I can’t think of a better way to begin my new blog series, Suffering and the Goodness of God, than with verses 1 through 8 in the 3rd chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon, the author, was known as a spectacularly wealthy and wise King of Israel who succeeded his father, King David.
In this book of the Bible he writes about the experiences in his life that have produced little reward. Solomon’s experiences were not limiting though, as he had access to whatever he desired. He observed and evaluated the outcome of his pursuit of wisdom, pleasure and work, and as a result he became increasingly disillusioned with these pursuits when they were devoid of the purposes of God. Solomon concludes the book of Ecclesiastes with this declaration:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
The 8 verses in chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes are a demonstration of Solomon’s wisdom. He pens 14 pairs of contrasting activities. Each pair describes the cyclical nature of how life presents itself to humans on this earth. One activity in each line presents a happy and positive scenario whereas the other activity in each line presents a sad or undesirable scenario.
I will be examining the 14 pairs of activities in these 8 verses in three different blog posts. This blog post will cover verses 1 through 3 and 4 contrasting activities.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-6 – A Time for Everything
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build
Our human nature expects and desires the happy scenarios to play out in our lives and resists and distains the difficult scenarios. But if we don’t embrace the value of suffering, our lives will be full of fear, dread and avoidance.
Think about how differently these verses would read if every undesirable scenario was removed, but there is a time for everything and there will always be a time for suffering in our lives.
3 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
Solomon is reminding us that all our activities are done under the watchful eye of heaven, and these activities will play out like the ebb and flow of a beach. There will be times in our lives like the ebb where we will experience the draining or leaving of people and things from our lives, and there will be times in our lives like the flow where new experiences, people and things will flow into our lives.
Facebook and Instagram are the perfect platforms for displaying this cyclical nature of life. In just one short sitting of scrolling through Facebook I might see birth, death and engagement announcements; requests for prayers for a friend or family member suffering from an illness; a happy post about the purchase of a new home; an advertisement for items that are being given away; an emotional opinion shared about a senseless killing… and the list goes on.
It may be hard for someone who is suffering to see the happy Facebook posts. Social media is one of the platforms for people to learn how to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15) rather than trying to one up each other with fantastic stories of triumph and fun.
2 a time to be born and a time to die
My dearly loved sister, Joanne, died at the age of 58 on Friday, November 3rd. I exchanged text messages with her on the Monday before her death. Little did I know that she would be rushed to the hospital on Tuesday and gone from this earth by Friday. Joanne’s son, Joey, called me within minutes of her death that occurred in the hospital hospice room. He mentioned to me how peaceful she looked as life left her body. I remember my sister as a child. I can visualize the pictures of her as a baby. January 15, 1959 was her time to be born, and Friday, November 3, 2017 was her time to die.
Recently I was scrolling through my contacts on my phone and saw 3 names of people who were under the age of 60 who died during this past year. Though I will never be able to call them again, I cannot bring myself to delete their contact numbers.
Reflection: Think of all the birth and death announcements you have heard or read about this year. How have these announcements fit into the season of life you are in right now?
a time to plant and a time to uproot
This past spring my husband, Kevin, got all excited about planting sunflower seeds along the side of our house that faces the sun. We had friends join us in planting seeds with hopes to grow over a dozen sunflowers. By the middle of summer, only 3 sunflower plants survived the Central Oregon summer heat and winds, but boy were those 3 sunflowers magnificent!
Below is a picture of one of the sunflowers when it first bloomed this summer. On the right is what the sunflower looks like in November. In its prime, this flower reached 6 feet in height; however, eventually the bloom started to droop and caused the stem to bend sharply, so we had to uproot the plant. We cut off the flower from its stem and placed it on our counter near our bowl of fruit to observe its transformation apart from the nourishment of the stem.
Reflection: Is there something in your life that was once new and glorious but now requires uprooting?
3 a time to kill and a time to heal
There are many ways to interpret this line, but what comes to my mind is when my friend, Cheryl Boyd, had to undergo Chemotherapy to kill her breast cancer for her to begin the healing process. Sometimes we must kill first before we can heal.
Cheryl was so faithful, courageous and happy during her chemo treatments. She lost all her hair, but was ecstatic when she found a cute wig to wear to work. Cheryl is a doctor and worked tirelessly during her chemo and radiation treatments. She has since completed her treatments and her hair is growing back and she is radiant. She is my hero.
Reflection: What needs to be killed in your life for you to heal? Is it a sin that has dogged you for years? It is a habit that hinders your progress in a specific area in your life?
a time to tear down and a time to build
This line perfectly describes my time in Bend, Oregon. My daughter, my dog, my husband and I drove into Bend on September 4, 2016 and spent all last fall building up our new life in Oregon. We greeted the moving van with excitement to set up our new home in Bend. We obtained our Oregon driver’s licenses, plates and phone numbers. We had neighborhood cookouts at our home and invited people to our home for Sunday House Church services. We joined the gym, went to the Tower Theater plays and created a Bible Study meetup that allowed us to meet some amazing women in Bend. We hosted three young women in our home for the One Year Challenge program sponsored by our church fellowship.
One year later, in the fall of 2017, we are now tearing down everything we built. My daughter moved to Corvallis, and our One Year Challenge girl, Amy, moved to Eugene. Kevin and I put our house on the market in September and we are now in escrow with a closing date of December 15 and have a close date of January 2 on a new home in Medford, Oregon. The Bend Bible Study Meetup has been discontinued, the gym memberships have ended, and farewell dinners are being set up with friends we have made in Bend. God has made it clear to us that this was not our forever home. But God is good, and we look forward to our new life in each of our respective cities.
Reflection: What have you had to tear down that you so eagerly tried to build? How did God show you his love during this time?
In conclusion, there is much wisdom in Solomon’s first 3 verses in Ecclesiastes 3. We learn that suffering is weaved into the tapestries of our lives as a contrast to joy and pleasure. The deeper the contrast the more interesting the tapestry. God is just as good during the joyful times in our lives as he is during the painful times in our lives. The key is for us to embrace every time and season of our lives with the belief that God is good through it all.