There is a Time for Everything

Driving back with a van full of students from our conference in Oklahoma last week we spent some time talking about God and faith. These are good times. The best times to be a college professor. Hanging out with students and talking about life.

At one point I shared how I read this famous passage from Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes 3.1-8 (KJV)
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
No doubt there are some hermeneutical issues to be resolved in this passage. How do you read "a time to kill" and "a time to hate" in light of the Sermon on the Mount? (My take is that Christians shift all this language to the spiritual realm where our "battle is not against flesh and blood.")

Those issues aside, here's how I read this text. I think it's a call to being present, engaged and mindful. In this my reading finds some convergences with Buddhism.

There is a time for everything. And whatever you are doing right now that is the time for that. So be present in that moment. Don't be in a different time. Don't be ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. Don't live in guilt, regret or shame. Don't live with worry, fear and apprehension. Live into the moment. The time is right now.

There is a time to tuck your kids in at night. When it's that time be present. Do that well and fully.

There is a time (in my life) to teach a class. When it's that time I should do that work to the best of my ability.

There is a time to drink a cup of coffee with a friend or loved one. When it's that time I should savor the moment and not be picking up my iPhone to check my email.

There is a time for everything.

And when it's that time be there and nowhere else.

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27 thoughts on “There is a Time for Everything”

  1. Where are we as we plan our vacations, monthly budgets, or weekly menus?  And most of all, as we contemplate our eternal destination?  Are we here -- or are we already there?

    The very best thing about retirement -- far and away -- is finally being able to freely schedule your own moments each day.  But living only in the moment is never a choice for human beings.  I only assert this because I have never once met another person who could do it.  Time is our jailor.  I think this is one reason why many of us love our pets, because they are always in the now, and they help us stay here with them.

    Two of the greatest mysteries in this life are the answer to these questions:  What would the current world look like had all Christians from the beginning lived as Jesus did and taught, and what would the world look like if no one ever gave a worry for tomorrow?

  2. I love this, especially in light of the TED Talk you posted yesterday. I think a spiritual discipline could easily be leaving my phone at home some days, because it's important to be present when it's time to be present. But, like any season, it's fleeting, so we cannot hope to be present "later," for the winds of change will be on us before we know it.

  3. Hi Sam,

    Once I read of the contrast between "kairos" time and "chronos" time.  Kairos refers to eternal perspective (the ability to, if even for a moment, look both backward and forward while experiencing the sacred *now.*)  Chronos time is the linear chugging away of moments and years.  I've also heard it said that prophets throughout the ages have had the uncanny ability to witness to "kairos" time.  I wonder if God must be both outside of time and space, and within it (as He is present with us, in a spiritual sense)?  Remember being young and feeling as though time couldn't progress fast enough?  And, now, the older I get, I understand the feeling of the years having passed in the blink of an eye.  I probably need to get a dog, Sam.  I envy you dog owners a little...  Does a guinea pig count?!  I think it's impossible to always be "in the moment."  It's good to have a basic plan, but also stay flexible and be interruptible.  ~Peace~

  4. Madeleine L'Engle has a discussion of chronos and kairos in one of her books.  Sure, we live most of the time in chronos, but we need moments of kairos to help us remember that chronos isn't all there is. 

  5. Wow--I will never look at this passage in the same way again. I love your interpretation of it, and your examples could have been taken from my own life right now. I wish I had something profound to add, but instead I'll just say, "Thank you."

  6. So true, seniorcit. :-)  Kairos moments = an awareness of God's grace breaking through the ordinary of everyday life.  The eternal view vs. the temporal.  ~Peace~

  7.  I am re-viewing the Ken Burns series "America's Greatest Idea -- The National Parks" on UNC TV right now.

    John Muir was able to live much of his life in "kairos" time, but only when he was in Yosemite Valley or some other wilderness.  The wild places were deeply spiritual for him, fed his soul, and he literally gave his entire life to protect and preserve them.  He could spend an entire day in a field just looking at one plant.

    Any animal which you love and care for can bring you a sense of the moment.  Dogs, being the first species domesticated by humans, just seem, to me at least, more tuned in to our expressions, thoughts, moods, and emotions.

  8. Sven Birkirts wrote a book some years back called "The Gutenberg Elegies" in which he lamented the demise of reading among the younger "wired" generation.  Reading, he said, involves what he called "deep time" in which the imagination is at play and time (chronos) is lost.  In "deep time" the mind is forced to form pictures of the events one is reading about, rather than having it play out in front of you in living color on the screen.  Reading thus involves thought and creativity rather than just entertainment.   There is a time for reading (and seeing) and contemplation of what we are reading (or seeing).  It remains to be seen how today's youth preserve what I see as a necessary human activity.  Though as a former children's librarian my priorities are showing here!

  9. On further reflection, I HAVE known a few people who were always present in the now.  One was a cousin with Down Syndrome who had a measured IQ of 45.  The other was my mother after she developed Organic Brain Syndrome (dementia).  And, of course, all babies.

