Chronos and Kairos: Numeric Time Vs Divine Time
By, Logan McCall,
Although we can all sense time and measure its passing, time has been defined in a variety of way over the years. However, a broad definition of time that man would generally agree upon is that time is the ongoing progress of total reality through past, present, and future. A more modern definition of time would be that is a temporal dimension of spacetime with the physical universe moving through time in a single universe. Regardless, time is generally appreciated by modern man as a qualitative allotment of how long things take in a numerically measured manner. Interestingly, many civilizations have held a distinction between two very different types of time: quantitative time and qualitative time.
All civilized peoples have found it necessary to devise some way to measure time numerically in order to organize civic life. In the modern era, we have split time down by the Gregorian calendar of years, months, weeks, and days down yet further into the hours, minutes, seconds, and much smaller increments that make up a day. Similarly the Greeks divided their measurements of a year by a similar twelve month calendar and measured the passage of the day by observing a variety of sun dials. This form of quantitative numeric time was denoted as Chronos, the root of chronology. This was distinctly different from a separate term that the Greeks used for time, Kairos, which addresses qualitative time.
Kairos can be translated as denoting the right or opportune moment. It is a more qualitative experience of time that is all about context and intuitively judging the exact moment to act. This is still dependent on the individuals’ perception of time, but it is a qualitative, instinctive aspect of our experience rather than a numeric measurement. A tactful supplicant at royal court or a native hunter in the woods do not watch their wrist watch for the right moment to let fly a perfect arrow or string of words, they both know the right time on a gut level based on experience and instinct. The term kairos today is used in the study of rhetoric for speakers who must have an intuitive sense of context when addressing an audience. One might say that with a great comedic timing has a natural sense of kairos, and an intuitive sense of kairos is no doubt an essential trait for any musician who performs by improvisation.
The perception of kairos has also been used in a variety of theologies to denote a sort of opening unto the perceiver of a direct will of a religious or metaphysical force that exists in a kind of divine time. Kairos has been translated from the New Testament to mean "appointed time in the purpose of God."
Regardless of one's religious beliefs, coming to recognize this qualitative sense of time, or kairos, opens up a considerably different appreciation of time. One can see how having both a sense of chronos and kairos can help with navigating the regular workaday world, but a conscious perception of kairos gives us the opportunity to transcend numeric time and act rightly at the cusps of life, whether by perception of divine will, artistic context, or simply good taste.