Friday, April 12, 2013

Time Crimes


Many of our crimes are crimes of time. 

Sometimes, we have this sense that our life is off beat: like a guitar out of rhythm with the drummer, or a dancer out of step with the band. Our timing is sloppy. This could mean we are a beat early, or a beat late. Timing is important.

Aristotle called virtuous action "the golden mean." This is that place between extremes: the sweet spot of virtue. The virtue of courage, for example, consists in steering between the extremes of cowardice and foolhardiness. 

Still, it is possible to pursue virtue, but pursue it with bad timing. The man of virtue lives by moral standards, yes, but also by certain musical standards. He is "on time." When we act too quickly, when we are too rash, we are early; when we act too slowly, we are late. This is the result of being behind/ahead of the beat of either, 1) Our conscience, 2) God's truth. 

Let's talk about those times when we are a beat late. 

When we postpone certain duties onto an uncertain future day, we almost always use the same excuse: the TIME is not RIGHT. Yes, we know, the deed is right -- but not the time. By this sort of logic we may, if we are not careful, postpone -- for decades on end -- righteousness. 

"Its just too difficult to do right now."

Yet, experience teaches us that putting off right action makes it more, not less, difficult. Even a second of delay makes THE RIGHT thing 100 x harder. When faced with a known duty, even a second's delay is dangerous; in a second's time, our hearts can manufacture a million excuses that might keep us busy for years to come.

Being inactive in duty does not put us in a neutral place; inactivity does not stop time, the progress of evil, or the flow of our hearts. Inaction, in the face of duty, puts us in a negative place because -- for as long as we are inactive -- we are failing to, "do justly." We are TO DO justly as soon as we know what justice requires. Every second of delay is an injustice. The puritan maxim applies, "Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you." 
...the punishment of a bad conscience is turning aside from the path of duty. Those who do not serve God with a sincere and a perfect heart, but give a loose rein to wicked dispositions, even though at first they had a sound understanding, come to lose it altogether. - John Calvin
"Right deed. Wrong Time. Right deed. Wrong place."

We may look for love in all the wrong places in the sense that we visit locales that are not conducive to genuine love. We may also look for love in the wrong places in the sense that we look for love in the future: we promise we will do what love requires at some future date.

One great uncertainty is this world is the future; the one thing we know about the future is that we do not know the future. Men predict the end of the world; they have always, up until now, been wrong. Weathermen forecast sunshine; they are often wrong. Sports commentators pick winners; they are wrong enough of the time to ensure us, "our guess is good as theirs." 

We do not know the future. Thus, fitting our RIGHT action into some supposed RIGHT future is folly.

"For you know not what a day may bring forth (Proverbs 27:1)." 
(Here) is a good reason why we should not behave ourselves as though the morrow were our own: indeed it is not; we are not sure of it; we have no hold of future time; we know not whether we shall see the morrow. And, if we do know that we shall see it, we know not what we shall see on it. Therefore, we ought to behave ourselves every day, as though we had no dependence on any other. - Jonathan Edwards 

There are, it is true, certain deeds which must be postponed. For example, we are to speak "apt" words; this means we not only say the right word; we say it at the right time. However, it is one thing to put off a duty because performance of such a duty is not yet ripe; it is another thing to put off a duty because performance seems to us inconvenient, or difficult, or bothersome. 

There's a sure test of whether our postponing is valid, or not: Ask this question: WHY am I postponing right action? Why? If the answer is, "I don't feel like it." Or, "It is just too hard," then, we have all the evidence we need that we ought to get to work right away, without delay. 

Barring obvious exceptions (disaster; God's providence; genuine 'apt-ness' of a thing), the right TIME to do the right THING is right NOW. 

If you would listen to your conscience, you would hear the words, "To delay is to disobey." If you could hear the clock in eternity ticking, you would hear the beat, “Now! Now! Now!”


There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come. There are, of course, moments when the pressure of the excitement is so great that any superhuman self-control could not resist it. They
come both in war and peace. We must do the best we can.
-C.S. Lewis, Learning In War-Time
Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not so costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance for survival. There may be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no chance of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.
- Winston Churchill

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