Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. I have often wondered if this well-known, even secularly-recognized Scripture is one which people often default to as a “final word” of explanation when life seems inextricably interwoven with chaos or misfortune.
Often recognized as the “time for everything quote”, it reads, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven –A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. A time to search and a time to give up as lost; a time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; a time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.” (NASB)
I don’t think that actually represents Jesus’ thinking very accurately. Even though it is oft-quoted, my concern is that it can often be substituted for active and persistent prayer as a default-setting in “determining God’s will.”
Jesus gave no quarter to “a time to hate”; rather, He taught the correct course of action was to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27, NASB) Jesus shares the shepherd’s heart when he talks about the shepherd leaving his ninety-nine sheep and going “after the one which is lost until he finds it.” (Luke 15:4) No time “to give up as lost,” here.
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus said. In fact, He was quoted as making that statement three times in the Gospel of Matthew. (Matt. 3:2,4:17, 10:7) At hand. According to Thesaurus.com, “accessible, close, imminent, impending, nearby.” Right now.
I discovered that the word “now” is used 478 times in the New Testament (NASB). Most frequently, it is used by the Gospel authors to help put the occurrences and acts of Jesus into sequential events, or transitioning from one section of scripture to another.
But there is immediacy to Jesus’ life, and to the Kingdom.
Jesus revealed and taught many things to His disciples during the Last Supper. In one of His statements He said, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (NASB) I have heard that passage explained as meaning that, at the end of our earthly lives and while enjoying our spiritual-realm life, we will have the amazing opportunity of sitting down and drinking the “fruit of the vine” with Jesus, in heaven. But while I think that is the interpretation His disciples heard, I suspect He meant something more…immediate. More now.
When the Spirit was given and came to empower and indwell each one of us…at that point, He began to “drink it new” with us in His Father’s Kingdom….as in, “You in Me and I in You that they also may be in Us” (John 17:21)…and so He still does.
Luke 17 states, “Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21, NASB)
In your midst. Now. So what does any of this have to do with Ecclesiastes 3?
Just as the idiom “old habits die hard” is accurate, so it is with “old mindsets” and the manner in which a person processes events in this life. If someone has had their life “torn up,” it is easy to default to thinking that their life is in that “season” of being torn down. If someone is experiencing a prolonged time of intense or debilitating sorrow….it is easy to remain there, since there is a season to both “weep” and “mourn.” This is a double-edged danger: spiritual danger for the person who resigns themselves to the “inevitability” of that time…as well as spiritual danger for the person who is content to let them stay there.
Peter taught, “…be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8)
That process of being “devoured” is never pleasant…and it is tragic if the one undergoing that trauma believes it is inevitable, part of a God-ordained process that simply rolls in and rolls out like the tide. Three times Jesus proclaimed that “with God all things are possible,” (Matt. 19:26, Mark 10:27, Mark 14:36, NASB) and in the Gospel of Mark He proclaimed “All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23, NASB)
It is true that Ecclesiastes offers an overview of worldly cycles. But we are strangers and aliens, sojourners in this earthly land. It seems to me that our battle cry, our point of comfort, our point of embracing and reaching out to others should hinge on the new revelation “Behold, the kingdom is in your midst.”