Ecclesiastes 3:1–17. Turn, Turn, Turn.
Key Notes: Eternity in the heart. Note from C.S. Lewis.
Review of Chapters 1–2. In the beginning of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher finds no satisfaction in work, for it is an endless task, in wisdom, for the wise die and are forgotten as quickly as the fools, nor in pleasure which profits nothing. He begins to hate work, and wisdom, and life in general, because he finds it all meaningless.
CHAPTER 3:1–17 In this chapter, the Scholar tries to give an explanation, a justification, for things absurdly out of line. In a famous poem, every pair of seasons are opposites, one positive and one negative. The casting and gathering of stones probably refers to rendering a field arable or desolate. He muses that history is marked by “seasons”. God has made everything beautiful in its time, and has put eternity in our hearts. but we cannot understand the beginning and the end of it all.
We speak of justice, and yet we only experience a short window of time in which justice may be carried out. This is frustrating for the Sage who tries to comprehend God’s plan, and for each of us who wants life to count for something in the grand scheme and has no earthly assurance that it will. But it also causes us to reverence God as sovereign over our lives and our world, and to exercise faith that God will use our efforts to build His Kingdom according to His own schedule Thus the Scholar can still affirm that, in God’s “end-time” that we cannot see, the wicked will be brought to justice. 3:16–17
The ebb and flow of history suggests that “there is nothing new under the sun” but we also know God works “from beginning to end.” It’s like watching the ocean, and complaining, “God, this is pointless, the water comes in, the water goes out, the water comes in, the water goes out. Why are you…” and God interrupts, “Do you mind? I am making a beach!” Part of the human condition is accepting that God is sovereign over all our lives, and that in a bent world our destiny is not always going to be pleasant. We have such a limited perspective that we can’t begin to comprehend it all, but we have faith that God is still good, and carrying out His good plan in His good time.
"He who is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who persists in evil will die." (Proverbs 11:19)
Our author knows the godly proverbs, and he believes them. But they do not jibe with what he sees and experiences. The book of Ecclesiastes is his attempt to reconcile these things in his mind. Today we would call him an existentialist; his thinking appeals to the modern mind.
To see what happens when we take a limited view of life, look at Job’s friends. Applying the proverbs legalistically, they conclude that Job must have done something very wrong to have incurred all of his misfortune.
Ecclesiastes fills in the rest of the picture. We know that God is good, righteous, and generous. We know that God’s law is good, and that He rewards those who are faithful to Him. And yet we don’t have to look far to see evidence which flies in the face of all these assertions. We, too, are forced to admit that there is something very wrong with the world. God’s creation has been twisted somehow and things are not as they are supposed to be. And as disturbing as this is, it’s also affirming in certain ways.
First, this is a powerful apologetic. You can hardly read a page of scripture without coming into contact with the pervasiveness of sin. And nobody who’s willing to be honest can deny that there’s something dreadfully wrong with the world, with human nature.
Second, it reminds us that our time here on earth is fleeting, it is fragile, and there are no guarantees about what is around the next corner. It should make us break immediately into praise for what God has done for us so far, for where He has placed us right now. We learn to live in the moment, to enjoy each day for what it is, and to let tomorrow worry about itself.
Third, it reminds us that God is sovereign. We are so focused on personal relationships with God, full access to God, God as our Abba, that we sometimes forget that He is also the Ruler of entire universe, the Author of all history. It’s interesting to note that as pessimistic as the Scholar is about the state of the world, he never points the finger at God. He is in heaven and we are on earth. God is to be trusted, not questioned.
"He has made everything beautiful in its time; also He has put eternity into man's mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." C.S.Lewis speaks of "Joy as Longing", a nostalgia that led him to the light of Christ. He wrote about it extensively. I take it to be similar to Ecclesiastes "eternity in man's mind".
"The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely from this point of view, the promise of glory...becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last."
"...apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache."
(The Quotable Lewis. W. Martindale, J. Root , edit. Tyndale,’63. p.354)
--written by Greg Meyer and Archie MacKinney.