Part 7: Eternity in the Heart

By October 24, 2013 Meaningless No Comments

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Part 7 eternity in the heart (Ecc 3:1-15)


 
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I love movies about time travel.  Back to the future.  Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  Butterfly Effect.  Love them.  This element took the TV show LOST to the next level for me – the backstory was cool, but when they introduced time travel to the show – next level.

 

I am fascinated with time travel and if I could do it, I would.  I would go back in time and do certain things differently.  And while time travel would be amazing, I would even settle for the ability to hit the pause button on life and stop time for a while in order to get caught up on certain things in my life – or better yet, get ahead.

 

Unfortunately, time travel only exists in the world of fiction, in movies, books and television.  I can’t time travel.  I can’t pause time.  I can’t even clone myself to get more stuff done.  I am held hostage under the tyranny of time.  I am one man.  I have to make choices about how I am going to use that time 24 hrs in a day.  I have to prioritize.  I am limited.  I am human.  I am finite.  I am bound by the days, months, and seasons that God has set in order.

 

I am bound by the fact that autumn is upon us and winter is around the corner.  I can’t control the fact that it’s about to get freezing as much as I prefer the warmer weather.  For those of you who love the autumn season, who love the changing of the leaves into yellow and orange and red and eventually brown, you’re welcome.  You can thank God for that, because he arranged the order of the world into seasons and that one is here and now.  You didn’t choose to make it now.  God did.  There is a cycle of seasons over which we have no control.

 

It is this ebb and flow of life, this cycle of seasons, the fact that the world is ordered and arranged by God and that there is a time and a season for every activity under the sun – this is the observation of our text this morning, the focus of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.

 

Let’s open our Bibles to Ecc 3.

 

As we read this text, you may find these words strikingly familiar, even if you have never read Ecclesiastes because they were made famous by a band called The Byrds who wrote a song called turn, turn, turn, in the 1960’s and the lyrics are almost entirely adapted from this text.

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

 

1There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

 

2     a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3     a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6     a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7     a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8     a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

 

9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

 

15 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.

 

The teacher begins with the observation that there is a time for everything a season for every activity under heaven.  Then he lists off 28 examples of activities, 14 pairs.  Some have said that there are 14 pluses and 14 minuses which adds up to nothing at all.

 

The list of examples is simply an observation.  It is descriptive not prescriptive.  In other words, it describes what is; it doesn’t tell us what to do.  So we can’t go commit murder and then say, Ecc 3:3, it was a time to kill.  The teacher is simply observing that God has arranged the cosmic order in such a way that mankind is bound by the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the highs and lows, the ebb and flow of life; it is seasonal.  It doesn’t stay still; you can’t freeze time, capture a moment or push the pause button.

 

So he makes the observation that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.  Then he lists several examples of these times and seasons, after which he poses his famous question What do workers gain from their toil? This is not the first time he has asked this, but doesn’t it seem interesting that he would ask it after this list?  Does it seem a bit random and abrupt to you as you read it?  It did for me.  It felt like a bit of a non-sequitor, a Jesse segue if you will.  Speaking of times and seasons, what do workers gain from their toil?

 

I’m going to do my best to connect these dots here as I understand the flow of the text.

 

Consider the toil of a farmer; if he wanted to harvest any and all crops year round, he couldn’t exactly do that.  James 5 uses the farmer as an example of patience in reference to the coming of the Lord.  He says see how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crops and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.  The farmer can’t control the rain.  God brings the rain in the rainy seasons.  The farmer can’t control when the rain comes, or when the harvest comes.  I’m sure the farmer would love if he could control those things and have an abundance of crops at all times.  But he can’t – he is finite, limited by space and time, bound by things that are outside of man’s control, things that only God controls, things that God set in order.  There is a time to plant and a time to uproot.

 

As a farmer, I would want all my crops to do well, all my trees to bear fruit, but I can’t control that.  I can do everything in my power to work with wisdom and diligence, learn how much to water and give the right amount of shade and the right nutrients with which to enrich the soil and rotate crops and get as scientific as possible and do it to the best of my ability, but there may be a time not only to plant, but also, to uproot.  I may have to take that tree out of the ground.

