Summary: God is sovereign, He controls the “times”, yet in spite of this, we often fail to recognize God’s hand at work in the world. We have at best a limited view of all that God is doing.
Overcoming Futility—a sermon series on Ecclesiastes
“God’s Enduring Work” Chapter 3 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
What do we do with the brief time we’ve been given? In a lifetime, the average American will spend 6 months waiting at stoplights, one year looking for misplaced objects, two years unsuccessfully returning phone calls, 4 years doing housework, and 5 years waiting in line (if you served in the military, make that 6 years!). Benjamin Franklin cautioned, “Do you love life? Then do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of.”
Perhaps some of you have heard of Chaos theory, a complex model developed by mathematicians to find the underlying order in seemingly random events. In this chapter, Solomon shows how our lives have structure. To people without faith, time simply rolls onward, with no apparent rhyme or reason; accidents happen, and they are alone in the world. For believers, time is ordered by God’s providence. Events don’t “just happen” by chance; there is “a time for everything” (3:1). God is with us, and is actively involved in our lives.
We’re all familiar with chapter 3, but for a moment (skipping over the best-known passage), let’s focus on the key to this chapter, verse 11: “God has made everything appropriate in its time” (NASB). Some translations use the word “beautiful”. The idea is that of a “beautifully-fitting” structure. God is sovereign, He controls the “times”, yet in spite of this, we often fail to recognize God’s hand at work in the world. We have at best a limited view of all that God is doing. He causes all things to work together for good (Rom 8:28), and our times are in His hand. His timing is perfect. Faith means trusting God, even when our timing disagrees with His. In times of hardship we draw comfort from knowing that God is in control. He has a plan that one day will be made clear.
Thanks partially to folksinger Pete Seeger, verses 1-8 are familiar to us all. The seasons turn, and we see in them a series of opposites. We discover order and design, not only in Creation, but also in the events and cycles of life. Solomon lists things common to us all--a time to plant, a time to build, a time to laugh…and in so doing he unveils life’s structure and complexity. The world has a divinely-regulated, built-in flow. No one can alter God’s design. The original language implies that for everything there is a suitable time and a particular season. Life is not a string of random events. This list of opposites covers 28 events in 14 pairs, multiples of 7 – a number that symbolizes completeness and perfection in the Bible. We can perceive life as meaningless, endless cycles, or understand that the totality of life is regulated by God.
Time is a gift. For a clockmaker time is the essence of his handiwork. For a science-fiction writer it is the fourth dimension. A biologist sees time in the internal clocks that keep plants and animals in sync with nature. For a banker time is money. A philosopher once wrote, "Time is the best teacher. Unfortunately, it kills all its pupils." God is outside of the realm of time. He can see the beginning and the end and all points in between. He is sovereign over time and eternity…or as a teenager put it in a Confirmation class, “God does what He thinks is cool.”
We see structure in the timing of the coming of Jesus. He came “in the fullness of time”, and when attempts were unsuccessfully made on His life, it was because “His time was not yet come”. At the completion of His foreordained mission He cried out “It is finished!” God has a plan for us as well. Where we live, who we marry, our work, even our hobbies, fit in with His plan for us. Those who see God’s hand in everything can best leave everything in God’s hand. “History is a story written by the hand of God” (C.S. Lewis). There are no chance encounters in life, only divine appointments. This is a very comforting doctrine, and a warning to those who think that they control their fate.
There is a time for everything, but what do we gain from all our efforts (vs 9)? Whatever we do is profitless if we live apart from God. We’re in the dark until we give our lives to God. And what do we do with the time we’re given? We have time to be peacemakers, but we continue in our conflict; we have time to pray, but we’re distracted by the cares of this world. We have time to be refreshed, but we work to the point of exhaustion. We use time, or time uses us.