I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favour to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:
As fish are caught in a cruel net,(Eccl. 9:11-12 NIV)
or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.
All the good things don’t necessarily come to those we might expect to receive them. We expect the swift to win the race, the strong to win the battle, food to come to the wise, wealth to the brilliant and favour to the learned. However, it doesn’t happen like that because time and chance comes to everyone without discrimination. There is no universal law that predicts the outcome. These things are all uncertain. The only certainty is death, but we don’t even know the hour of our death. Now usually the swift do win the race and the strong win the battle, but not for certain because happenings happen. The things that we desire and seek to develop are not necessarily bad in themselves – physical fitness, an educated mind, and a cultured life – but they do not bring us control of the times and happenings.
The fish is swimming along happily and then is caught in the net, the bird lands to feed on some tasty morsel and is caught in the snare. In the same way we find can find our lives turned upside down by something we never saw coming. We always think these things only happen to other people, never us.
We all want to grow old together with our partner, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The years give us pleasure in the advancement of the ones that we love. We treasure those wonderful occasions when we can have all the family around the table and we enjoy a meal, the conversation, the serious talks, the silliness and everything that goes into the mix of the family being together. But time and chance appear and happenings happen, and take those things away from us. We are just not in control. The Preacher is telling us not to put our hope in these things because they are so uncertain. James has something similar to say:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”(Jas. 4:13-15 NIV)
How should we then expect to live? The Preacher tells us to live today. Don’t be waiting for lockdown to end, don’t be waiting for Easter or for the summer holidays. By all means we need to plan, but not at the expense of living now, enjoying today. The path of wisdom along life’s journey is to enjoy all the gifts that God has given you, the simple things that give us pleasure.
The Preacher does not want us to give up on life. If we are blessed to be swift and are in training for a race then work hard, and whatever talents God has given you invest those talents.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,(Col. 3:23 NIV)
The Bible does not promise us that we will only know good health, financial prosperity and happiness. Faith and righteousness are not linked to the attainment of possessions or a pain free life. God is much more concerned to make us holy and to shape us in the image of Christ than He is to make us happy, rich and healthy. God’s plans remain mostly undisclosed. God remains God. Faith in God is not about control for us. Nor is it about manipulation of God so that God will do as we wish. Biblical faith is the radical abandonment of our whole being in grateful trust and love to God, not something we practise out of self-interest.
Recognising that our experiences in life will be mixed, we should not spend time worrying about the future while failing to live well in the present.
Lord lead us in life to that which is best. Change our system of evaluation that we will see light in Your light. Forgive us for investing so much trust in temporal things. But also forgive us for not enjoying the simple gifts that You have given us. We underestimate the value of friends. Forgive us for equating asceticism with holiness. We renounce every pretention of self sufficiency and embrace the good gifts that You have given us. Lord for our Saviour’s sake help us to walk before You in wisdom. Amen.