There is a time for everything,(Eccl. 3:1-8 NIV)
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.
If you’re old enough you may remember The Byrds, The Seekers or Judy Collins popularising this poem as a pop song. I liked the song, but I am ambivalent about the poem in these eight verses of Ecc ch 3. I think I have been resisting and battling against the content of these verses most of my adult life. When I was a child I just went with the ebb and flow, change was a fact of life, but as I got older, I tried hard to control the flow. There was a time when most of my friends and family were getting married and having children. It was great to celebrate the births, it was the season to be born. At age 10 I experienced the first death of any of my relations as my great aunt passed away. I had heard stories of deaths in the family before I was born, but no family member that I knew had died. I attended the funeral service and was supposed to go with my father to the graveside, but I was just so bewildered about the whole experience I asked to go with my mother back to our home. Then over the years I have seen grandparents die, my father, all my uncles and aunts, and from of my generation, my brother and a cousin. I had no say in the matter and all was outside of my control.
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.
Most of the time I don’t want to think about this because it produces such a melancholic mood. But the preacher forces us to look at this and his point is that there are seasons in life, and you are not in control of them. God is in control of the seasons of our life, and we are hemmed in by the day of our birth and the day of our death. God controls the time of the beginning and the end and the rhythmic seasons in between. I guess my battle with this poem is the battle that I try to fight each day, but I always lose, because God is God, and I am not. I have to come to terms with the fact that this is my lot in life, and to graciously accept and embrace the gift that God sends in each season of life. It’s meant to be a comfort knowing that God is in control, but that only works when we learn to surrender. The problem is we never reach a point of ultimate surrender where we can say ‘I have accepted finally that God is in control’. I may do today, but tomorrow I’ll be up early trying to behave as if I have control. Of course, I like it that God is in control when things are evidently spiralling out of my control, but when I’m freewheeling down the hill with the breeze in my face I feel as if I have the reins.
The comfort of the poem is that the bad season of sorrow is not always going to be like that. God will send me a season to laugh again. Because of the rhythm of the seasons of life, change will come. However, each season is a gift of God, and I have to accept with grace the season of sorrow because this too has come from the hand of a good God.
My favourite commentary on Ecc was written in 2016. The author says that he couldn’t imagine a time when it would be appropriate to refrain from embracing. I guess we can all imagine that now.
Lord God we have to confess our sin because we have not always accepted the seasons that You have placed into our lives. We flattered ourselves about the measure of control that we thought we had over our lives. We sometimes sing, ‘Our times our in Your hands, O Lord we leave them there’