Chaos and chronos: The integration of disorder and order

The dynamic, positive role of negative forces in human experience.

Richard O. Stenbakken, Ed.D, is the director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, General Conference.

The human mind seeks to bring order to a multitude of chaotic events in order to impart meaning and understanding and to pro mote survival and progress.

Perhaps I preach a sermon that is a total flop. My mind warns me not to do that again! It tells me that I must be a survivor in the age of pastoral cuts and "right-sizing" in the work force of the church! In the message my mind gives me, there is pain and fear. The chaos created by my "failure" may actually be the best thing that ever happened to me. It forces me to re-evaluate my sermons, their preparation, content, and delivery. This chaos may well propel me toward a much better process of study and preparation as well as a much better "product" (the sermon) and thus lead me to be a better spokesperson for God and more faithful to His call and my profession.

The message in such situations is both obscured and clear. Thus, chaos is a point of time that should be appreciated and valued as a teaching or learning opportunity in chronos (time). If I merely throw away chaos, or refuse to allow its lessons to penetrate my management of chronos and life, I will probably be operating on five cylinders when I could be running on eight.

The fact is that deliberate chaos is often the producer of fresh, new, and viable ideas. It is the invitation to a quality of growth that otherwise would never be. At times of chaos we badly need a perspective that transcends the usual sense of fear or panic that comes over us. We need, if you like, a kind of brainstorming. That is, no holds barred, no ideas rejected, no comments unwelcome, no concepts too radical, nothing judged as unworthy or crazy. In this way, the chronos can begin to appear among the storm clouds of our chaos. If we do this, we are not allowing the chaos to destroy the chronos as it is born in on the wings of our chaos. When this takes place there is a synergy that often produces what in the end is quite logical. That is, it is logical at the end of the process looking back, for we would probably never have arrived at the idea by a linear or more logical step-by-step process. We reached the idea through chaos. Then the idea comes into chronos as a new "child" to be nurtured across time into a maturity as either a new process, product, or system.

Chronos and chaos in the Bible

Think of the impact of the juxtaposition of chaos and chronos in the Bible. In Genesis we begin with chaos. "Now the earth was form less and empty. . ." That sounds like chaos to me. But then God appears in the form of the Spirit, and that which was chaotic now takes on form, order, and beauty. Out of chaos comes chronos: days, weeks, months, sea sons, Sabbath, worship, marriage, family, intimacy with God, and a host of riotous orderliness including flora, fauna, and geophysical forces. Then comes chaos again, in the form of the Fall. The total creation is now in chaos. Weeds come where once there were only flowers, thorns where there were roses, and back-breaking work where there had been life-fulfilling labor. Fear of God where there was love. Male and female ashamed of being with each other: "We are naked here! Another fig leaf, please!" And the fig leaves are humanity's way of trying feebly to bring some order out of the chaos in a now fractured creation.

But, God has a brilliant idea. Save the situation from chaos by installing a new dimension of chronos: " 'And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your [Serpent's] head, and you will strike His [Christ's] heel' " (Gen. 3:15). This is the first promise of a Savior who will come in "the fullness of time [chronos]" to ultimately and finally bring order again from the chaos of sin's intrusion. This is in juxtaposition to the previous state of things, which was described by God as "very good."

This theme is as it were a chiastic Hebraism form repeated in cycles through the rest of the Bible. (See the list at right for a summary of some of the Old Testament examples of it.)

As if that isn't enough, look at the New Testament. God comes to a young woman (the least of her culture) to tell her of a plan in chronos to bring forth a Child conceived of the Holy Spirit to cure the chaos of the aeons. Think for a moment of her chaos! After all, an unwed mother of her day was a candidate for death by stoning. And Joseph is wondering about all this. His beloved Mary, with whom he has been a total gentleman, is now pregnant, and he knows it was not of his doing. Talk about chaos! It is only through the intervention of an angel that his chaos comes to have meaning in chronos (Matt. 1:20-24).

These events are not mere sleight of hand or radical refraining of facts. They are part of a pattern of bringing chaos and chronos into balance. In due time, according to Scripture, chronos will win over chaos. The guarantee was set in motion when the minions of hell shouted, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" And Christ slumped dead on the cross to be placed in a borrowed tomb (chaos). It was ratified when consistent with chronos He burst from that tomb establishing a whole new creation.

Chaos and chronos and my ministry

Now the great theological question: So what? What does this theme of chaos and chronos have to do with my ministry Monday morning? Interesting, but is it practical? Yes, I think it is not only practical, but vital.

Knowing that chaos can be focused or refocused into meaningfulness in chronos is what ministry and ministering the gospel is all about. It keeps me from being frozen in chaos and invites me to examine chaos for the possibilities and newness, which can (and already has in God's grace) come into chronos—even now.

Let's go back to the illustration above on dealing with sermon preparation and delivery. If there had not been the chaos of a poorly preached sermon, I would probably not have any red-hot stimulus to be creative and innovative in developing new and better ways to preach. That, in turn, could well have propelled me into the molasses of mediocrity, and could even have led to my ultimate removal from ministry.

With the mind-set of keeping a balance between chaos and chronos, and the ability to seriously look at chaos and mine new diamonds out of its rubble, I can move beyond chaos into a new and ever-renewing chronos. More than that, I have a view that allows me to minister to people in chaos and help them dis cover newness and renewal where there is fear, despair, and desperation.

The psychologically and spiritually healthy mind moves beyond being stuck in present or past chaos. Those who are so impressed by the power of chaos that they cannot or will not move on, remain in a chaotic and destructive state. That is why some married couples can experience severe chaos in their relationships and yet use that very chaos to develop an even stronger marriage as they move through it and learn from it, finally coming to a vibrant renewal.

Similarly, some congregations can go through a traumatic event and come out more healthy than before, and other congregations will be utter ly destroyed by the same or a similar event. On a personal note, this is why, in the utter carnage and chaos of combat during my time in Vietnam, I could come to a personal epiphany embracing both the precariousness and preciousness of life.

Making applications of this principle of life is an excitingly productive way to seek controlled chaos through group or individual brainstorming. We can mine the diamonds out of the uninviting rock—the totally unpredictable chaos that inevitably visits our best laid plans. Doing so will be a personal, and sometimes profound, application of Isaiah 43:18, 19 "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past [chaos]. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it [chronos] springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way. ..."

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Richard O. Stenbakken, Ed.D, is the director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, General Conference.

February 2001

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