As we enter a new year we reminisce about the past and, in a world of increasing unbelief and revolution, wonder what the future holds. It is only in God’s Word that we find the true meaning of life and the comfort and encouragement to face the future. In this article, below, Rev deMarie considers the past year, and how we may face the coming year, in the light of the cycle of events referred to in Ecclesiastes 3:1-14:
1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, 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 gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. 14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 (ESV)
At the end of the year it is good to see what God has given us, what He has placed on our way and where He has led us.
As churches of the Lord Christ we were allowed to meet our God every Sunday around His Word. Again and again we were allowed to receive the ministry of reconciliation with God our Father and, thus strengthened and nourished, we were enabled to live in the midst of a society wherein people have become alienated from God and from Christ and wherein everything seems to revolve around man. We see a world full of tumult and tensions among the nations. People today seem less safe and secure than they have been for a long time.
In such a stressful time we are tempted to ask: Is what we believe really true? Is our faith not far removed from the hard reality of everyday life? Where is God? What do we see of Him? Does He still intervene, or does everything that happens around us take Him by surprise?
At the end of a year we take stock and may ask ourselves: What was the year good for? What was the use of our life during the past year?
Fixed and changing times
We have been given the book of Ecclesiastes to judge with ‘wisdom from above’ the issues and developments that are happening in the world. The main question in this regard is: What profit has a man from all his labour in which he toils under the sun (Eccl 1:3)? What is the advantage; what is the actual use and benefit? What are we doing it all for?
It is in that framework that Ecclesiastes 3 says: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter [i.e. for everything that happens] under heaven. It was God who determined the times during the past year. Every thing, every event, took place at a moment that had been chosen. Our input was there but it was very limited, and it is certainly not so that each event happened by chance. God had a hand in all this; He assigned it to us.
All kinds of events took their turn. Starting from verse 2, the preacher mentions fourteen different situations that alternate and are determined by God. Let us examine a few of them.
The first, a birth. We were allowed also during the past year to thank God for new life and acknowledge Him as the Giver of life. He determined who came into the world, where and at what time.
He also determined who left this life. We were unable to determine the hour of death of our loved ones. No, our times are in God’s hands, says Psalm 31: 16. It was at God’s appointed time that he took one of our loved ones to Himself and so we see the cycle of life and death. As the one went, another came. God gave and took.
Demolishing and building are also alternating events. Today this was needed, and tomorrow something else – the Lord directing its necessity.
Then there is crying and laughing, each determined by sad or joyous occasions. Also these came to us in 2015 from God’s fatherly hand. Prosperity and adversity, health and sickness, riches and poverty – all these occurred also during the past year, not by chance but allotted to us by God’s direction. In His omnipotence He ruled everything and in His loving care He turned every evil to our benefit.
Keeping and throwing away are opposite activities that also needed to be done depending on the circumstances. Such circumstances and their times, too, were determined by the Lord.
So it was with keeping silent and speaking. It could be necessary to keep silent about the flaws you knew in the other person, and to desist from joining in with slander when others talked. But it was also necessary in our society to witness of our God, to confess His name, especially when everyone else kept silent about Him.
Verse 8 still says that there is a time for war and a time for peace.
Yes indeed, war and peace also come from the Lord. Not just peace, but also wars are decided by His will. During the past year the peace was suddenly disturbed and there was war. War with IS. But that war did not happen outside of the Lord’s control. He even uses wars and rumours of wars to announce Christ’s second coming in this world. To these belong also the threat of war and the terrorist attacks of late.
Concurrent with all the unrest that is caused by these events there may, however, still be peace among us as God’s children. The Lord reigns and this assures us that we need not be anxious under the escalating panic talk.
The curiosity of man
Ecclesiastes concludes in this manner that man is dependent on God’s government. There is, as well, that continuous cycle in that whatever came disappeared again. Everything that provided joy ended in sorrow. It was, and still continues to be, the regular pattern of rising, shining and declining.
Ecclesiastes writes in verse 9 that man on this earth often toils without having really accomplished anything during the passing of time. So the question arises again: what advantage does this labour provide? Even a diligent worker cannot be sure of joy and pleasure. The economy may just turn everything around.
