Monday 6 May 2024

What Time is It?

Walk wisely toward those who are outside, rescuing lost time.
—Colossians 4:5 (Revised Geneva Translation)

In his brief but profound book How to Inhabit Time, my good friend (and ICS alumnus) James K.A. Smith introduces us to “the art of spiritual timekeeping” (see HIT, 16 ff.) This art, Smith tells us, attunes us to something more than chronological time, which the German Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin describes as “homogenous, empty time,” where one moment is qualitatively indistinct from the next, just another tick of the clock (for this and more, see Benjamin’s profound Theses on the Philosophy of History).

As Jamie points out, scripture often uses another Greek word, kairos, to speak of a different kind of time. Unlike chronos, Smith says, kairos names “a fullness of time, a time charged in a way that can’t be simply measured” (HIT, 18). This is the time that shelters the messianic possibility of redemption, a possibility which we might say inhabits chronological time like a wound coil, ready to spring into actuality at any moment.

In its translation of Colossians 4:5, the Revised Geneva Translation does a great job of evoking this kairological understanding of time. The New Revised Standard Version translates the Greek phrase in question, ton kairon exagorazomenoi, as “making the most of the time,” which to my ear sounds way too chronological. That last word, exagorazomenoi, literally means “to buy back” or “to buy out of,” and is often translated as “redeem.” We are closer here to the idea of “rescue,” I submit, than we are to the idea of “making the most of”!

The Revised Geneva translation provokes us to think more deeply about what Paul might be saying about time. In what way is our time lost, and how can it be rescued? Smith tells us that “spiritual timekeeping tries to discern where the Spirit’s restoration is already afoot in creation’s groaning” (HIT, 18). Could our attempts at such discernment be the way that we “walk wisely toward those who are outside,” thereby giving witness to God’s transformative work in the world, in time? Could that be what it means to rescue lost time?

So what time is it? Is it the time that is lost or the time that can be rescued? We put our hope and trust that God in Christ is bringing the latter to fruition, even as we are invited to participate in this dramatic salvage operation in our time. As Smith tells it: “In spiritual timekeeping, the watchword is ‘discernment’; faithfulness requires knowing when we are in order to discern what we are called to do” (HIT, 19). 

ICS’s Mission Statement reminds us that “the Gospel’s message of renewal shapes our pursuit of wisdom.” Stated in more explicitly kairological terms, we might say that “the Gospel’s hope for the rescue of lost time shapes our daily dance of (Smith again) ‘keeping time with the Spirit’.”

Shalom, friends!

Ron Kuipers