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.
What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?
I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.
He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.
I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God.
I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.
That which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by.
Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness.
I said to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.
I said to myself concerning the sons of men, “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.”
For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity.
All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.
Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?
I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him? (Ecclesiastes 3:1-22, NASB)
Once again I return to the "depressing" book of Ecclesiastes, one of my favorites. Being prone to existentialism, I love to see the way the preacher (speaker delivering the message of this book) seems to waffle back and forth about whether or not it's ultimately worth it to look for happiness in the world.
Some see the opening of this chapter as a sort of sing-song (thank you, Byrds), happy-go-lucky admonition about all the wonderful opportunities in life, but I think the truth is a bit more dismal than that. I think it reads a lot more like this: Okay, some good stuff happens, then guess what? Some bad stuff happens. Then more good stuff, then more bad, then so on and so on. Life's filled with good things and bad things, and they all keep circling around.
Then, as if to punctuate that thought, the preacher goes on to say that we work our tails off, but it doesn't really get us anywhere. Sure, it may pay the day-to-day bills, but God has put a longing for eternity in our hearts, and somehow, just dealing with the day-to-day won't cut it in the long run. Don't think you have eternity set in your hearts? Ask yourself this: Do I want to be remembered after I'm dead? Do I want to matter in the world? Do I want the world to notice that I was here and that I'm gone? Damn right you do, because God set eternity in your heart.
As people, we contemplate the big ideas like eternity and actualization and morality and existence. It's what separates us from the lesser beasts. It's why our minds work the way they do. Only, get this... the preacher continues and takes even that away from us. We are no better than mere beasts, he says, nothing but beasts actually. They procreate and die. We procreate and die. Big whoop for us. At the end of it all, we're both dust (in the wind, thank you Kansas).
But rather than slitting his wrists after this thought or joining an emo band, the preacher suddenly has another massive mood swing. In spite of all this, nay, BECAUSE of it, it is good for people to be happy with their lot in life.
He baits the hook here, because, if this is all we've read, it doesn't make sense to us. Why would we be happy after you just let us know that life sucks and we're no better off than mere animals even with all our ability to ponder and reflect and our "souls"? Care to fill us in, Preacher? And he will. Ultimately, he's getting around to that. He's just building up his case at this point, laying his foundation. The best is yet to come, but it's going to require flexibility in our world view and our sense of karmic fair play and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. He's already working hard at his premise that's going to cut all that right out from beneath us.
What's fair? Nothing's fair. Good stuff, bad stuff, it happens willy-nilly, whether we've earned it or not. What about all our hard work to make something of ourselves? Tough crap. We're all just beasts, rights, made of and returning to the same dust.
So obviously, this idea of being able to enjoy life and have a happy and meaningful existence isn't going to be something we actually contribute to the equation. It's going to have to come from outside us, something we aren't able to manufacture ourselves.
Hint. It's called "grace," and we'll be getting to that later.