meaning

Things We Can't Understand

It's said that curiosity killed the cat. Perhaps. But curiosity is a driving force in life and for scientific discoveries.

If we never risked looking beyond the obvious and status quo, there would be no significant progress in what's important to our lives now.

Still, many things remain unknown and beyond our grasp to understand. Could this be intentional on God's part? If so, why?

Scripture

When a sentence against a crime isn’t carried out quickly, people are encouraged to commit crimes. A sinner may commit a hundred crimes and yet live a long life. Still, I know with certainty that it will go well for those who fear God, because they fear him. But it will not go well for the wicked. They will not live any longer. Their lives are like shadows, because they don’t fear God. [vss 11-13]

There is something being done on earth that is pointless. Righteous people suffer for what the wicked do, and wicked people get what the righteous deserve. I say that even this is pointless. So I recommend the enjoyment [of life]. People have nothing better to do under the sun than to eat, drink, and enjoy themselves. This joy will stay with them while they work hard during their brief lives which God has given them under the sun. [vss 14-15]

When I carefully considered how to study wisdom and how to look at the work that is done on earth (even going without sleep day and night), then I saw everything that God has done. No one is able to grasp the work that is done under the sun. However hard a person may search for it, he will not find [its meaning]. Even though a wise person claims to know, he is not able to grasp it. [vss 16-17]

(Ecclesiastes 8:11-17 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 8]

Key phrase—No one is able to grasp the work that is done under the sun

[bctt tweet="No one is able to grasp the work that is done under the sun"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What seems to be the result when there's no consequence to a crime?

What is said to be the benefit for those who fear God over those who don't?

What is recommended as a break from hard work? Do you agree with this? Why or why not?

What will remain beyond the understanding of the wisest people? Why?

Reflection...

I'm thankful for people who were curious for the benefit of all humanity. Think of the things we use every day that didn't exist fifty years ago. How about 500 years ago?

It's hard to comprehend the rapid advance of modern technology over the past few decades. Most of us can't keep up with it all. Yet with all these advances, humanity has not solved the problem of violence and evil in the world. Theories exist for resolving these problems, but they go unchecked in many parts of the world today.

Some things remain beyond our understanding, like how to cure cancer or HIV/AIDS. Other things seem to defy solutions, such as human evil, violence, and hatred.

Why would God allow this?

If no mystery existed, most everyone would be complacent and apathetic about such things. We would have no wonder or awe. We would see no need for a relationship with God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

How do you view injustices in the world? Do you see them as humanity's problem, or God's neglect or indifference?

Have you ever suffered wrong or injustice? If so, how did you handle it?

Are you able to disengage from work and the problems of the world to enjoy life?

When you can't understand things in life, are you able to trust these things to God?

Why Do We Bother?

Optical illusions are fascinating. From the illusionary designs of MC Escher to those squiggly line prints with some hidden image. Illusions can also be frustrating. You look and look and look, but just can't figure it out.

How about the classic lost in the desert movie? Someone with tattered clothing and dying of thirst crawls through the sand towards a mirage thinking it's water. Of course, it's only heat waves that appear as rippling water.

The endless cycle of everyday life can seem illusory. As if, no hope exists of any break or improvement in the monotony of the mundane. That's when we need to see beyond the illusion.

Scripture

There is a tragedy that I have seen under the sun. It is a terrible one for mortals. God gives one person riches, wealth, and honor so that he doesn’t lack anything he wants. Yet, God doesn’t give him the power to enjoy any of them. Instead, a stranger enjoys them. This is pointless and is a painful tragedy.[vss 1-2]

Suppose a rich person wasn’t satisfied with good things [while he was alive] and didn’t even get an honorable burial [after he died]. Suppose he had a hundred children and lived for many years. No matter how long he would have lived, it [still] would have been better for him to have been born dead. A stillborn baby arrives in a pointless birth and goes out into the darkness. The darkness then hides its name. Though it has never seen the sun or known anything, the baby finds more rest than the rich person. Even if the rich person lives two thousand years without experiencing anything good—don’t we all go to the same place?[vss 3-6]

Everything that people work so hard for goes into their mouths, but their appetite is never satisfied. What advantage does a wise person have over a fool? What advantage does a poor person have in knowing how to face life? It is better to look at what is in front of you than to go looking for what you want. Even this is pointless. [It’s like] trying to catch the wind.[vss 7-9]

Whatever has happened [in the past] already has a name. Mortals are already known for what they are. Mortals cannot argue with the one who is stronger than they. The more words there are, the more pointless they become. What advantage do mortals gain from this? Who knows what may be good for mortals while they are alive, during the brief, pointless days they live? Mortals pass by like a shadow. Who will tell them about their future under the sun? [vss 10-12]

(Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 6]

Key phrase—Better to look at what is in front of you than... looking for what you want

[bctt tweet="Better to look at what is in front of you than... looking for what you want"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What is seen and lamented upon as a tragedy?

What common pursuit seems to elude people living on the earth?

What seems to be like "trying to catch the wind"? Why do you think this expression is used so often in Ecclesiastes?

In all that's said about "pointless" talk, who do you think is stronger than us "mortals"?

Reflection...

One of the difficulties in reading through Ecclesiastes is how it reinforces a sense of hopelessness to life. Many people throughout the world struggle with hopelessness. Some take their own lives because they lack hope.

Yet, throughout refugee camps and impoverished or oppressed areas people can be found who hang tenaciously on a hope that things will get better. These are people who have little to nothing to hold in their hands, and who don't know if they will eat much in a given day.

