of the main character, Taylor Greer. In only a few pages, I felt like I knew her. She is a little rough around the edges, yet full of compassion for the world. An underdog herself, she is going to go to bat on behalf of those in need, especially those in trouble. Taylor is the kind of person whose crazy idea you would follow unquestionably because you know her heart’s in the right place.
Since we trust Taylor Greer, we understand that she is going to adopt a three-year-old American Indian girl. This child, whose name is Turtle, comes into Taylor’s life in a completely unexpected and unorthodox way; yet we are rooting for them. Somehow we sense that they were meant to be together. Despite the strangeness of their situation, we feel in our bones that the time is right.
My wife, Ginny, and I are expecting our first child in October. One of the graces afforded to parents is time. It takes nine months for a child to develop, so we have been given time in the present to live into this future reality. We are shopping for cribs and envisioning nursery colors. There are baby showers in the works and church members lining up to baby-sit. We have been given time for dreaming, laughing, planning, and playing. Time is a gift.
A member of our community recently adopted two little children. She and her husband had waited for years. They had wondered if the time would ever come. One afternoon, she received a call from the adoption agency and in less than four hours there was a six-month-old and a two-year-old in their home. These children are gifts. These new parents are living into this reality with very little preparation and planning. Yet they trust that the time is right.
In the Greek New Testament, there are two kinds of time. Chronos time is most familiar to us; it refers to the way in which we mark our days, seasons, and years. Kairos time, however, is anything but predictable; it is God’s time. It has to do with the immortal and eternal One who breaks into our fragile and finite existence. Jesus began his ministry by announcing that the “time (kairos) has been fulfilled” and the reign of God has come near (Mark 1:15). Chronos time marked the days of Jesus’ ministry, the progression from his baptism to the temptation in the wilderness and all the way to the cross. Kairos time had to do with good news he preached that was available to anyone at any moment.
Here is another way to think of the difference. Chronos time measures the nine months of pregnancy or the application process for adoption. Kairos time measures your unblinking gaze into your child’s eyes. In those eyes, the whole world seems absolutely still and yet also enormously infinite.
Time, Albert Einstein reminds us, is a human construction. It represents our perspective as a tiny planet of rock and gas, which is hurling through an expanding universe. His theory of special relativity is about chronos because it measures the movement of object in relation to the constant speed of light. Time, then, is predictable and measurable, even adjustable. We manipulate time twice a year when we fall back and spring forward an hour.
Yet Einstein also sensed something more, certainly something more mysterious. He famously said that God does not roll dice. Biblically speaking, he was referring to kairos time. As complicated as the physics of time can be, sometimes we just know that the moment is right. We may not be able to explain it, and we don’t have to. We feel it in our bones.