Everything is Beautiful
Whatever you are facing, God has got this.
On the occasion of the groundbreaking for the Christ Chapel at Hillsdale College, Professor Michael Ward made some comments related to verse five of our passage. I found them interesting, and I hope your thinking is stimulated by them.
“For many years now I’ve been on a mission to reclaim the word ‘religion.’ We hear people say that they’re spiritual not religious; they may be interested in Christianity, but not religiosity. ‘Religion’ here has come to mean ritualism, the externals of faith. Or some people take ‘religion’ to mean superstition, even fanaticism. It doesn’t mean formalism or fanaticism. It means something like tying back together—re-ligion: re-ligamenting, re-ligaturing, finding the unifying reality behind disparate appearances, seeking oneness, integration, wholeness, ‘a theory of everything’ (as Stephen Hawking might say).
“You disassemble the engine of your car when it’s malfunctioning in order to find out the problem and then put it back together in working order. It wouldn’t run more smoothly if you just left it in pieces on the garage floor.”
(Imprimis, July/August 2017.)
Michael Ward is a C.S. Lewis scholar and a professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University. “Apologetics” is the academic art and science of defending the Christian faith against its critics, which may explain part of his interest in reclaiming the word “religion.”
What I found helpful about that quotation is the perspective it gives on what we attempt to do here at Emmanuel and in every Bible-preaching, God-honoring church: bring people together under God. Diversity is a paltry achievement compared to unity. We aim to keep the higher standards God has set for all His children.
Like an umbrella or a tent, shelter is found for unity under the one central support; God has revealed all we need to know to be saved. It is revealed in Jesus Christ, in the Bible, in the Holy Spirit, in prayer, in the Church. When we huddle together next to the shaft or tentpole, we enjoy the shelter from the cold rain of life’s adversities. Those who wander from the central truth are, appropriately, all wet.
This passage provides us with shelter in all the seasons of life. This important truth about God and people keeps us dry from spring rains, shade from summer sun, a wind break from the gusts of fall, and a place underneath winter’s snow. Let’s gather for a moment and receive God’s comforting message.
1. Whatever you need to do, God has given you time to do it. (1-8)
There is a SEASON for EVERY ACTIVITY because God in Heaven provides it. (1) Because of our limited perspective (11), we often feel like we have run out of time or have inadequate time. The truth is, whatever God commands us to do, He will give us time to do it. (The words SEASON and TIME are synonymous in Hebrew, the repetition is for emphasis.)
The Preacher illustrates this promise with a series of couplets in verses two through eight. The couplets are, in each case, a beginning and an end, opposites that include everything on the scale in between them. This format is a literary device called merism.
2. Enjoy the time God has given you. (9-13)
Verses nine through eleven form a lengthy couplet about life in general. On the one hand, life can be burdensome. People can choose to make life burdensome, or God can burden them with it. (9-10)
For example, work is frequently burdensome. The Preacher wonders how HARD WORK actually benefits a person. We know his objection is not to WORK itself, for in 2:24 and 3:22 he commends happiness in one’s work. This is a continuation of his thought in 1:3 and 2:20, acknowledging the futility that is the end of all labor. HARD WORK is a symbol of all the burdens a person can accumulate in this life and what good do they accomplish? When you, by faith, acknowledge that the beginning, end, and middle of all things is in God’s hands, it’s easy to throw up your hands and, like the Preacher, ask “Why should I bother?”
The Preacher’s answer to his own question is three-fold:
- One, you shouldn’t bother in the sense of being anxious about life. Worry is borrowing from tomorrow’s clouds to cover today’s sun. It is self-defeating and theologically inappropriate.
- Two, you should relax. When you realize there is a God and it isn’t you, you’re close to taking an appropriate level of responsibility for the way things are.
- Three, following the couplets in verses two through eight, avoid the extreme of taking too much responsibility and the extreme of taking too little. Avoid taking life too seriously and too flippantly. Stake out a place in the middle, set up a hammock, and relax.
On the other hand, life can be beautiful. God also works to make everything beautiful in timely fashion. (11) We know from Genesis 1-2 that God did not create life to be burdensome. All creation was subjected to frustration beginning with the first instance of sin in Genesis 3. (See Romans 8:20-21.) The word translated as BEAUTIFUL can also be translated as “appropriate.” J. Stafford Wright explained it this way: “The significance of this section is that man is responsible to discern the right times for the right actions; and when he does the right action according to God’s time, the result is ‘beautiful’ (v. 11).” (Wright, p. 1160.)
