Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 18 2019 - Ecclesiastes 3 – A time for everything

Some of you may be old enough to remember a young Pete Seeger in 1962 singing, "To everything, turn! Turn! Turn! There is a season; turn! Turn! Turn! And a time to every purpose under heaven." The song became (for me) a memorable hit for Mary Hopkin in 1968. There are not many pop songs based on words from the book of Ecclesiastes!

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is a beautiful piece of poetry, expressing thoughts with which we can readily identify. Our own lives are marked by changing circumstances. We tend to mark off periods of our lives by the most important of those changes: "This happened before I was married"; "That happened just after the second of our children was born"; "This happened when we lived in London"… In our minds and in our memory the different phases of our lives are marked out by the changing events of our lives. Life is full of changes and different seasons, each with its highlights.

But in these verses the author is not simply looking back on the various seasons of his life, he is perplexed by the way in which life seems to have no particular direction. People are born only at last to die. What is planted and flourishes for a while is later uprooted. What is constructed at great pains is later pulled down and destroyed. The work of one day is undone in the next. No wonder he concludes his beautiful poem with the words, "What do workers gain from their toil?" (v. 9)

In the following verses (10-11), the Teacher writes, "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." The "seasons" of our lives and of human history may each have their own coherence and beauty, but the human mind and heart longs for something more. The word translated "eternity" in verse 11 really means "the whole". That is to say that we are not satisfied to enjoy each passing moment, we long to understand the bigger picture: "What is life all about?"; "Is human history going anywhere rather than just going round in circles?"; "What does it all mean?" We long to "fathom what God has done from beginning to end"; to understand the big picture and to make sense of it all.

It is God who placed this longing in our hearts. And it is God who has answered this longing with the revelation of his eternal purposes in the pages of Scripture and in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has shown us the big picture.

This is God's world which he created for his own glory and has committed to our care. But because of our rebellion against God and failure to care for his creation, we live in a world that is marked by futility (or, a world that has been subjected to vanity, Romans 8:20). Our lives, lived in this world, may seem to lack meaning and significance, but that is because neither we nor the world are as we were created to be.

Jesus entered our world to show us the greatness of God's love for a world gone wrong. He identified himself fully with us in the frustrations of a broken world. In his death upon the cross, that broken world is brought to judgment. By his resurrection from the dead a new creation has come to birth; we know that death is not the end. When Christ returns in glory all things will be made new.

Christ gives meaning to history and to our lives. History is not just going round in circles but will be brought to its fulfilment at the return of Christ. Our lives have meaning and direction as we look for, live for and work for that day. We have more to hope for than the enjoyment of the passing moment.

This is God's big story and we need to read all Scripture, including the book of Ecclesiastes, in the context of this big story which has its focus in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Loving Father, help us to tell your big story to a world longing for meaning and significance. May many come to find life, hope and direction in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter Misselbrook