A sadness for me is that I don’t know biblical Hebrew. This morning, for example, I’ve been meditating on the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, versus 11-14. This is the follow up to the justly famous “to everything there is a season” section.
To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.
Given this bound but circular nature of time, the poet goes on to consider what we human beings can do in that reality.
I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:10-13)
Given this rather dim view of the world, the first thing that leaps to my mind are words my grandfather often quoted, from Jesus in Matthew 6:34, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
The first question is still a good one to ask: “What gain is there from the work we do?” The poet follows up with his experience: “I have seen the suffering that God has given to humanity to endure. God has made everything beautiful and lovely to our hearts, yet we cannot understand what we see. All we can do is enjoy our time.” Given this existential reality, the poet concludes, “We can eat and drink and enjoy the gifts of God.”
Yet this version misses an interesting conundrum: what is it God has set in the hearts of humanity? Some translations say “eternity,” some “the world.” I wonder, however, if it isn’t time that is set in our hearts:
God has made every thing beautiful in its season; also God has set time in our hearts, and so it is that no one can find out the work that God has done from the beginning to the end.
Whatever word will suffice, the message is clear: We are co-creators in this universe:
12 I know that there is no good in these works of God except for us to rejoice in them and to do good in his life.
13 I also know that everyone should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all our labor, for it is the gift of God.