Ecclesiastes points to the effects of the curse that rests on the earth. The creation is subject to futility (see Rom. 8:20). Whatever man does, he is unable to overcome that futility.
So how, then, does life on earth still become useful? Well, in verse 10 we hear the answer. The Preacher has understood that it is God who preserves this world which He created and that God does it in accordance with His plan. Nothing happens of which God would have to say that it happened at the wrong time.
No, everything in 2015 happened the way He wanted. The Lord made it happen at the time and moment of His choice. He has made everything beautiful in its time (verse 11). The right thing at the right time.
The Lord wants man to think about the origin of things and about their purpose. He has put eternity into in his heart (verse 11). This means: man desires to know how everything has come about and where it all goes. It belongs to man’s nature because God put it in him, says the Preacher.
We may call it inborn curiosity.
God’s secret council
But why then does the beauty of prosperity, happiness and joy continually alternate with the evil of adversity, misfortune and grief? Man is unable to explain it. He cannot discover in his own life the working of God’s counsel that extends from the creation to Christ’s return.
Believers, too, were unable to predict in the past year whether everything would go well and prosper, without sickness, misfortune and terror. They, too, could not tell why this or that happened and why the Lord even made it happen to them in particular. Man cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end, says verse 11.
But as God’s children we will be able to say in faith: ‘Yes, Lord, what You do is good. Yes, it was so also in 2015, at the time You chose. Whatever we were granted in rich gifts, but also in hardships and needs. That’s why it was good for us, who belong to You and expect our salvation from You.’
It is important that in reviewing the past year we see it that way.
For what purpose did the Lord give all this?
The Preacher’s final conclusion is that we should recognize that all the good we received was not so much the result of our planning, our efforts, our toil. But that it was the gift of the Lord.
Of course, we had to work for our bread. We had to labour for our income. But also that income and the fruits of our labour were gifts of God.
Ecclesiastes shows us that everything that was is being directed by God. Everything goes the way God intended and we are allowed to receive everything from His hand.
The Lord wants us to recognise from the course of events and from the changing circumstances in our life that He is the Almighty who creates, maintains and governs everything and that we are but little cogs in the great work that God set and holds in motion.
It is at the same time important to see that in this way God works to His final destination, the goal at which every one of God’s acts is directed. No one can hold Him back. The Preacher says about this in verse 14: I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.
More questions could be asked. Often we do not understand why a particular thing happens to us. We also have so little control. But we would do better to stop such questions and ask instead: ‘Lord, to what end are You doing all this? What is Your purpose? What do You want from us?’
The preacher’s answer to that question is clear: … and God has done it, so that people fear before Him.
That, then, is the ultimate goal of God’s dealings with us. It is that we come to recognise that God’s Name is great. That God is good in what He does. That the Lord wants to be worshipped with reverence and fear, so that we now say: this almighty God took care also of me during the past year. Not a hair could fall from my head without His will. This God provided me with all good, and warded off all evil from me or turned it to my benefit. His name be praised and adored!
So it is the Lord’s will that our reflections on His government and direction lead us to honour and serve Him. It must bring us to implore Him for the favour and grace of His friendly face, for His blessing on everything we do – to set us free from unfruitfulness and futility.
Expectation under an open heaven
Today we may know more than the Preacher, for we may know that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has redeemed all who belong to Him from the unfruitfulness. We may know that whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour has been adopted as God’s child; that in Christ we are cared for in body and soul.
We may know that Christ has put eternity into our heart, to think in childhood, adulthood and old age about the origin and purpose of all earthly life. And that He gives us, through His deliverance from our sins and fruitlessness, expectation of the eternal glory.
That prospect has been reserved for those who fear God, who acknowledge their dependence and seek their redemption only in Christ.
In that dependence we await the times and seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority (Acts 1: 7).
There is a season for everything, and a time for every purpose under heaven. Under heaven, the Preacher says. In the Lord Jesus Christ this means: under an open heaven; an open heaven from which God with friendly face looks down on us as His children.
So we can continue also in the new year.
Translated from “Onze tijden zijn in Gods hand”, De Bazuin, 23 December 2015, Vol. 9, No. 26.