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 for ever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.
And I saw something else under the sun:
in the place of judgment – wickedness was there,(Eccl. 3:9-16 NIV)
in the place of justice – wickedness was there.
If we felt a little respite from the teacher’s words in the poem of 3:1-8, then 3:9-16 presents us with the reality of life by bringing us back to the original question first raised in
What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun?(Eccl. 1:3 NIV).
Note how similar the question is in
What do workers gain from their toil?(Eccl. 3:9 NIV).
The rhythm of life found in 3:1-8 does not lead to gain. The ebb and flow of life provides frequent change leaving us confronted with circumstances that we don’t understand. The plans we are working on are frustrated by change and we find no satisfaction. Perhaps the Rolling Stones were right when they sang ‘I Can’t get no Satisfaction.’
This melancholy and depressive attitude has lingered long in the preacher’s message. All this talk of death and heble causes a dark cloud to hang over us. But now the preacher takes us close to the truth that we need to realise. This life is not all the time that there is. We seek meaning, significance and legacy for this life. Something happens to us, illness, death of a loved one or some other tragedy, and we immediately want to know what God is teaching us through this, what is the reason for it. Maybe God will show us, but maybe He won’t. We might never know the reasons, but sometimes we convince ourselves that we have discovered the meaning and we write a book about it. We see this quite often these days, a person dies in tragic circumstances and the family set up a charity in their name, they campaign for changes in the law, they spend the rest of their lives campaigning in order to give them a sense that perhaps this death was not for nothing. The meaning of a happening may not reside in this life under the sun. The preacher casts the larger framework of our lives in eternity. There is a time to be born and a time to die, but death is not the end, there is a time for judgement. My present life has meaning and purpose because it is lived in the light that there is a judgement to come. This is not all that there is. But why has it taken the preacher so long to get to this point? He needed to persuade us about reality. We have been so well conditioned into seeing significance, importance and meaning as if this life is all that there is, that we needed the shock of seeing this style of life lived out in extreme to get the message that all is heble. Every single thing that happens to me will have its day in the courts of God’s judgement.
A few years ago, Liz had a medical that the workplace had organised for all their staff. They checked various things like Blood Pressure, weight and BMI. But they also checked height. When Liz’s height was announced she contested the figure. A further check confirmed the reading. Liz had lost a little in height. Did this really matter? Well, when the height was announced to the family our oldest daughter laughed and was jubilant with uncontrollable joy because she was no longer the smallest in the family. I guess as we get older, we get smaller, but growing up in the terms of Ecc means growing smaller to gain childlike faith in God. We’re never big enough or old enough to understand the bigger picture.
Carole King was one and still is one of my favourite singer songwriters. She released a song in 1971, ‘My life has been a tapestry.’ Perhaps it was inspired by the weaver’s poem, though her song is not as positive:
Just A Weaver
My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colours
He worketh steadily.
Oft times He weaveth sorrow
And I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
And I the underside.
Not til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skilful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
He knows, He loves, He cares,Benjamin Malacia Franklin
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives His very best to those
Who chose to walk with Him.
The underside of the tapestry is full of loose ends of coloured wool. No matter how hard we try, we cannot understand the meaning of the loose ends of our lives. Even if one loose end is explained we cannot possibly see it in the context of the whole, otherwise we would be God. We just have to learn the lesson of 3:11,
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.(Eccl. 3:11 NIV)
In all the ebbs and flows of my life I can discern no pattern, but God is making my life and yours beautiful in its time. I can’t physically see the pattern, nor mentally conceive how anything of beauty could come from something that seems as random as my life. I have to learn to grow small and trust in God.
Lord forgive me for always wanting to overstep my station in life. I have desired to see everything from Your perspective. It is the old sin from the Garden of Eden, ‘wanting to be like God’. Lord teach me what it means to be content in life, with the church you have placed me in, with the family of which I am a part and the daily tasks that You have given me to do. We desire significance but we’ve had significance for years – that significance is in our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. May the thought of union with Christ shine light upon everything that we do today, because we pray in Jesus name. Amen.