Just as the four seasons breeze in, coloring the landscape and altering the temperature, and melt away, taking deferential leave at their appointed time, so the seasons of our lives come and go, coloring and altering the landscape of our homes, tasks, emotions, and relationships. We have no control over the seasons of the year: we cannot tell summer to “start on your mark” or give winter two-week’s notice, and so we adapt and plan our lives around their ever-changing patterns. Neither can we control the seasons and times of our lives. They trot in or trickle out, one after another, but all of them are beyond our control. The times of our lives—none of which we decide—is what Solomon’s second, and most famous, poem is about (Eccles. 3:1–8).
Dancing to Someone Else’s Tune
Many peer at this poem the same way they look at all of life: through a self-determining filter. They think Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 is an array of options from which they can pick and choose their times and seasons. But if that were the case, who of us would choose “a time to weep,” “a time to lose,” or “a time for war” (vv. 4, 6, 8)? The point of Solomon’s poem is that we don’t choose our times; they are chosen for us. We don’t schedule our seasons; they are predetermined: beginning, duration, and end. There is a time for everything, but not a time of our choosing for anything. We did not pick the day of our birth, and we will not decide the day of our death; neither can we map out life’s journey or choose where we’ll stop along the way. As Derek Kidner sums it up: “We dance to a tune, or many tunes, not of our own making.” As hard as it is for us to accept this fact, the reality is: nothing in life is self-determined.
The key to unlocking Solomon’s poem is found under the doormat of verses 9 and 10: “What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (Eccles. 3:9–10). There it is again: “God has given.” All of the times of living and dying, weeping and laughing, warring and peacemaking, plucking and planting? It’s all business that God the giver has given us to be busy with. And every season—long and short, good and bad—is under his control.
The God behind the Relationships
Look closely and you’ll see that this poem also has a lot to do with people, as do our lives. Times and seasons are often set in motion, interrupted, or even redirected by our relationships. As hard as we may try to manage or influence other people, we spend most of our lives responding to the words, actions, and needs of those around us. We sit in silence beside a grieving friend, and speak a hard truth to a wayward Christian. We laugh at a mischievous toddler, and weep over a resentful teenager. We love righteousness, and we hate sin. The various seasons of our lives are affected by the changing character of our relationships. As one author poignantly illustrates: “We dance at a wedding, and we mourn the loss of the one we danced with. We laugh together, and we weep for what the people we used to laugh with have done to us.” But no matter how much our lives seem determined by what other people have done to us, it is God who is behind the scenes, doing it all.
God is the one giving us all this people-business to be busy with. He is the one stage-managing all the times and seasons of all the relationships in our lives. As Jonathan Edwards observes: “The fact, that the hand of God is a great deal more concerned in all that happens to us than the treatment of men is, should lead us, in a great measure, not to think of things as from men, but to have respect to them chiefly as from God.” God is in control of everything that people try to control or even appear to control. Whether it is a great war or a personal conflict, an accidental fire or a boss firing, a friend’s care or a stranger’s unkindness, we are not at the mercy of other people’s actions. No matter how much a situation may appear to be from the hand of man, there is “providence . . . in that thing.” God is behind all of it.
Everything that happens to us is chiefly from God, and everything that happens to our loved ones is from him as well. On the same day this week, one of our family members lost his job due to layoffs while another received a long-hoped-for promotion. Remembering that the hand of God is a great deal more concerned in “a time to seek, and a time to lose” than any supervisor or coworker, any teacher or classmate, can protect us from fear and infuse us with hope as we wait for his good purposes to unfold for those we love.
All Things Bewildering and Beautiful
Solomon’s poem presents life and relationships in their complexities and complications, their reversals and renewals, their melancholies and their merrymakings, all woven together to form God’s grand plan. He is above the sun, orchestrating every moment and emotion of every person’s life under the sun. All the undulating times and maturing seasons fit into a perfect pattern that only he can see. When we try to make sense of it all, we can only squint at what appears to be a mass of tangled threads, incomprehensible to us. But each strand is intricately hand-stitched by God. He is fashioning this masterpiece out of all the threads of all the lives of all the people who have ever lived, and he is doing it all for his glorious purposes.
We can only see a small fragment of what God is doing in our lives; the complete pattern is hidden from our view. But this passage also gives us a glimpse of what God has done, beyond our view: “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Eccles. 3:11). This, as one commentary claims, is “the greatest statement of divine providence in the whole of Scripture.” What confidence and comfort to know that not only is God in control of everything, he is controlling everything in such a way that makes it beautiful ! Better than that, he already has made it beautiful. It is already done and dusted, determined and decided, a fait accompli.
In God’s sublime sovereignty, the times and seasons of our lives have been made beautiful before they even happen. At present, things may appear ugly, twisted, confusing, and even hopeless to us, but he has already preordained their beautiful outcome. Each and every event in our lives is not only controlled by God, it has been crafted by God with purpose, precision, grace, and glory. He has a reason for every season of our lives. Unlike us, God does nothing in vain. He has made every single thing—every setback, every slanderous tongue, every faithless friend, every grim diagnosis, every mistake, every parenting heartbreak, every financial loss and lack, every injustice, and every bit of bad news—to be exquisitely, breathtakingly beautiful in his time.