Probably the most well-known passage in the book of Ecclesiastes is that which we examine today in verses 1-8 of chapter three. There are a total of 14 opposites listed here about the inevitable ups and downs of life …
Ecclesiastes 3:1 – There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
Yes, we know that there are going to be good times and bad times in a life that is lived in a fallen world. It would be great if everything was always awesome and totally the best. But I think that place is called “heaven.”
As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned in the third stanza of his famous poem “The Rainy Day” …
Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
I very distinctly remember the first time when it really hit me that death and separation was the fate of all. I was sitting in a chair next to my father as he was working at his desk, and the thoughts of death that flooded my mind caused to suddenly break out into tears. My father was totally confused as to what it was that triggered my emotional outburst. I told him how I was thinking about how we were all going to die sometime and then we would not be able to see each other and be together. He told me to stop thinking about that, that it was many years away. I was only slightly comforted.
OMG, this whole discussion and this list of Solomon is so depressing! But, but, once again, the tone suddenly changes as a larger perspective is written …
Ecclesiastes 3:9 – What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Solomon asks what man gains from toiling repetitively. By itself, the cycles of life are a burden – to just live and survive today, in order to just live and survive tomorrow. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The word for “beautiful” means proper, or appropriate. God has ordained the order of things that cycle in life, many of them displaying the faithfulness of God, though mankind may distort and misuse His good gifts.
But here is the great line that puts all of this into perspective, though the best answers and details will come more in successive chapters of the book… that God has also set eternity in the human heart. There is something in man that causes him to have a desire for something better and more lasting than the mere cycles of life. There is a sense within man that there exists a greater purpose – something eternal, more than endless repetitions.
Solomon is shedding light upon that “Realville” feeling of disillusionment. Of frustration. All of which is to lead to a desire for something bigger, something eternal. A want – to be a part of a bigger picture. This, combined with the concept of an intuitive knowledge of God, is a desire to truly know God and be connected rightly to the eternal in a way that even impacts daily life.
This feeling is something that is universal and in the hearts of all mankind and all cultures. Even remote, tribal cultures have some sense of, and definition of, a God to be known and a desire for the eternal. Romans chapter 1 gives us information about this as well.
Disillusionment / frustration. You have to admit you are lost before you will commit to being found. You have to admit that you are sick before you’ll go to the doctor. Whatever problem we have, we need to identify it before we work to fix it.
The fact is this: We have a macro problem. Life is short, the world is a mess. At its best, the joys it gives are temporal. Life is not rigged in a way to be fair. And that makes many people very angry with God, or even the notion of God.
Beyond that, life that is here and now – life under the sun – is rigged in such a way that it can’t be figured out … not here, not from the stuff of this world. But again, He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
This is saying that you can’t figure out the eternal stuff on your own. You can’t find satisfaction in material things. The only thing that can fix disillusionment is dependent upon revelation from the eternal realm. And that is what we have in the Scriptures. And that is why we are an academic bunch of folks here at TSF.
So let me ask you: How disillusioned are you with the cycles of this world? I hope it is a lot!! That is actually very healthy!