    And I am not sure at all whether they lived only in the present, or, cognitively at least, outside of time altogether,

  10. To be clear, I don't have any sort of underlying agenda, just a question. Do you really think that you can, with honesty and integrity, write off such claims as "a time to kill," and "a time to hate" but spiritualizing them as referring to our battle against the powers and principalities? Isn't that trying to make Scripture say what we want it to say, instead of taking it at face value? (Obviously, I'm not suggesting a debate between the literal and figurative language of Scripture.) I don't know, it just doesn't seem that easy to me. Perhaps Scripture just doesn't fit that sort of pacifism that we all want it to. It's a scary thought. I'm not saying that it justifies killing and hate necessarily, I just want to push back a bit on how you apply your worldview to Scripture and what it is saying.

  11. I understand your concern Stephen,
    I don't want to create a belief system with which I am comfortable.
    I want my faith to reflect, scripture, the tradition of my Church and God's call in my life.
    Not saying that Richard is making it too comfortable.
    Just that it is a risk.

  12. We were created to live in chronos. So I think that is where we live. But at the same time
    We are also created to be able to see those thin places/times where kairos breaks in.

  13. Connecting with nature is a very "spiritual" experience for me, too.  I have a hard time in the winter, when I tend to hole up indoors until the spring thaw...  We've had an early spring this year.  May is my favorite month in nature, though as I've aged, I have come to appreciate the fall season also.  When we traveled to the east coast a few years ago, I remember feeling awed by the rolling hills of Kentucky (Blue Grass region), the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia, and finally, meeting the ocean at Virginia Beach.  It was one of our best family vacations.  On that one, I was the master planner.  :-)  My husband's idea of a "spiritual" experience in nature is Disney World!  I found Disney to be too much -- just too much of *every*thing!  Exhausting...

    Dogs offer such unconditional love, loyalty, and companionship.  I'm amazed at the ways dogs have been used therapeutically with special needs children and the elderly.  You should see the responses of my nursing home friends when a visitor or volunteer brings a dog into the place.  My husband is allergic to pet dander, so we have never had a dog or cat over the years.  I am fascinated by this unregistered breed 'Golden Doodle' (golden retriever / standard poodle mix) that I've seen in action at the 4-H obedience / agility shows.  Several people in our neighborhood own that type of dog, and I see them out walking on the trail.  Low dander, presumably, due to the poodle factor.  Also extremely intelligent dogs, again, due to the poodle factor.  You would not believe how much $$$ these dogs go for, though...unregistered or not.  But I digress!  (You should write about your dog at your blog sometime, Sam.  :-)

  14. I don't know if it's perhaps a reference to animals. My husband works with a guy from Afghanistan who will eat meat only if it's been killed "a certain way." I don't know the specifics of that, but he'd rather eat a veggie sandwich from Subway than pile on the meat.

  15. That seems like a more reasonable interpretation I think. I have a few friends who are the same way and I'm beginning to lean in that direction myself. It's hard because I enjoy meat! 

    One of my good friends just started raising and butchering pigs and chickens, and keeps some chickens for eggs and I've been able to help out. It is really nice to know where your meat and eggs come from and that they have been raised considerately.

    I'd like to have a small farm of my own one day when I buy land and a house so I can do a similar thing. 

    But back to the point, that may be a good compromise to see the killing as meant towards animals, that way we can maintain a humanitarian point of view. However, I don't want to rule out all possibilities that it may be suggestive of killing and hating people too. I'm uncomfortable with this notion, but I think it is all too easy to tout pacifistic ideals when I'm not faced with any sort of violence or threat to my life on a daily basis (of which I am thankful). Our experiences form our opinions, and it follows that in a culture that vehemently denies death and all its friends, pacifism may be an all too easily accepted reality for us. I'm not sure, I'm just questioning, ya know?

    I think the darker side of the Scriptures are fascinating, which such pacifism has trouble with, at least pacifistic conceptions of God. Just a few examples: "Jacob I loved, Essau I hated," (says God) or Isaiah 45:7 - "I form the light and create darkness; I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things," or Job when he says, "...shall we accept good from God and not trouble?" Time and again the Israelites attributed both their blessings and their calamities to God and praised his name all the same: "‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment,
    or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that
    bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us
    and save us.’ - 2 Chronicles 20:9

  16. I don't know that pacificsm or vegetarianism is the whole answer or not either. For instance, we live in an area with an annual "Rattlesnake Roundup." Killing, in this case,  is not just a matter of sport nor a matter of food or hate, but a matter of public safety. Last year there was an incident in which a 2nd grade child was bitten by a rattlesnake that had gotten into his school. They had to shut down the school until they found the baby rattler hiding under a cabinet. Also, feral hog and coyote are a problem for landowners, and they can be quite dangerous. Not to mention rabid skunk. I remember another incident in the news in which a child was attacked by a coyote, and it was his grandfather's quick reflex and sharpshooting skills with a rifle that saved him.

    I know what you mean about the distressing parts of Scripture, though. I've read the book and seen the movie Hunger Games, and thought how it correlates to life, where an unseen "Gamemaker" sends calamity at whim. Of course, none of us gets out of this arena alive.

