Do you find yourself asking, “What time is it?” Not chronological time of course—that’s called kronos in the Greek. Kronos is time measured by a clock. We can look at a clock and determine what time of day it is, or we can look at a calendar and say what season of the year we are in.
But that’s not the question people are asking today. They are asking a different question: are we entering a new epoch? What’s an epoch? An epoch is a distinctive period defined by significant events. We might use the Greek word kairos to describe this moment—the appointed time, the time when God acts.
So what time is it?
Coronavirus. Pandemic. Economic disaster. Millions jobless. George Floyd. Protests. Riots even. Orders against group gatherings. Church gatherings restricted. Services online.
The End of Time?
In a Lifeway Research poll conducted in early 2020 (before the global pandemic), 9 out 10 pastors at evangelical and historically black churches said they believed that current events match the conditions for the return of Christ.
But it’s notable that even the disciples asked the same question while Jesus was still with them: As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24.3)
Can you imagine during World War II, when it seemed the whole world was at war, what people thought about the imminent return of Christ?
The truth is we simply don’t know if we are near the end of time for all time. The Bible says that no one knows the hour of Christ’s return.
But that does not mean that we are not in the midst of profound changes.
The demographics alone tell us that the War Generation—a generation that tended to value faith, freedom and family—is passing. The Boomer Generation, one of the largest generations ever, is retiring at record rates. These two generations are being replaced in prominence by generations with far different value sets.
2020: Mayhem and Upheaval
Peter Turchin, a professor at the University of Connecticut, predicted 10 years ago that 2020 would be a year of mayhem.
Time reporter Melissa Cain interviewed Turchin for a recent article. Ten years ago, his research found that there are historical cycles of instability. Those cycles occur about every 50 years. He cites the tension in 1870 during the Civil War reconstruction era, and then 1970 and the years following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In his work ten years ago, Turchin factored in wealth inequality, wage stagnation, national debt and other social pressures in his prediction. He says these periods of crisis can last five to 15 years, and if the root problems are not addressed, can continue as an ongoing cycle of unrest.
I find Turchin’s research particularly compelling if you consider the work of George Friedman and his most recent book, The Storm Before the Calm. Like Turchin, Friedman predicts that the decade of the 2020s will be marked by upheaval. His belief is based upon a similar view of historical cycles, both institutional and socio-economic.
Adjust to Changing Times
So what can we say with any certainty?
- First, while we don’t know the return of Christ, we know this: we are closer to the end of time than the beginning of time.
- Second, we are in a time of significant change.
- Third, because we are in a time of significant change, we need to accept it and adjust. The simple wish for life “to go back to normal” is simplistic and misguided. How we address the problems of today will be critical for the promise of the future of our children and grandchildren.
Adjust how? It’s a great question. Even King David asked the question, “How long O Lord?…How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day?” (Psalm 13.1-2)
As noted theologian N.T. Wright has said, now is a season of lament. It is fitting to be sorrowful for the state of our world and our brokenness.
Ultimately, as the Apostle Paul says, the adjustment we need to make is to wake up:
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13.11-12)
It’s time for the church to wake up, dig deeper, and push forward to serve a waiting, watchful and needy world.
Photo by Collin Hardy on Unsplash
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Published July 10, 2020