Are you enjoying summer in the Netherlands? One of the beauties of this part of the world is experiencing the four seasons: spring with its blossoming trees, summer producing fruit, autumn showing beautiful colours, and in the winter enjoying ice-skating. As humans we also travel through the seasons of life, not just once in a lifetime. Hopefully you will be able to enjoy spring-like times more often than just when you are young. Regular winter-like times are a necessity to re-load or prevent a burn-out. Again and again we need to be reminded that we are not God. Technological advancements make it easy to think that the sky is the limit, but as soon as we behave like gods, we de-humanise. When we realise we are humans, humbly coming before our God, we recognise our present season and patiently wait for the next.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 A Time for Everything
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 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. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
The first verse sets the tone for this passage: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.” In the subsequent 7 verses, 28 different ‘times’ are mentioned – in pairs and in opposites. Time, according to this passage, is not an empty space which we can choose to fill. We may do this when we have a day off, or on ‘vacation,’ literally meaning ‘empty-time.’ Vacation and free time are not representative for our lives. There is a set time for many things. Children have a set time to go to school, are called for dinner, or summoned to go to bed. In theory, adults have more freedom in determining what’s on their agenda. But in reality, they sometimes say, “Sorry, no time, too busy.” In light of this passage, ‘no time’ is an odd expression. Perhaps one should say, “Sorry, but this is not the time.” Because there is a time for everything.
The first pair of times in the passage makes clear that life itself is determined by God – there is “a time to be born and a time to die.” But as representatives of God, we too are called “to plant and uproot”, and the seasons help us to determine the proper time. To discover the right timing, we are referred to God at the end of this passage. In verses 10 and 11, “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time.” The New American Standard Bible translation reads ‘appropriate’ instead of ‘beautiful.’
How should we interpret these verses? Surely God has not made a detailed time-table for us to discover and realise. If that were the case, He would have made robots and not men and women made in his image and likeness. On the other hand, many of us have experienced that if we take time to meet God before the start of a busy day –and if we then pray about the people we plan to meet, the lecture we are about to give, the machine we badly need to fix– somehow, there is less stress during the day. Yes, even time for a spontaneous talk and prayer with someone in need. If we lay our times into God’s hand, it will be the right and appropriate time for everything. How this ‘works’ we cannot explain. We are free, yet responsible to God. And if we respond to Him, we experience more flexibility in our time schedule.
This brings us to the second part of verse 11, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to the end.” Although there is a time for everything, it does not always seem our timing. How often do we long for more control over our time and more understanding about God’s timing? But if we surrender to the eternal God and accept that it is all about His-Story, then peace will return and rule in our hearts.
Pastor Gilbert van Bueren