Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"GOD HAS MADE EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IN ITS TIME."
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
The faces of the peoples of the world carry so many frowns, so many worry-induced wrinkles. Life is broken, life has anxieties, pressures, problems. The tension on the faces produces health problems elsewhere; doctors place a link between anxiety and heart decease, worry and ulcers, stress and cancer, etc. Christians are not free of these links; in our midst too pressure and stress takes its toll. Yet statistics indicate that Christians are generally healthier than unbelievers; on account of the faith Christians can handle moreÖ.
How come? Solomon, that wisest of instructors, assembled the people of his day together and taught them the answer. The Holy Spirit has preserved the answer for our edification. We modern people who face modern problems Ėand yes, theyíre huge- need daily to confess that God "has made everything beautiful in its time." That confession lifts a load of worry off our shoulders, and gives opportunity to smile in the face of adversity.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
GOD HAS MADE EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IN ITS TIME.
1. The content of Solomonís confession.
Solomon, that wisest of teachers, gathered a people around him (Qoheleth = Assembler), to share with them some of the wisdom he had accumulated. Amongst the instruction Solomon gives is also the passage we read together this morning. That passage forms one piece, and hinges on the verse I have lifted out as text for today. God, Solomon tells his audience here, "has made everything beautiful in its time."
To understand the text, we need first to put ourselves in the sandals of Solomonís hearers. These hearers, we recall from earlier sermons on the book of Ecclesiastes, lived in incredibly delightful times. Economically, times were as good as one could imagine; I read in 2 Chron 1 that Solomon made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as the stones of the street (vs 15). Politically there was peace and stability; Israel was the superpower of the day so that surrounding nations brought tribute to Solomon. As to the legal side of life, Solomon himself was the wisest of kings and that surely had its impact on his administration of justice in the land. Spiritually things were favorable too, for Solomon built a glorious temple where the gospel of reconciliation with God was daily proclaimed in the sacrifices offered on the altar. Yes, we can understand the words of 1 Kings 4: the people of Israel ate and drank and rejoiced; they all "dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree" (vss 20, 25). A good life they had.
Yet, congregation, we should not think that the people of Israel in Solomonís day lived in some sort of Paradise. We need but look at ourselves to appreciate the point. In our corner of the world today, we enjoy great prosperity and peace, and at the same time experience so painfully that we live on this side of the fall into sin. Dust you are, God had said after the fall, and to dust you shall return Ė and we experience that with the death of loved ones, and our own deteriorating strength as the years go by. In pain you shall bring forth children, God had said, and we experience that unpleasant reality with the trials of pregnancy and birth and the tribulations of raising children from cradle to adulthood. In the sweat of your face you shall eat your bread, God had added, and we know that so truly Ė to pay all the bills can be a worry, and to put up with tired bones and sore muscles a literal pain. Life is broken Ė it is for us, and it was for Israel in the days of Solomon. Try though one might to rise above the vanity of this broken life, one canít; weíre caught, stuck on this side of Paradise, burdened by the bitter consequences of our fall into sin, weighed down by Godís curse on sin.
So, when Solomon says in our text that God "has made everything Ö in its time", Solomonís hearers thought not only of the fig tree in their backyards and the stubbie in their hands; they thought also of the fire that burned down the neighborís house and the domestic dispute in your own house that morning. That everything comes from Godís hand is precisely Solomonís point in this chapter. In the vss 2-8 Solomon makes a long list of positives and negatives. Life knows a time to be born, and a time to die Ė thatís a time of happiness and a time of grief. Life knows a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted Ė thatís a time of hope and a time of disappointment (for the phrase Ďpluck up what is plantedí refers not to harvesting the crop but to pulling up the entire failed plant). Thatís real life, whether there be prosperity or not. A shepherd tends his flock, but we all know that one day heíll find a sheep thatís sick Ė and the shepherd has to make the hard decision to kill the lamb or nurse it back to health. Thatís life: "a time to kill, and a time to heal." You live in a house, and in due time you have to decide whether to break it down or to build it up Ė thatís real life. The one moment we weep, the next hour we laugh Ė thatís life in this broken world. The one day we mourn (funeral); the next day we dance (a wedding) Ė thatís real life. And so it goes on: thereís "a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to gain and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw awayÖ." Thatís life.
And what, my brothers and sisters, can we do to change that pattern of things? One day weíre up and the next weíre down, and can you change that? One day weíre happy, life is good, and the next weíre heart broken, life is draining Ė and can you change that? Good times wash over us, and on their heals bad times wash over us too, and what can you do about that? We experience it: weíre like a little cork floating on the oceans of time, up with the one wave and down with the next, and weíre helpless to change it.
That can make one cynical, negative, pessimistic. It sounds almost Existentialist, and leads quite logically to the conclusion that one should eat, drink and be merry, for itís all senseless anywayÖ.
