Summary: God is not a God to be trifled with. God is not a God to take for granted. Even if our observation of the world leaves us perplexed and confused, God has revealed himself to us in his word. He’s revealed his plan for the world to us. He’s told us what he’
You could be forgiven for wondering, as you read through this book, what the writers view on God is. At times he seems like a secular humanist. A little bit jaded by his experience of life; quite cynical about life on earth; almost pessimistic at times about our chances of succeeding in life with any sort of long lasting impact.
Yet there are glimpses, aren’t there as we read through these chapters, of a God perspective. Yes, he’s mostly observing life ’under the sun’, but every now and then he sees how it looks ’under heaven’.
Think back to the very first chapter. He says "14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind." You may remember that I pointed out that ’under the sun’ implies a closed system, where all we have to go on is our own observation of the world. This is the perspective of scientists who have to rely purely on what they can see or measure. The world may be created by an intelligent God but all they can do is guess at the laws of nature that it now obeys. Sometimes they get it right, other times they’re grasping at the truth.
But then there’s another perspective that he sees. He says: "I 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with." He realises that God has a part to play in what we experience. One of the reasons we find it difficult living under the sun is because God has made it that way. God wants us to have a broader perspective than just our life on this earth.
So in ch 3 in one of the best known passages in the Bible he reminds us that while everything has its season and there are times for every matter under heaven, we can never predict when those seasons will come around. He says: "11He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." There’s a mystery, an inbuilt hiddenness, in creation that forces us to admit our human frailty, the finite nature of our minds.
I think it was C. S. Lewis who described this as the God shaped hole in every human heart. Alister Magrath, the English theologian, has written a number of books and essays on the death of Atheism. He actually started out as a scientist and an atheist, but in the end found that atheism failed to adequately explain the world he observed as a scientist. Now his personal statement is that "Spiritually, God is the oxygen of my existence; I would find it very difficult to thrive without a belief in God." He found that people like Richard Dawkins, who has greatly popularised an atheist world view, fail to apply the strict scientific criteria to their own beliefs that they demand for Christianity. In the end he concluded "My Christian faith brings me a deepened appreciation of the natural sciences." C. S. Lewis once said "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen-not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else." He says: "I conceive God in a manner that illuminates the great riddles and enigmas of life, including how and why it is that we can make sense of the universe at all. His conception offers me an understanding of my own place in the greater scheme of things, and at the same time provides an intellectual ... point from which I can make sense of the world around me. Above all, it sustains my sense of awe at the wonders of nature, and the greater wonders to which they point." Or as 3:14 says "God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him." The world is as it is so that human beings will acknowledge the God who made it all.
But we mustn’t think that God has done this to spite us or to spoil our enjoyment of life on earth. Despite what some people think God is not a killjoy, a spoil sport who just wants to spoil our fun. Some of his followers might be like that but God isn’t. No, listen to what he says in 3:12&13: "12I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil." Do you remember Jesus being criticised for the fact that while other people were fasting, his disciples were eating and drinking? And what was his answer? How could you stop them from celebrating while the bridegroom was with them? God expects us to celebrate the good things in life. It’s his gift to us to be able to eat and drink and enjoy life.