Today the Bible opened to Ecclesiastes. And I ended up reading the entire book. The words kept teasing me along. What was God telling me? What did the words mean? I could not quite understand it until the end:
“Therefore I detested life, since for me the work that is done under the sun is bad; for all is vanity and a chase after wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:17.
“For what profit comes to mortals from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which they toil under the sun?” Ecclesiastes 2:22.
“The covetous are never satisfied with money, nor lovers of wealth with their gain.” Ecclesiastes 5:9.
“All human toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is never satisfied.” Ecclesiastes 6:7.
Much of this book talks about the frustration that I often feel in life. Sometimes I feel like I am chasing my tail. Lots of toil, lots of work. Lots of anxiety. And what do we gain for our work? We are never satisfied. It is never enough. We can never rest.
“Everything is the same for everybody: the same lot for the just and the wicked, for the good, for the clean and the unclean, for the one who offers sacrifice and the one who does not. As it is for the good, so it is for the sinner; as it is for the one who takes an oath, so it is for the one who fears an oath.” Ecclesiastes 9:2.
“Because the sentence against an evil deed is not promptly executed, the human heart is filled with the desire to commit evil— because the sinner does evil a hundred times and survives.” Ecclesiastes 8:11-12.
“Again I saw under the sun that the race is not won by the swift, nor the battle by the valiant, nor a livelihood by the wise, nor riches by the shrewd, nor favor by the experts; for a time of misfortune comes to all alike.” Ecclesiastes 9:11.
I struggled with these passages for awhile. At first I was dismayed. Is it all for naught? Despite all of our hard work on earth, all of our efforts to distinguish ourselves, we all end up the same. We all end up dead. What difference does it make if we work hard, do well, strive to do what is right?
Of course, I know the difference. The difference is the relationship we build with God. (But it can be so hard on earth, where both good and evil have the same earthly fate, and sometimes the bad is rewarded.)
“God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. ” Ecclesiastes 3:11.
We are short-sighted and see only the time on earth. And often only see what is surrounding us at that moment. We cannot see beyond our own struggle, beyond today’s pressure. But God has a plan and everything has its time.
“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:4.
We will have our time. We will have time for joy. But we will also all have time for sorrow, time to weep, time to mourn, time to struggle. And here on earth these times stink. And it is hard to see the good, when we are going through these times.
“Consider the work of God. Who can make straight what God has made crooked? On a good day enjoy good things, and on an evil day consider: Both the one and the other God has made, so that no one may find the least fault with him.” Ecclesiastes 7:13-14.
Although it is difficult to see this at the time, the time for mourning, the time for sorrow is important.
“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, For that is the end of every mortal, and the living should take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter; when the face is sad, the heart grows wise.” Ecclesiastes 7:2-3.
We learn from our struggles. I don’t think we learn as much from our good times. And importantly we learn with our heart. Our heart grows, our relationship with each other grows, and our relationship with God grows. This next passage tied it all up for me:
When the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, wherever it falls, there shall it lie.
One who pays heed to the wind will never sow, and one who watches the clouds will never reap.
Just as you do not know how the life breath enters the human frame in the mother’s womb, So you do not know the work of God, who is working in everything.
In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hand be idle: For you do not know which of the two will be successful, or whether both alike will turn out well.
We are given a limited time here on earth. We could spend it constantly worried about how the wind will blow and when the rain will fall. We could spend it constantly focused on the bad times and bemoaning our lot in life. But we do not know the work of God. We cannot understand the plans He has. We do not know when the time will come. So we keep working. We keep trying. We keep going. We keep praying. We keep thanking God for the days that we have, because each of them is a gift.
“Therefore I praised joy, because there is nothing better for mortals under the sun than to eat and to drink and to be joyful; this will accompany them in their toil through the limited days of life God gives them under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 8:15.
“There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink and provide themselves with good things from their toil. Even this, I saw, is from the hand of God. For who can eat or drink apart from God?” Ecclesiastes 2:24-25.
Thank you for this day. Thank you for the food and drink that you provide. Help me to experience the joy and the sorrow fully. Help my heart to grow through the “bad” times. Help me to accept the “bad” times with an open heart so that it may be filled. I know I cannot understand your ways. But I know your plans are for good. I trust you Lord.