But hold it, says Solomon, thatís not true! Vs 1: "To everything there is a season," more, thereís "a time for every purpose under heaven." Everything has itís proper place, including good times and bad, birth and death, sowing and plucking, breaking and building. It all has itís proper place because it is God who has made it all. We may experience the waves of life as senseless, meaningless, haphazard, but Solomon lays a link between the ups and downs of life on the one hand and the sovereign control of God on the other. Itís the instruction of our text: "God has made everything Ö in its time." Thereís a time to give birth and a time to die? It is the Lord God who determines those moments! Thereís a time to weep and a time to laugh? It is the Lord God who puts a funeral on your path or a feast! Thereís a time to keep and a time to throw away? It is the Lord God who sets those options before you. God has made everything in its time! Hereís the confession of Lordís Day 10: "rain and drought, fruitful years and barren, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed all things, come not by chance but by His Fatherly hand."
Who is the God who controls all things so totally? Who is the God who permits joy to wash over us one day, and grief the next? Solomon knew it so well, and he made it his business to impress Godís identity on Israel. God: this is the awesome Creator of all, God almighty before whom the angels hide their faces, holy God who tolerates no sin. This is the God against whom we sinned in Paradise, the God who pronounced His curse on our fallen lives! More, this is the God who established with Israel His covenant of grace, the God who was pleased to dwell in Israelís midst in the temple Solomon built for Him in Jerusalem. That temple: it proclaimed the gospel of reconciliation between this holy, mighty God and His covenant people! In the temple animals were killed and blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. In the temple the priests and Levites taught the people the gospel of the coming Christ, and the high priest laid on the people the blessing of holy God: "the Lord blesses you and keeps youÖ." This was the message of the temple: for Jesusí sake holy, sovereign God is your faithful Father, cares for you, controls all things for your good. This, says Solomon, is the God who controls all things, who makes the time of birth and the time of death, who makes the time to plant and the time to pluck up whatís planted. This is the God who gives His people-by-covenant moments to laugh and moments to cry, times for war and times of peace Ė be it militarily or domestically. Precisely because this God was so Mighty, all in His control Ė thatís why Solomon sought strength and wisdom and help from this God when He first ascended the throne. The waves of life ĖSolomon believed it- did not come by chance, nor were they in your control; the waves of life come all from God alone. "He has made everything Ö in its time." What a God this is! More: what a Father you have!
But that raises a question. If all comes from this God, how shall we respond to what God puts on our path? Shall we delight in what God gives, or criticize it? A time of birth: we welcome it. A time to die: we struggle with the empty place. A time to laugh: how we love it. A time to weep: how we look up against it. But God gives all, the good and the bad; all come from the hands of that holy God who made Himself our loving, compassionate Father in Jesus Christ. Shall one then resent the troughs of life? Shall one insist only on peaks? No, says Solomon, for God "has made everything beautiful in its time."
Beautiful. The term is used to describe Sarah: she was beautiful, attractive, pleasurable (Gen 12:14). Itís used to describe Rachel: she was beautiful, attractive, pleasurable too (Gen 29:17). Itís used to describe Joseph and David and Absalom: handsome, attractive, delightful company (Gen 39:6; 1 Sam 17:42; 2 Sam 14:25). Thatís the word Solomon uses to describe the acts of God in all the ups and downs of life! Whatever God does, says this wise teacher in Israel, is beautiful, desirable, delightful.
True: sinners do not experience all Godís actions this way. We like the ups, but not the downs; we like the laughter, but not the tears. But Solomon does not evaluate Godís works by the tastes of sinful men! With the words of our text Solomon speaks the language of faith. He believes: God has made everything beautiful, attractive, delightful, everything in its own time.
And no, congregation, here Solomon says nothing new. All God does is beautiful, even the suffering, the tears, the wars, the mourning, He gives? In truth, beloved, faith recognizes that all is beautiful. Directly after the fall into sin, God addressed the serpent in the hearing of both Adam and Eve. God spoke of enmity, of strife, of bruising, and thatís to say that He spoke of weeping, of tears, of pain, of calamity. But straightaway God proclaimed the purpose of the tears and the pain and the bruises. The Seed of the woman, God said to the serpent, "shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." That is: victory over sin would come through pain and tears! When, therefore, labor pains came upon Eve and she found it to be a time to weep, she could know there was purpose in it all Ė God was working to bring about the defeat of sin and Satan! Shall she then criticize the work of God?! Adam would battle the thorns and thistles of life day by day, but the thorns and thistles would not consume him; precisely in the midst of the prickles of life God was working to make His kingdom come. Shall Adam then bemoan the trials of life? No, God is at work, hastening the day of redemption, and He in wisdom has determined that the way of redemption includes bruises and struggles and strife. Criticize that? No! God has made everything beautiful in its time! People need not understand Godís ways, people not to approve Godís ways; people need to believe Godís ways, believe that the Lord makes no mistakes, believe that times of laughter and of weeping, of love and of hate, of war and of peace all play a role in restoring Paradise. In truth, He has made everything beautiful in its time.
That brings us to our second point:
2. The consequence of Solomonís confession.
What do you think, beloved: what practical implication flows from a confession that everything comes from God, and whatever He does is beautiful, delightful, good?