We are more likely to see the beauty of God’s gifts if we take His perspective. He enabled us to do that by planting ETERNITY in our hearts. This means we can appreciate the scope of God’s plan even though we don’t foresee it or understand the particulars. Being human, limited in intelligence and experience means we can only see our part in history, not the WHOLE SCOPE of God’s plan. By faith we know God has a plan, is working His plan, and it is our job to find our place in that plan, obeying Him.
Knowing this about God and about us, the Preacher concludes we can do no better than to choose to enjoy God’s gifts. (12-13) Knowing God and our place in His will, we are free be HAPPY and ENJOY this life as long as it lasts. (Keep in mind: Jesus said we can’t do anything to lengthen our lives, Matthew 6:27. This makes Solomon’s advice especially apt.) To ENJOY life and the FRUITS of one’s labor are GIFTS FROM GOD. Like all gifts, they can be misused, but that potential does not make them any less gracious.
3. You can relax, knowing God has the last word. (14-15)
Relax: all God’s works are FINAL, so it is not up to us to add or subtract anything. (14) We simply lack the wisdom and power to affect God’s will. What He purposes to do, He will accomplish; our only choice is whether or not we will join Him.
In all His works, God’s purpose is to provoke us to FEAR Him. (14) FEAR of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We can’t do anything right or good until we understand the truth expressed in this passage. In our self-centeredness, we go about our days thinking the story is about us. God is the focus of history – He is the hero in every verse of the Bible.
The Preacher offered history as evidence of Providence (God’s work in the world). History is a record of God doing the same things repeatedly. (15) If we don’t understand God properly, this will sound depressing and we wonder, “Why bother?”
Understanding and fearing God, we see that this truth is another act of grace. God is working in history – writ large and small – to accomplish His plan. We are assured by history that events recycle and that gives us assurance that everything will work out as God plans. So – if you want to know the future, study the past. Prophecy is merely history revisited. That can be comforting if you don’t like surprises.
Whatever you are facing, God has got this.
This book of Ecclesiastes is the record of the thoughts of arguably the most successful man in the history of this world. By any worldly standard you care to mention, King Solomon was wildly successful. And yet, repeatedly in this series of messages, he reveals that none of it satisfied him. Solomon dismissed all his worldly success as “meaningless.”
In our great-grandfather’s generation, the most successful man was Andrew Carnegie. By age 30, Carnegie had amassed a fortune in iron works, shipping, and oil wells. He used that wealth to build the Carnegie Steel Corporation into the largest manufacturing company in the world. Successful like Solomon, Carnegie came to similar convictions about wealth. He wrote, “The amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry. No idol is more debasing than the worship of money. . . . To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest time, must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery.”
So, during the last 18 years of his life, Carnegie gave away about $350 million, almost 90 percent of his fortune. His 1889 article entitled "The Gospel of Wealth" advised the rich to use their wealth to improve society. It stimulated a wave of philanthropy.
We have evidence of that right here in Sioux Falls. We use the old Carnegie Library as our city hall. In 1901, Andrew Carnegie offered the City of Sioux Falls $25,000 to build a free public library. The library opened in 1903 and the building was used as a library from 1903 until 1972. From 1973 to 1999, the Carnegie building was used by the Civic Fine Arts Association for their collection of art and sculpture. Since 2001 the building has housed the Sioux Fall City Council and City Clerk’s offices.
It is easy to cherish things more than we love God. Idolatry is the act of loving anything – including self – more that we love God. After a lifetime of accumulating, King Solomon and Andrew Carnegie realized their mistake. They put God on the throne of their lives and sought to correct the selfish excesses of their previous days.
It may well be that the BURDEN to which the Preacher referred in v. 9 is the frustration of knowing God has a plan but not revealing the particulars to us. Even someone as powerful as King Solomon is frustrated by the knowledge that God leaves us to figure our part in the plan.
However, we are not left to figure it out on our own. As people of faith in Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide us. We have God’s printed word to inform us. We have prayer as a means of help. We have each other to reflect on and evaluate our thoughts and actions.
Michael Ward address adapted from https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/time-scatter-stones-time-gather-stones-together/ retrieved on 13 September 2023.
Tremper Longman III, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 6, Ecclesiastes, 2006, pp. 273-276.
C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 6, Ecclesiastes, 1982, pp. 254-264.
J. Stafford Wright, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, Ecclesiastes, 1991, pp. 1160-1163.
Carnegie information was retrieved from https://www.preceptaustin.org/ecclesiastes_illustrations_i and https://www.siouxfalls.org/contactus/municipal-bldgs/carnegie-hall on 15 September 2023,