  17. I have always taken the words in the Bible at face value, and as you can see here at ET it keeps me almost perpetually at odds with somebody or another.  I have seen almost nothing but mischief my entire life as the people around me attempt to "interpret" Scripture.  No one can even agree on what the word "death" means.

    I freely admit that I am either too stupid or too literal for the Bible to make much sense to me.  Find me a verse that says something you think needs saying, and I'll find another verse which states the opposite. 

  18. I'm right there with you. Though I'm sure we still do some level of "interpreting" ourselves, be it unconscious or not. No matter how much we want to hold the book in its entirety in our hands, something always falls through the cracks that would otherwise put a kink in our conceptual framework. Maybe some people are better at holding more of the pieces so as to see the kinks and contradictions more plainly, I'm not sure.

    What I think is typically the issue is that much of the dialogue concerning "interpretation" of Scripture does so with an underlying preconception of what the Bible is and how we are to use it - a preconception which goes largely undetected. I've found N.T. Wright's approach refreshing and entirely necessary to this dialogue. He questions those fundamental preconceptions, the elephant in the room that we all act like is supposed to be there. You can find a relatively brief, but albeit dated essay of his on the topic for free here:

    One of his main points is that the Bible doesn't necessarily claim itself to be authoritative in the sense that we want it to be. He says that it continually points to God for authority rather than making another systematic idol out of a largely narrative book. Rachel Held Evans is currently doing a series about "reading the bible for what it is not what we want it to be" or something of that nature on her blog. Right now, she's going through Wright's Scripture and the Authority of God in which most of his content concerning this issue is found. Though I'd rather you actually read the book than a blog about the book if you know what I mean.

  19. Man, another reference to the Hunger Games. Must be a good series. I might read it eventually, still haven't gotten around to reading the Harry Potter series though, so it could be awhile! 

  20. Thank you.  My curiosity is piqued.  I shall explore.  Example:  due to the events I've been going through in my family recently, the subject of forgiveness has come up once again.  It astonished me when someone (from here, actually) mentioned a site which lists quotes from the Bible that indicate forgiveness is only important if, after rebuke, a person who has harmed you asks for forgiveness.  If said person does not ask it, in fact does not admit to the harm they have done, nor do they change their behavior, we are to walk away from that "reprobate mind".  So it is NOT always our duty to forgive.  That meant an incredible amount to me just now.

  21. Just have to say that this is excellent exegesis of Ecclesiastes 3, and I'm really glad you posted it--it brings a lot of the book into focus in a simple and useful insight. Thanks.

    And for those who do not place the Sermon on the Mount at the center (e.g., non-anabaptists and non-pacifists) I think the insight about a "time to hate" and a "time to kill" are also extremely helpful. If we are to be pacifists, be pacifists; if we are to never hate anyone, never hate anyone. But if you are engaged in killing or in hating, for what seem to you (and your faith community) as Christian reasons, I think it is important to make sure that you are doing so with as pure a heart as you can, living in the moment as much as you can, and setting that moment behind you when the time for hating or killing is past.

    In other words, Richard has presented a really helpful paradigm from Ecclesiastes 3 that doesn't require solving ethical issues that Ecclesiastes 3 doesn't address. The "Preacher" doesn't know, or really care, what particular human activity God is calling Christ's church to. But he does have some pretty important advice for how we engage in any human activity we are called upon to do.

  22. Dr. Beck, there wasn't a convenient, recent post to which this is relevant, but in light of your work in _Unclean_, I thought you might be interested in the psychology of "repugnance" in relation to market mechanisms that seem to deliver modest, incremental good to the suffering.  In particular, Iran's organ market (highly regulated though it is) appears to make available more transplantable organs to more people.  And the great question about horse slaughter in the U. S. might strike the illuminati as quaint in light of some of the ethical dimensions of the outcomes.

  23. Woah, that rubs my ideals the wrong way. Could you shoot that website my way? I mean, my initial reaction is that if I have to frickin love everyone all the time, I probably have to forgive em too, right? Both seem impossible and entirely frustrating tasks. I've never really thought of our call to love and forgive others as conditional, but I'm willing to stew in the notion. I'll sit on it for awhile and see if anything hatches.

  24. Hey, thanks for this. I know it's not the main point of the post but I wanted to mention the 'time to kill and a time to heal' part - I recently had to wrestle with passages like this for my thesis, which is about non-violence in the Scottish baptist tradition. I ended up interpreting the 'time to kill and a time to heal' in terms of the inbreaking messianic era that Jesus ushered in by his incarnation and his proclamation that 'the kingdom of God is at hand'. Jesus's message was deeply rooted in the tradition of the book of Isaiah, which equates the coming of the Son of David with an eschatological era of peace - see Isaiah 2, or Isaiah 60 for example. So 'the time to kill' is past, and 'the time to heal' is now. As Christians live in the resurrection even as we wait for it, we are to embody the new era of peace under Jesus's eschatological rule. Just a thought!

  25. That's a great thought. I'd never consider a Messianic frame on the text. Thanks!

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