It is often affluent people who struggle most with depression and suicidal thoughts. Why?

Every person wants meaning in life, even those most cynical among us. We need hope more than things. We want significance in life rather than fame and fortune.

When we find ourselves lost in the illusion of hopelessness, it's time to look to the One above it all—God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What one thing seems to lead to a sense of hopelessness in your life?

How do you cope with the routine of life? Do you like it or struggle with it?

What are ways you find solace and hope within the mundane routines in life?

How do you see beyond hopelessness and cynicism, or are you able to do so?

A Glimpse of Eternity

Would you like to live forever? Lots of research goes into extending life and being healthy. What age do you hope to live to? I'm not so sure I want to reach 100. I've seen the adjustments I need to make as I grow older, and it isn't always fun.

But I do long for eternity, just not in this physical body. Life can be hard when we look at it too closely. When we're zeroed in on what we do work-wise, it can be self-defeating. We need a sense of hope beyond the routine of life, or the walls begin to close in on us.

Why do we have this desire to live a long life? Why do we want to know the future? Could it be that eternity is planted in our hearts?

Scripture

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.[vss 9-11]

So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can.And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.[vss 12-13]

And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again. [vss 14-15]

I also noticed that under the sun there is evil in the courtroom. Yes, even the courts of law are corrupt! I said to myself, “In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds.” [vss 16-17]

(Ecclesiastes 3:9-17 NLT) [Context– Ecclesiastes 3]

Key phrase— He has planted eternity in the human heart

[bctt tweet="God has planted eternity in the human heart"]

Digging Deeper...

How do these verses reflect the continuing tone of this book of wisdom?

What is said that counters this circular and cynical tone? How can these opposing thoughts exist at the same time?

Why would God want people to fear Him? What do you think is meant by this?

What are we told God will do concerning what is good and evil? When will this happen?

Reflection...

The continuing theme of Ecclesiastes is the attempt to answer the question—What's the purpose of life? The tone of the words is mostly cynical, and yet, thoughts of contentment are inserted intermittently.

Many philosophers have lived and died pondering this question of life's purpose, often without resolve. The quest of answers and adventure spurs research and exploration beyond what we know already. And yet, the cycles and seasons of life continue on and on.

A number of years ago, a missionary wrote a book based on research into the culture, beliefs, and history of people groups spread across the globe. He found recurring themes of experience and visions of expectations. He observed that, indeed, God planted eternity in the hearts of humanity.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

Are you able to see God's beauty in your life, the life of others, and the world around you?

Do you find contentment in simple ways to help you navigate life's routines and difficulties?

Do you have a longing for the truth and a sense of hope? If not, do you know where to turn to get these?

How can respect and awe for God help us handle the anxieties and doubts that rise up in our hearts and minds?

A Right Time for Everything

In ancient days, people thought the world was flat. It was imagined that ships on the ocean would fall off the edge of the world, if they went too far from land. Many explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries proved this wrong.

But now, once again, we say the world is flat because of technology. Now we have a global outlook that impacts world markets and culture. We live in 24/7 real-time and expect things to be instant—the internet, communication, even food.

But the world isn't flat. The four seasons and twenty-four time zones remind us the earth continues to rotate on its axis, as it revolves around the sun. The earth has definition and variety—mountains, deserts, plains, and valleys. Vast stretches of land are separated by rivers and oceans.

Life is full of variety and continuing cycles and seasons.

Scripture

There is a right time for everything, and everything on earth will happen at the right time.There is a time to be born and a time to die. There is a time to plant and a time to pull up plants. [vss 1-2]

There is a time to kill and a time to heal. There is a time to destroy and a time to build. There is a time to cry and a time to laugh. There is a time to be sad and a time to dance with joy. There is a time to throw weapons down and a time to pick them up. There is a time to hug someone and a time to stop holding so tightly. [vss 3-5]

There is a time to look for something and a time to consider it lost. There is a time to keep things and a time to throw things away. There is a time to tear cloth and a time to sew it. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. There is a time to love and a time to hate. There is a time for war and a time for peace. [vss 6-8]

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ERV) [Context– Ecclesiastes 3]

Key phrase— There is a right time for everything

[bctt tweet="There is a right time for everything"]

Digging Deeper...

What are the first and obvious reminders of the cycles of life on earth?

What are the seasons of life that have a more emotional impact on our lives?

How are strife and resolve seen as seasons within life?

How do each of these seasons and cycles help us to have a better perspective on life?

Reflection...

The folk-rock band, the Byrds, made these verses in Ecclesiastes popular in 1965 with a song written by Pete Seeger. It was written as a protest song against the war in Vietnam. Sadly, this misses the point of these wise words.

King Solomon observed the ongoing rhythms of life on earth. Life is not random. It has a cyclical order. We may struggle to see the purpose of these seasons of life, because we're in the midst of them. Even over the course of a lifetime, we can find it difficult to understand why some things take place, or if they have any value or purpose.

When we look at things from God's perspective—an eternal view of things—we begin to understand. How can we do this? This is why the written Scriptures are valuable, as are godly and wise relationships.

A child has no concept of history or the future, but both of these should come into better focus as we grow older. There is a purpose, a reason, for every season and cycle in life.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

Are there seasons in your life that are hard to accept or understand?

What is the season of your life right now? Do you see its value and purpose?

Are there situations in your life that need resolving? How will you pursue this?

Are you willing to trust God with what you don't understand, and seek godly wisdom?