Ecclesiastes: Meaningless Life?
Flip Flops in the Snow: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
Winters at my college included a lot of snow, but there were always guys determined to wear the same clothes no matter what season it was. In the scorching hot summer months they would wear shorts and flip-flops. In the freezing winter months they would also wear the same shorts and flip-flops. They were prone to slip and fall frequently, have freezing feet, and catch one cold after another.
In life, it is important to know what season you are in and act accordingly. If not, you could be working against the God ordained rhythms in your life. Doing so is as futile as yelling at an apple tree in the dead of winter demanding that it produce fresh fruit immediately. What is true seasonally is also true spiritually, which is the theme of Ecclesiastes 3 stating, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”
If that sounds familiar, there might be a good reason. If you are enjoy with music trivia, perhaps you can answer this question – Which U.S. hit song has the honor of the oldest lyrics? The answer is the song, “To Everything There Is a Season” by the band The Byrds in 1965. Curiously, the lyrics are taken word for word from chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes.
The big idea of this chapter is learning to be discerning. Things start – like a school year, relationship, job, or life. Things end – like graduation, divorce, unemployment, or death. Life is odd.
One day you are the windshield. One day you are the fly.
One day you get torn up. One day you heal up.
One day you watch your life come together. One day you watch your life fall apart.
One day you cannot stop smiling. One day you cannot stop weeping.
One day you cannot stop dancing. One day you cannot stop grieving.
One day your house gets built. One day your house gets bulldozed.
One day your loved one walks toward you. One day your loved one walks away from you.
One day you have hope and pursue your dreams. One day you lose hope and accept your nightmare.
One day you bring a new thing home. One day you throw it in the garbage.
One day you need to open your mouth. One day you need to shut your mouth.
One day you love your life. One day you hate your life.
One day life feels like a vacation. One day life feels like a war.
The key to life is knowing what season you are in. Just because life went well yesterday when you laughed, danced, shut your mouth, and avoided conflict does not mean that the same course of action will work today. Too often, we reduce life down to how we do things, based upon what has worked and not worked for us in the past. To some degree, this can be helpful. Unfortunately, without wisdom that helps us to know what season we are in, we are all pretty much wearing flip-flops in the snow much of the time.
We can know this intuitively, which is why we have rites of passages and other ways of denoting a shift from one season to the next:
When your mom got pregnant, friends gave her a baby shower. When you were born, you got your photo taken and some form of government identification issued. Every year, a party is thrown on your birthday. The day you started school, your photo was taken and a big deal was made. To show you are becoming an adult, you are given the right to drive a car and vote for a president. When you graduate from high school, you send out announcements, host a party, and have a formal ceremony to receive your diploma. When you graduate from college, that happens again. When you get married, everyone gets dressed up and ushers you into the new season of your life. When you retire from work, someone buys you a cake and your coworkers thank you.
Without clear markers and rites of passage, people do not know what season they are in and can feel lost or confused. Life works better when there is a hinge moment to signify that the door to one season is closing as the door to another season is opening.
In our day, this includes the lack of clear definition when someone becomes an adult, which explains a lot of the childish behavior, especially among young men. In some past cultures, the path to adulthood was rather clear. At a certain age, the family and friends had some form of ceremony to signify they were no longer a child but rather an adult. Today, western culture has no such clarity. The question then persists – when does someone become an adult? When they can drive, vote, or serve in the military? When they have graduated from high school or college, or moved out of their parents’ home, got married, or become a parent?
The result is confusion. There is nothing wrong with acting like a child if someone IS a child. There is a problem when an adult acts like a child, which can happen when people do not know what season they are in and what is required of them.
Additionally, one of the reasons we avoid the responsibilities in a season of life is simply because we get sick of trying and failing. Do you ever wake up in the morning and say, “What am I doing? I’m working so hard at my job and on my life and with my stuff and all the things that I have to do.” Why? Are you ever going to finish everything that you need to do? No. If you did finish it, would it come undone right away? “Hey, I did the laundry.” “Hey, I mowed the lawn.” “Hey, I did the dishes.” “Hey, I paid my bills.” “Hey, I fixed my car.” “Hey, I organized my house.” It’s all done, but not forever.
It’s going to come undone again. It’s always coming undone. Not only that, what you do is never done. If you do get it done and it doesn’t come undone, what happens? Everything changes and what you finished doesn’t matter anymore.
Furthermore in our heart is a longing for eternity and perfection – a Kingdom where good things never end and bad things never are. We want our loving relationships and hard work to endure forever. Eventually, everything comes to an end and we are left dissatisfied, disapproving, and disillusioned in this fragile, fallen, and frustrating world.
Thankfully, in time God will make everything beautiful. Until we see it as he sees it, we have to trust him in faith. One day we will die, and sit with him above it all to see what he was doing from beginning to end, but it’s not yet that time.
Do you think you’ve ever worked a day in vain? Do you think you’ve ever shed a tear in vain? Do you think you’ve ever read a Bible verse in vain? Do you think you’ve ever confessed a sin in vain? Do you think a bullet has ever been fired in vain? Do you think a meal has ever been eaten in vain? No. God makes everything beautiful in its time. When? In its time! In HIS time!
God wastes nothing. Our great God uses godless guys like Herod, who killed Jesus, like an ax in his hand for his purposes. He used brutal betrayers like Judas Iscariot to fulfill prophecy and to bring about the redemption of his people. We have a God who uses everything, everyone, every day, every minute, every opportunity and he bends it all back toward his will and his beauty. We’ll see the fabric of our lives as part of that tapestry that God is weaving through history.
Echoing Solomon, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:9-13 (ESV), “For we know in part…but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away…For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” That day will be a beautiful day when God makes everything beautiful once and for all.
We often spend our time looking back with regret, or looking forward with plans, and miss the present. We become consumed with mourning the past or changing the future, and unfortunately miss the present.
How can we enjoy the present is the issue Solomon is driving at. How the answer gets articulated a bit differently depending upon how you were taught. When I am with my Reformed Calvinistic friends, they will talk about the sovereignty of God and how John Calvin taught that God has two hands. One is his active will where he makes things happen. The other is his passive will where he allows things to happen. So, whatever is in your life is from God’s hand in one way or another and you need to accept it even if you don’t understand it. When I am with my Charismatic and Pentecostal friends, they will talk about the flow of God. They explain that we need to discern through the Holy Spirit what God is doing in our life, and flow with it like a kite in a breeze. Either way, the big idea is to know what season you are in, trust that God is in it, and find a way to be happy and enjoy it with people we love. There is very little you will take with you into God’s eternal kingdom, but you will take people and memories. We are being encouraged to take the time to enjoy people, be happy, and make memories.
In closing, on a few occasions we have taken our kids to a waterslide park and it’s interesting to watch how both adults and kids react once they get to the top of the slide. Some freak out and stand there a long time conflicted. Others try and get in the slide and go slowly down controlling the pace which is futile. Still others try and stop half way down which is in vain. And, the wise few lean back, throw their hands in the air, and just flow with it. Children tend to know their season of life and have the faith of a child and enjoy what is in front of them. That is the point Ecclesiastes 3 is trying to make pressing us toward a child-like rather than a childish faith.
Questions for Personal and Group Study Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
- How does seeing life as seasons and cycles help us pull back from the immediate, and consider things in a longer timeframe and bigger picture?
- What are some of the most significant rites of passage and life markers that you remember from your past?
- What season of life are you in right now?
- What burdens are on you in this current season of life?
- How is the pursuit of happiness and enjoyment going right now?
- What things are you most excited to see God make beautiful when the time comes?