 

Some of you know that I had a palm tree in my front yard.  I planted that, took a lot of pride in it.  I hoped it would grow to be as tall as my house.  But one day it just died.  And I had to uproot it.  I did the best I could with it but it died.  That was out of my control, a time to uproot.

 

What did the worker –that is ME – gain from his toil in planting?  In a sense, I planted that thing in vain.

 

We like gain.  We prefer progress, when things go our way.  We like to build.  But sometimes in life, termites happen, wood warps, and rots, so not only do we build, but have to tear down a structure.  A time to tear down and a time to build. We prefer the time to build, but the time to tear down is a reality and it is one that makes us ask, what do workers gain from their toil?  It seems that at times, we take two steps forward and one step back.  Sometimes we take one step forward and two steps back as far as we are concerned as far as we consider progress.

 

We work hard for our possessions, we toil, perhaps save up, make a purchase and we see this as progress; in a sense we gained from our toil – one step forward – a step in the right direction.  What happens when we lose those possessions?  Anyone like to lose something?  That’s frustrating.  When we lose something, want to search and search and search until we find it.  But, the reality is: it may be gone forever – at that point, it’s time to give up.  For there is a time to search and a time to give up.  But giving up means we did indeed lose something.  Loss is a step backwards.  The one step forward is negated by the one step back.  Now what did the worker gain from his toil under the sun?  It was done in vain.

 

Emotionally speaking we like to laugh, and dance, and embrace.  Those are the emotional responses to the ups in life, the good times, the happy times, when things are going well and we are progressing, in a sense.  But sometimes tragedy happens and we mourn and weep.  One moment New Orleans is celebrating Mardi Gras and the next they are weeping in the wake of Katrina.  So there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

 

This is the ebb and flow of life.  The ups and downs.  The seasons that God has ordained.  We make progress.  We regress.  We move forward.  We move backwards.  We don’t seem to get anywhere.

 

Once again: the teacher is asking in his Seinfeld-esque way, what is the deal with work?  What does the worker gain from his toil?  We begin to make progress and then we hit a brick wall.  And we try to knock down that brick wall and if we do, we only progress so far before we fall into a pit.  We climb out of that pit and move forward only to find that we have been going in the wrong direction and have to back track.  We take two steps forward and one or two steps back.  We aren’t getting anywhere with this toil.  What is it all for?  What do we gain from it?

 

Then the teacher states: 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.

 

What is this burden that God has laid upon mankind?

 

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet [without which] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

 

What is the burden that God has laid on man?  There is a tension within us.  We are bound by time and yet, we have this concept of eternity in our hearts; we know that God is and was.  He was there in the beginning, long before us and he will be long after us.  We have this longing for the things of eternity, but we can’t quite lay hold of them.  We cannot break the bounds of time.  We want to, but God has limited us.

 

So what conclusion does he draw?  Once again: 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

 

This is the basic and fundamental necessity of life.  You work so that you can get money so that you can buy food so that you can eat.  You eat so that you can have the strength to continue to work so that you can buy food to eat so that you can work.  That is the life that God has ordained for humans under the sun.  That is our lot in life and according to the Teacher, we might as well enjoy it.

 

But as humans we tend to want more.  The more we get the more we want.  Until we are satisfied with what we have we will never be satisfied.  Once we get what we think will make us happy it lasts for but a short time before we want more.  I’ll be happy when I get that next gun, land that next trick, make that next gain at the gym, when I get that new piece of furniture, that new phone, that new vehicle.  When I get the promotion and I’m the boss and I’m making more money.  When I am rich and famous.

 

I’ll be happy when I fill in the blank, but once we attain that we will want something else.

 

Humans want more than the mundane life that has been set before us.  We want to get there, we want to break out of this mundane monotony and arrive, we want to be somebody.

 

Once we break out of the normalcy of life is that it?  When do we truly arrive?  When do we reach that level that will truly satisfy our souls?  When you get to be the king and have hundreds of wives and concubines and slaves, and gardens and parks and everything you could ever ask for under the sun and more wisdom than any human, are you ultimately satisfied by those things?  NO.  The man who broke the monotony and had everything you could ask for said NO.  His counsel is to accept the boundaries of time and season in God’s divinely designed order and whatever limitations it has on your toil.  Accept your lot in life as eating drinking and working and find enjoyment in it.

