On Wednesday, Jan. 12, in Tucson, Arizona, President Barack Obama was living in God’s time zone. His incredible words on the occasion of the shootings that killed several people and left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded were meant to comfort the families, encourage the survivors and enrich the thoughts of on-lookers of the tragedy.
God had other plans and in His time zone human rules don’t apply. As the President’s words comforted, encouraged and enriched, the crowd’s response was overwhelming. People cried and rose in standing ovations.
Some asked why such a strange response. Truthfully, it was because God used that moment to transcend tragedy, turning it into a triumph of the human spirit. The President, for the moment, was living in God’s time zone.
The President’s words rose above politics, racial division, economic injustice and hatred. We could hear in them the beauty of God’s encouragement, enrichment and compassion.
Yet others, baffled by them, questioned the crowd’s unusual response. “It just wasn’t what I expected,” the pundits said.
The President’s message reflected God’s words, filled with immense love for, and unchanging faithfulness to, and His boundless patience with mankind, even in the face of inherent evil. The President’s words carried a timeless message, reminding us that events of yesterday and today can blind us to God’s promises of tomorrow, as the Psalmist sings, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b)
Before the 1800s, time-keeping was strictly a local event. Clockmakers would set time geared to whenever the sun reached its zenith each day in their areas. As the wheels of commerce rolled into modernity, the railroads made time zones necessary. So a Canadian named Sandford Flemming became the hero of the day by dividing the world into 24 time zones, with the United States having nine of them. We are most familiar with four: Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern. The Russians and countries around them have 12 time zones and, even today, Russia is on permanent Daylight Savings Time.
The Psalmist, praising God’s time zone, says, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has passed, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4). God can do in an instant, what may take us a thousand years to do. God’s time zone is boundless and unlimited in His patience and He has filled and charged it with an immense love for us.
The biblical approach to time is delicate and difficult. On one hand, the Greek word “chronos” gives meaning to man’s time. From it comes the word “chronology” — the ticking of the clock, the realm of time and space we all inhabit. On the other hand, we find another Greek word, “kairous,” meaning the fullness of time; this is God’s time. Kairous is unbounded, fluid, filled with God’s purpose, often intersecting with man’s time and overruling our finite world of chronological time.
When Jesus invaded human history the first time, it was on kairous time. Christ fulfilled God’s promise, taught us grace and mercy and He triggered the beginning of a new era. Until recently, we called this era A.D. (Anno Domini, or In the Year of our Lord) and, before His coming, we called B.C. (Before Christ). Now scholars, to be politically correct, use the term B.C.E. (formerly Before the Christian Era, now Before the Common Era). To some, this is perhaps yet another effort to minimize the significance of Christ’s birth and the extreme importance of His death and resurrection.
While this is historically interesting, we humans still cannot pierce the veil of God’s time or change the course of human history; only God can do that. When we are impatient, an hour can seem like a thousand years. When we enter God’s time zone, we enter an eternal unit of time, whereas man’s time zone is merely a unit of death. As we age, years pass, moving us closer to death but aging in God’s time zone moves us closer to eternal life.
As he spoke, President Obama drew closer to eternal life, as he did in July 2004, speaking at the Democratic Convention, and in 2008, on the campaign trail, speaking on race relation. All of these were decisive moments in both the president’s and in America’s history. Last Wednesday night, as the president spoke, for a kairous moment the world was living in God’s time zone.”
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami. To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or email the pastor at firstname.lastname@example.org