Finding satisfaction in life
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
There is a time and season for everything on earth, both in the course of nature, and in the course of human lives. Here in the UK, we are now in the heart of winter. Just a few days ago, we experienced snowfall. At the end of this term, winter will give way to spring, with the daffodils and bluebells spring up. We ushered in the new year not too long ago. For us here in Cambridge, we have just begun a new term. Each year and term is a new chapter, and we each may be wondering what the term and year ahead has in store for us.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 explores how there is a time and season for everything in this world of constant change. We continuously pass and repass between different events and conditions of human life, vastly different from one another. While we cannot predict the appointed time for most of these turn of events, we know that they will eventually come to pass, hence goes the adage, “the only thing we can expect is change”. Once a person is born, he/she will inevitably die. A farmer that plants his crop knows that the day to uproot will come.
If our present state is subject to such vicissitude, we must not expect our portion in the things of this world. Verse 9 points out that workers gain no net profit from their toil. What certainty do we have that the things we plant and build today, will not be plucked up and broken down tomorrow? All our pains and care will not alter either the mutable nature of things themselves, or the immutable counsel of God concerning them, as we shall see later in this passage.
While we achieve no net gain from our labour, if we make the right use of the things in this life that God has allotted to us, we will still find meaning in this life. The toils and troubles in this life, which is the burden God has laid on man (v10), makes us realise our dependence on God’s providence, and that we were never meant to find complete rest in this world.
However, we must make the best of what God has given us in our present time. As God “has made everything beautiful in its time” (v11), we should enjoy the beauty of things while they last. Everything is as God has appointed it to be, rather than how it appears to us. However, sometimes we may only appreciate the beauty of things that seem unpleasant in the present at the end of their course of time. The harmony and beauty of everything that God has appointed, in their relations and seasons, is for the glory of God, and for the comfort of those who trust in him.
As tantalizing as the beauty of this world appears to us, we often do not find full and permanent satisfaction in the things of the world. God has placed “eternity” in our hearts (v11), a sense of divine purpose and mysterious longing for something greater beyond this world, that only God can satisfy.
However, we cannot fully grasp God’s plans and purposes (v11). We do not have the capacity to do so, with our hearts and minds preoccupied with the worries of this life. Hence, we should be contented with our lot in this life. While we were made to be happy in this life, we should also seek the happiness of others by doing good (v12). Seize the day, enjoy life and find satisfaction in our work, enjoying God’s gifts for His glory (v13).
Being contented with our lot in this world involves submitting to God’s will, and acting in accordance to the counsel of His will. God’s plans and deeds are unchangeable, lasts forever, and is perfect, not needing any alteration (v14). We should know our place as creatures, trusting the wisdom and providence of our Creator by submitting to His will, which is in our interest, as much as it is our duty.
Therefore, since God is sovereign over the world and over our lives, we should fear Him (v14) and trust Him to bring to pass everything that he has appointed in His time. Despite the transience of this life, and the apparent futility of seeking a net gain from our labours, let us take comfort in God’s promise for complete rest in His presence in eternity, and live our lives in accordance with His will, while enjoying His providence for His glory.