 

So man is bound by time, he is finite, but God is infinite.  What man does is subject to decay and it won’t endure forever.  By contrast, as the teacher says next:

 

14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

 

15 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.

 

It is all designed this way so that you and I remain aware that we are NOT God and no matter how hard we strive we will never BE God, much less be on his level.  God does it so that people will fear him, so that we will revere HIM.

 

We are much like a hamster running in a wheel, running and running yet not getting anywhere.  But we can see through the glass and beyond; we see that there is somewhere out there a vast expanse beyond the cage.  We see but a glimpse of it.  We can’t go there.  We will never, as the hamster, in our own efforts, make the journey beyond that glass.  We will spin the wheel, for it is our lot, and we see what is beyond, we have the capacity to see it, but we are limited.  We have been bound by limitations, restricted to the cage.

 

Humans are on another level.  Hamsters are not on the same level as humans.  Humans limit a hamster to a cage and restricts its toil.  It can run, run, run on that wheel but it isn’t going to get anywhere.  In the same way, God has limited us; we are bound by space and time.  Yet, He put eternity in our hearts.  We know about eternity and have the capacity to know of eternal things, but we, as humans, are not on the same level as the infinite God, for we are finite.  We are limited.  We want our accomplishments to last forever but they don’t.  We want to progress and continue to make progress, but that progress gets stunted.  We want to be like God – for his work lasts forever.  We build our towers of Babel, but just before we lay the last brick that reaches the heavens God topples our tower, confounds our speech, and scatters us abroad.  We can build our New Orleans but He brings a Katrina to wipe it out.  He puts limitations on our lives.  Why?  To remind us that:

 

  • we are human.  He is God.

  • We are finite, he is infinite.

  • What we do comes to nothing, but God’s work endures forever and nothing can be added to it or taken from it.

 

He does it so that we, in humility will fear him.  In fact, the YLT renders verse 10 I have seen the travail that God has given to the sons of man to be humbled by it.

 

It sure is humbling when you think you’re working hard and making progress, taking steps forward and then you have to take a step or two back.  So next time you’re stymied, next time you’re frustrated by a road block, remember that God puts those there.  Talk about perspective.  God puts those in our lives to keep us humble so that we will remember just how small we are and how big he is.  It’s like when the ant bites you and you give it that little reminder of who’s really big and who’s really small and insignificant by comparison.

 

(By the way, that’s the time to kill.)

 

We want eternity, we long for the things of eternity, and we want our work and our lives to have infinite significance, but here we are, finite creatures, whose work is constrained by the ebb and flow of life, bound by time and subject to decay.  And if we try to achieve some level of significance, try to reach eternity by our own hands, with our own might and effort, we find frustration as our tower of Babel crumbles before our very eyes.  We find that no matter how fast we run, run, run on that wheel we get nowhere, though it turn, turn, turns.  We find that nothing that we do in and of ourselves can get us to that level.

 

So when we get hit with that frustration and see beyond the glass and into the vast stretch of terrain that we will never attain in our own power, let that be a signal to our hearts to remember that:

 

  • we are human.  He is God.

  • We are finite, he is infinite.

  • What we do comes to nothing, but God’s work endures forever and nothing can be added to it or taken from it.

 

God has put a burden on man; he put eternity in our hearts and yet we are bound by time SO THAT we will revere him.  Let those moments of frustration and failure be to us a call to worship. Grant him the praise, honor, worship he deserves and ascribe to him the glory due his name.

 

While Ecclesiastes was written by the wisest man of all time, we have more revelation than he did.  He addresses the sense of eternity that God put in man’s heart and I believe goes hand in hand with an innate desire for eternal life.

 

But that eternal life is not something that man has by nature, nor is it something that man attains through his own effort any more than the hamster can take himself out of the cage to traverse the terrain beyond the glass cage.  Someone greater than the hamster must take him and place him outside of the cage and into the vast expanse that is beyond.  In the same way, the hand of God must take us and place us into the realm of eternal life.

 

Eternal life is the gift of God that comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the means by which man’s longing for eternity is satisfied.  The really good news for you and I is that God sent his son in the form of a man so that men could become the sons of God and in him we have the eternal life for which our hearts yearn.  It is the work of God and everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.  Eternal life, like the enjoyment of our toil is the gift of God.  Let us, therefore, revere Him and respond in worship.