“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1.
This verse, and this section of Ecclesiastes, is one of the more familiar in Bible. Even the Byrds knew it (Turn, Turn, Turn). The beauty of Hebrew poetry is clear, and the rhythms of a time for this and a time for that offer a strange comfort.
I say strange because if you look at the different “times” some make a great deal of sense, such as “a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted.” In other words, planting and harvesting are clearly a part of the cycle of life. Clear enough.
But what about “a time to kill?” (v. 3) Or “a time to hate?” (v. 8). These strike us a little differently. How could hate ever be an appropriate emotion? Is killing woven into the order of our lives the same way the harvest is? I hope you see the problem.
One very unsatisfactory solution to this minor dilemma is to regard the author as supporting a deterministic view of life. God has ordained everything that happens. Thus a birth is in the heavenly calendar. And so is a death. And so is gathering up stones. And killing, and war, and mourning, and dancing, etc.
Many people find a great comfort in the idea that everything happens according to a preordained plan. I do not. To be fair and impartial, I would have to say that the writer of Ecclesiastes did have this in mind, but the book is bereft of the optimism Jesus made clear by His life and teachings. In other words, there is much more to be said, and that is why we have the rest of the Bible.
Yes God does ordain certain seasons of life. We do have a time to be born and time to die, but the Bible clearly teaches that we have a choice as to how we approach each day between those two crucial points. I believe in a mighty providence, but I believe equally in a mighty freedom to choose. I’m not at all sure about the limits of fate. I am vastly certain of the possibilities of choice.
When, through the eyes of Christ, I look at this familiar section of scripture I see a truth both comforting and challenging. We all have seasons of life when struggle, sadness, and even death touch us very closely. We have bad days. But those will pass. They are but a season.
Look over your past. You have come through some seasons which have bordered on terrifying. Ahead of that particular season you would have claimed to never be able to survive such an event. But you have. From that darkness you emerged in another season, a brighter season. Remember that sequence and be grateful. Even Good Friday has an Easter Sunday. That is comforting.
Now here is the challenge: the season of blessing and ease you may be enjoying right now will also pass. The rhythm of life is an endless succession of good and bad, a mixture of both, an inevitable beginning and ending, over and over.
I suppose the real challenge, therefore, is bringing the certainty of faith into the uncertainty of life. Our task is not to vainly pursue uninterrupted pleasure, for that is simply beyond the reach of even the wealthy and wise king of Israel (as in Ecclesiastes) or Bill Gates. We cannot buy our way into bliss.
But we can exercise what Frankl called “the last of all human freedoms,” and that is the ability to choose how we will respond to the varying seasons of life. We can choose to not be dragged down by guilt and regrets over the past, for grace takes away those burdens and replaces them with gratitude. And we can choose not to be cowed by fear for the future, for grace can replace that with hope.
We can choose to live in the present season, this very moment, with awareness of God’s presence, assurance of His limitless blessings, and complete trust that He will make all things right in His time and in His way.
This week, I choose to take pleasure in all my seasons. They may come quickly and pass just as quickly. I do not know. I simply know I do not face any of them alone.
Dr. Terry Ellis
July 5, 2015