Wisdom of Ecclesiastes – Part 3

Finding Meaning in Life’s Journey (Sovereignty of God)

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose
Under heaven

The lyrics of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds could have been taken from Ecclesiastes 3, but the purpose of the song was probably not about the sovereignty of God. The American band was trying to propagate peace in the 1960s by appealing to the sovereignty of God. Ironically, the chapter alludes that God has a time for everything, and we cannot change that fact.

We have now agreed that life under the sun is vanity and what’s next? Solomon’s first conclusion is that we should enjoy life, and he also deduced that we should enjoy life as a gift of God. After all, our sovereign God is in control of life, so we need to trust Him.

The theme of the sovereignty of God leads up to Solomon’s conclusion of fearing God. The writer brings that to fruition through the poetic style In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

Poetic Technique 1: The repeating phrase “a time to/of …”

Time refers to an appropriate time set by God for something to occur. It does not mean we have to act within that period of time, but that God has appointed time for things to occur within His control. Going back to the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, it subscribes to the first thought of time, but it is God who plans and appoints the time when peace and wars will occur.

Poetic Technique 2: A series of contrasts

There are fourteen contrasts in the passage that are derived from a pattern of multiplying seven by two. We know that the number seven conveys the idea of completeness in Scripture; hence, the writer is talking about everything in life and nothing outside of it.

Poetic Technique 3: Merism

Merism is a figure of speech that talks about the extremes on both ends, such as the beginning and the end – and it ultimately covers everything in between.

Poetic Technique 4: Unsystematic list

The lack of order was done purposefully by the writer because life is random and chaotic. However, God is in control of all things.

Poetic Technique 5: The lengthy and intertwining passage

It points to the fact that everything is under the control of God.

Through these poetic techniques, Solomon is taking us through the journey step by step from the angle that life is crazy and chaotic. Apart from the times when we see the appropriate timing of God (such as God’s deliverance from financial hardship), it is hard for us to see that God is in control most of the time. We can try to explain what God is doing and why He is doing what He is doing in life, but Solomon declares that we do not have a clue and we should not try to figure it out – there is a time for everything.

God does not give us a commentary on events in our life – and it is not our place to figure it out – so that we will trust Him, His plan, and timing.

“What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11)

What do we gain from life that is toil? God has already determined what will happen and our efforts are futile if we try to change God’s plans that cannot be changed. Solomon reminds us that everything is beautiful (read: appropriate) in its time and everything happens for a reason. We might not understand the reason, but God does and He is in control.

When the tsunami happened in 2004, many Christians have theories on why the natural disaster happened, such as God was judging the Muslims. How do we then explain the mosque that was left unscathed on top of the hill, but the church was wiped out? Was God judging that church?

We get into all kinds of conundrums when we try to figure out what God is doing. Non-Christians laugh when they hear our theories because we Christians do not know what is going on, just like them.

We cannot understand what God is doing because He is doing it in ways that go beyond our finite wisdom. On the bright side, God has put eternity in man’s heart and a sense of purpose in us to think through things in the search for meaning. The struggle to understand life might be a frustrating predicament for us, but our right response should be to take the journey and submit to God, knowing that He is a sovereign God.

First Response: Enjoy life

“I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

True enjoyment (a gift from God) requires a proper view of God’s sovereignty. He has made a time for everything, ranging from work to rest.

Second Response: Fear

“I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.” (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15)

If we believe God is sovereign, we will respect, revere, and fear Him. When we do not know why certain things are happening, we will get down on our knees to worship God who is in control.

Ignorance is not always bad; in fact, it is good that we cannot figure things out because we will then run to God and trust in Him.

The only stability in life is knowing that God is in control.

God brings both times of prosperity and adversity to His people – the book of Job illustrates this point. God and Satan made a deal, whereby Job, a righteous man meets a series of disasters to test his faith. Just like Job’s friends, we want to figure out what caused life’s adversity when it comes our way. Though Job protested his innocence, his friends corrected him and implied that there must be sin in his life. God finally steps in and reprimanded Job for questioning God’s authority. God is in control of everything that happened in Job’s life, including the interference of Satan.

We are trying to take God’s place when we attempt to figure things out and control life. If we stubbornly persist in doing so, we should not be surprised when our efforts turn out to be futile and in vain.

Only God knows what is going on!

First Step: Be honest in our reflection on life

Things do not work out the way we think they do about 20% of the time.

Second Step: Life is outside of our control

We do not have control over our life, including when it comes to choosing our spouse. It depends on the circumstances in life that we have no control over.

Third Step: Life without God is hopeless

Without God, we will try to find meaning in temporal earthly pursuits, such as entertainment, shopping, and eating.

Without God, life is up to chance.

Fourth Step: Eternity is in our hearts

When we cannot figure out what is going on in our lives, we become restless because God has created us the desire to figure things out. It should then drive us to God who knows what is going on.

It comes down to trust ultimately.

As God is sovereign, we must have humility, reverence, and the fear of God. It is in our nature to want to control things in life because we are prideful beings who want to be autonomous. When we cannot do that, then only we turn to God and seek Him, but this should be our first step.

Knowledge is so highly valued in today’s society, and it is so easy to obtain information at the tip of our fingers that we do not place a simple trust in God first. Sometimes, it is OK to be ignorant and just trust God.

Lastly, there is a danger in us trying to tame God or protect Him in His Sovereignty. We must remember that God is in control of both blessing and adversity. Hence, in the midst of prosperous times or difficult trials, we do not have to theologize our way out of them.

Let God be God, for we have a good God who knows what He is doing.