There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NIV)
While poetic, reading these verses without their context can leave the reader somewhat frustrated. They seem to reduce one’s existence to random, chaotic and arbitrary experiences. Life is unjust, unfair and unjust. I think the writer’s point is clear: this is the stuff that happens in life, and if you live long enough, you’ll experience every event in these couplets. But the good news is that we don’t have to stop with verse 8. The following verses offer some insights as to how to navigate the undulations.
What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 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. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 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. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-12, NIV)
Here are six observations from these verses.
- Embrace the Mystery. Life can be unsettling and leave us filled with questions. We want answers and believe we deserve them, but maybe the goal is not the answers. Maybe the goal is the next best question. Instead of demanding answers, form better questions.
- Enjoy the Beauty. It has been said that the purpose of art is to make us feel small in appropriate ways. I think that’s true of music and creation as well. The counsel to enjoy life’s beauty challenges us to life our eyes from life’s small irregularities and focus on things that are glorious.
- Engage the Eternal. We have been created as spiritual beings, able to live beyond our own horizon. The ability to possess eternal insight helps us see what ultimately matters now. Eternal perspective yields clarity on the present moments we experience.
- Find Joy in Sorrow. The spiritual fruit of joy is available to us, even in the midst of toil and trouble. That’s why we are able to laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously.
- Do Good for Others. The text calls us to serve, regardless of present circumstance. Lest we forget, the greatest way to serve God is to serve our fellow humankind.
- Finally, Be Content. Satisfaction is something everyone should aspire to have. More often than not, contentment is achieved in the small and simple more than the grand accomplishment. Think about Jesus. His ministry was surrounded by loaves, fishes, children, donkeys, mangers and mites. He wasn’t a reductionist. He just saw value in the people and things we often overlook.
The counsel of Ecclesiastes is helpful to me, and I hope you’ll consider these suggestions from chapter three. I hope you will find them beneficial as well.