Rev. L. Althouse
April 30, 2006
Background Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3. Devotional Reading: Psalms 34:1-8.
People sometimes tell me that they “do not interpret the Bible,” but “just take it as it is.” But, unless we personally or collectively possess the mind of God - which Isaiah says we do not (55:8, 9) - we cannot help but interpret it.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in Ecclesi-astes and especially 3:1-8, a favorite and popular passage, often used at funerals and memorial services. It is also one of my favorites, but I know that there is great controversy over it.
Reading a Biblical passage, we must ask ourselves: what was the writer saying? Ask 12 Christians the meaning of 3:1-8 and you are likely to get 15 different answers. Some will say that it affirms that everything in life and time is predestined by God, including the specific times of events in our individual and collective lives.
Seasons of time
Others will say that, yes, God does guide and control the course of time, but he gives us the freedom to react to these events and work with him in shaping history.
What makes this passage doubly difficult for us is that it is poetry, making it all the more difficult for the Western mind, which always wants to nail down meaning definitely.
Christians have thus been battling over predestination and freedom since the very beginning of Christianity - and not only Christians. The fatalist argues that, if we have the free will, then God does not have full sovereignty. The advocate of free will contends that, if everything is predetermined, than human beings cannot be responsible for their acts. I believe, however, that there is a position between these two extremes that both affirm God’s sovereignty and freedom of human will.
There is even a suggestion of this paradox in Ecclesiastes? While 3:1-8 clearly establishes God’s sovereignty over time and history, in 3:17 Koheleth accepts that humans are judged by God for the choices they make: “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work.” Without the freedom to choose, God could not, would not judge us.
Times & tides
I don’t know how Koheleth would resolve this mystery, but I believe that God can speak to us through his words and tell us that the ebbs and tides of time and history are fixed by God the Creator and also that we have choices in responding to them.
The choices you make this day of your life may have consequences for both you and others, but it will not change the course of God’s will. Even the affairs of nations and peoples will leave marks upon human history, but the outcome is firmly in God’s grasp.
So, Koheleth’s counsel is sound, if incomplete: “I know … also that it is God’s gift to man that every one should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil. I know that God endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.” (3:12, 13)
I also remember the words of our Lord, when he said: “Give us this day our daily bread … for thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever.”
Is the game “fixed?” The final outcome has been fixed by God’s inexorable will, but how we play that game is our choice and the ground of God’s judgment.
This farm news was published in the April 26, 2006 issue of Farm World.