“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” – Eccl. 3:11
Written by King Solomon, the book of Ecclesiastes is a contemplative work exploring the realities of life. When we land in chapter three, time is the focus of Solomon’s dialogue. Stated clearly in verse 1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:” and verse 11a, “He has made everything beautiful in its time,” it is evident the tide of time is a central point of Solomon’s reflection. The Preacher concludes God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”
As a people faced with the disappointment of unraveled plans and the painful tragedies of loss, it would be easy to question his conclusion and ultimately God’s provision. When the tattered remains of our plans are left in our hands, what do we hold onto? Can beauty come from the dust of suffering and the ashes of death? For these questions, we need look no further than the cross of Christ. His brutal death for our redemption. A cosmic tradeoff – death for life. A shadow of Jesus’s work, the prophet Isaiah paints a vivid picture of the beautiful reversals God’s work of redemption usher in.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” - Isa. 61:1-4
Poverty, broken hearts, captivity, prison, mourning, ashes, ruin, devastation. All the horrors and brokenness of our world are but a canvas for redemption’s work. God’s restoration is an unexpected channel through the desert – a pure harmony breaking in and diffusing the sharp discord of our expectations with reality.
When we question His justice in the hear and now, it will do us good to remember we are not God. Psalm 147:5 says, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” Our purposes and plans stand for an instant, but God’s wisdom and understanding know no bounds. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isa. 55:8-9
Here we have a solid foundation for our lives. But, even with this knowledge, we are rocked deeply at times by the storms of life and the limitations time brings. Why do we struggle to hold on in the midst of change and inconsistency? God’s word in the book of Ecclesiastes cuts quickly to the core to explain our soul deep ache, “He has put eternity into man’s heart.”
Our desire for permanence is not unnatural. We were built for something durable, something that lasts. Those quiet thoughts speak volumes. Words reverberating throughout the course of history and time. A strong undercurrent, an echo, the faint pulse of our deepest human longings.
God made Himself known and He’s woven the whispers of eternity into our hearts as an echo of Himself. Genesis 3:27 speaks, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Our very being was made to reflect and image the divine nature of God. Although sin has left us war-torn rebels, only a tainted hint of what we were intended to be, “he has put eternity into man's heart.”
Everything in our experience indicates change and inconsistency define reality, yet mankind still has a sense of eternity. The idea that we would not be bound by a sequence of events, that beginnings and ends would not always hang in the balance. God wired us to crave permanence. And although we toe the line between the ever-present tides of change and a glimpse at an eternal view, we can have confidence God’s victory over death will have the final word. Eccl. 3:14 says, “I know that everything God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of him.” (CSB)
Because of sin and the ever-present constraint of time, man was “subjected to futility along with the rest of creation.” Apart from Christ, our blinders are on and we are willfully ignorant to God’s purpose and design. We reject the eternal perspective given to us by God in favor of our own time-bound agendas. Instead of standing in awe of a permanent God where we can find our hope, we often shift our gaze to the here and now.
The problem is our hearts were not meant to be bound by time and no pursuit or dream fulfilled will satisfy a heart made for eternity. A.W. Tozer says, “To be made for eternity and to be forced to dwell in time is for mankind a tragedy of huge proportions. All within us cries for life and permanence, and everything around us reminds us of mortality and change. Yet that God has made us for the stuff of eternity is both a glory yet to be fulfilled and a prophecy yet to be realized.”
Even though we were built for eternity, the last line of this passage reminds us “yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Although eternity is woven into our hearts, our sin nature easily blinds us and distracts us from our true calling. Apart from Christ, we are often tied down by running after empty expressions of happiness. We chase success. One achievement always leads to another pursuit unfulfilled. The constraints of time lay a heavy burden on our souls – a weight we cannot overcome on our own.
However, there is a sweet promise of healing in our inadequacies. The ache of our own limitation reveals our greatest need. A restlessness pushing us to the only place of substance and permanence we can know.
“How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none. Eternal years lie in His heart. For Him time does not pass, it remains; and those who are in Christ share with Him all the riches of limitless time and endless years. God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which He must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves…the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus is as limitless as God. The Christian man possesses God’s own life and shares His infinitude with Him. In God there is life enough for all and time enough to enjoy it.” (Tozer, 2018)
Our deepest longings were designed as signposts to direct us home. A faint call to our true identities. 2 Cor. 4:7, 16-18 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us...So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Although we are bound by time and limited in our view, we can run to the one who is eternal and everlasting. Our sin created the deep divide keeping us from resting in the promise of eternity. But thanks be to God for sending His son, Jesus, to die as a payment for our sins and to rise from the dead in victory, so we can have confident faith in His power to redeem us, to provide for eternal life with Him.
John 17:3 reminds us of our unending hope in the Gospel, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Our lasting hope, our permanent life is secure in Him. So, we can lift our eyes off of the limited, empty pleasures that so easily draw us away and trade them in for an unfading beauty. A beacon of hope and the reality of unending joy as we trust an all knowing, all good, all powerful God to make all things beautiful in their time.