Solomon knows the human heart as well as we do. In the troughs of life, we tend to get down-hearted, burdened. Why, we say, why must this happen?! We come jealous of another whose trough (we think) isnít as deep as ours. Or: we come resentful that the Lord God would put this strife on our path. We want the positives life has to offer, and get troubled by the negatives. We want to understand the negatives, and we canítÖ, and thatís so frustrating. We end up anxious, worried, fretfulÖ.
In the second half of vs 11 Solomon acknowledges the impulse in every person to understand the things that happen. Our translation puts it this way: "also [God] has put eternity in their hearts." The point is that man is not like the animals. Animals meet up with sickness or pain, but do not fret as to the whys and wherefores of their discomfort Ė and tomorrow theyíve forgotten. In that sense they live for the moment, not for the long term. Not so people. People want to understand, people try to get a birdís eye view of the things that happen, the cause and effects, the whys and wherefores. We want the long-range view. Thatís what Solomon means with the reference to God putting Ďeternityí in our hearts.
But, Solomon continues, "no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end." Once in a while we might be able to understand a little bit of Godís plan, why God permits laughter this morning and sorrow this afternoon, why God gives a promising harvest only to let a hail storm destroy it, why God gives health to one and broken bones to another. But all too often (for our taste) we donít understand why some trial has to come on our path. And the big picture we certainly canít understand. To try to work that out can give so much heartache, so much anxiety, so much sleeplessness, so many ulcers. Equally: how to make straight what God has made crooked gives much tension, so much worryÖ. Sort it all out? Understand it all? Solomon knows: we canít. We canít understand what God does, we canít change what God does; all we can do is accept it. In the words of vs 14: "I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever" Ė it is done with eternity, Godís long-range plan, in mind. More: "nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it" Ė we simply canít change it.
What then? Resign ourselves to some sort of fatalism? No, not that either. Says Solomon at the end of vs 14: "God does [what He does], that men should fear before Him." God does it, that men may learn to stand in awe of this God, that people may marvel at this God, trust this God, believe that He knows the way and carries us safely along it day by day. Or, to say it in the words of our text: let people acknowledge that God makes everything beautiful in its time; thereís no mistake in it, His work is good, desirable, pleasant.
That conviction, brothers and sisters, leads to contentment, leads to eating and drinking and enjoying. Thereís a reason why Solomon follows the confession of our text with the instruction of vs 12: "I know that nothing is better for [people] than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor Ė it is the gift of God." The conviction that Godís work is good, beautiful Ėeven when we experience it as bad- produces contentment, peace in oneís heart. And peace in oneís heart provides opportunity to eat and drink and enjoy. Thatís the connection between vss 11 and 12: God has made everything beautiful in its time, and therefore donít fret when you canít understand; instead, enjoy the life God gives. Relax even in dark days, because the Lord God is at work through the bruises and enmity of life to destroy sin and SatanÖ.
No, beloved, this frame of mind does not come automatically to anybody, not to the people of God either. What anguish there will have been with Joseph when his brothers sold him to Egypt, when he was falsely accused by Potipherís wife and imprisoned. Surely, what opportunities for bitterness and resentment to grow in his heart! But, by the grace of his God-by-covenant, Joseph could leave the big questions of life Ėthe whys and wherefores- to the Lord, and admit that Yes, God had made everything beautiful in its time. When his brothers came to Egypt, he could tell them that God had done this all with a view to saving His people IsraelÖ.
So too David. What a life, forever being chased up and down the country side by a demon-driven King. Understand? David didnít have to. But in the psalms he wrote he confessed his trust in the Lord, acknowledged that Godís way with him was good, His work beautiful.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who showed us more than anyone else who the Father was, taught us the same principle in that well-known passage from Mt 6. Be anxious, fretful? Toss and turn because of the troughs of life, Godís waves and billows? No, said Jesus: you are more precious to your God than the birds and flowers. So relax in lifeís storms, and know yourself safe in times of sorrow and times of laughter, in times of war and in times of peace, in times of seeding and in times of plucking up a failed crop. With this God you are safe, completely safe.
Again, the apostle Paul spoke the same language from the prison in which the authorities had locked him. Bitter? Develop a heart condition through resentment? "I have learned," he wrote to the Philippians, "how to abound and how to be abased. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (Phil 4:11f). Hereís contentment, peace, the conviction that all Godís works are beautiful. To the Romans Paul writes in the same vein: "All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (8:28). Then sure, life has its troubles Ė Paul speaks of tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and peril and sword. "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time break down and a time to build up;" you name it, thereís a time for all. But Father controls it allł and therefore thereís no reason for Godís children-by-covenant to despair, to get anxious, to fret. The road to glory leads through suffering. So: relax and make the most of the opportunities God gives. Enjoy your food, enjoy your drink; rejoice wherever God leads.
We live on this side of the fall into sin. Trouble, sorrow, grief, brokenness characterizes this fallen life. But this we know: God, our Father in Christ, controls all perfectly. So we can cheerfully roll with the billows of life, confident that His way with us leads us to glory. We need not understand; itís enough to believe, enough to confess: our Father in Christ has made everything beautiful in its time." And that confession leads to contentment, relaxation, enjoyment, peace in heart and soul. Amen.