Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 may have the distinction of providing the most ancient lyrics ever to hit number one on the Billboard charts. These verses form the bulk of the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” recorded by the Byrds in 1965. Popular acclaim notwithstanding, the author of Ecclesiastes gives us a perspective on the ever-turning experiences of life. With 14 pairs of opposites, he presents us with the times which are common to humanity. There are times to be born and die, heal and kill, plant and pull up, dance and mourn, and so on. It is a poetically stated commentary on reality.
As the writer continues, he gives us some important insights related to his catalog of our turning times. First, he tells us that God makes all things beautiful in its time (3:11). In other words, God is up to something through the twists and turns of our times that will result in his beautiful purpose being fulfilled. Second, he tells us that God has put eternity in our hearts. There is a kind of innate sense that there is more going on in our multi-faceted experience than just the passing of time and events. There is an echo of eternity in our hearts. What is happening is in some way related to eternity. But, he continues, the echo doesn’t give us a play-by-play understanding of what God is doing. We don’t see clearly what God is accomplishing from beginning to end. This is the mystery of God’s providence. He is at work. Of that we can be sure. But we don’t always see exactly what He is doing.
Given the turns of our times and God’s providential working through them to accomplish his beautiful purpose, how should we live? What is our posture toward the turn, turn, turning of our times? He states three things we should do which are supported by the scaffolding of the doctrine of God’s providence (3:12-15).
- We should be joyful and do good. We should not allow the mixture of pleasant and unpleasant times (birth vs. death, dancing vs. mourning) to make us sour in spirit and apathetic. Rather, because we know God is at work in our times, we should be joyful and do good. An active spirit of glad goodness is the proper response.
- We should take pleasure in God’s gifts. The writer says we should eat, drink, and take pleasure in our work. A good cheeseburger, a cold glass of iced tea, and a hard days work are gifts to be enjoyed (along with many other things).
- We should stand in awe of God. God’s purpose is enduring and unchangeable. We can’t make it better. We can’t thwart it. God’s providence in all the turns of our experience is cause for us to still ourselves in worshipful awe.
We cannot predict or control with certainty what will happen to us in this new year. Will it be life or death, planting or pulling up, dancing or mourning, or all of the above? We don’t know. But we do know that God is working out his purpose in all these things for His glory and the good of His people. So, we determine to serve Him and do good, to enjoy His gifts to us, and to worship Him no matter how our times turn, turn, turn.