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Aug 25 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 19, 2012 – Ecclesiastes 3:9-22

He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from beginning even to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

INTRO: What thought pops into your mind when you hear the term “control freak”?

Do you go straight to a definition? Think of a particular person?
– someone who is compelled to take charge of their environment, including everything and everyone in it

To be fair, we all like to have things in order
– if we need to go somewhere and climb into our car, we expect it to start
• that’s what a car is supposed to do – it’s why we put gas in it and maintain it

Order meets two essential human needs: dependability and predictability

Israel’s spiritual life developed in several directions – or “branches,” such as
– law, prophecy, theology, worship, and the wisdom tradition
– Proverbs is the quintessential example of the wisdom tradition
• it implies a search for order in the world and the practical application of its discoveries to real-life situations

This is exactly where we’ve been the last few weeks the “Preacher’s” poem on timing (vv. 1-8)
– time imposes a kind of order on our lives
– but in verse 9 we hit a snag

Vv. 9-11, Clued-in on timing, what have we really gained?

We find in the beginning, middle, and end of passage the statement, “I have seen”
– this is the voice of experience

The poem creates a hope that we’re on verge of having life figured out
– but scanning the tasks and toils that are our destiny, the Preacher asks, “What profit?”
– even if our timing is flawless, all the work we did yesterday has to be repeated today
• are we actually getting anywhere? Nothing of what we accomplish lasts
• a well-ordered discipline can be sabotaged (9:11)
• regardless of the success that wisdom brings us, we still die (same as the foolish who failed in life)

But there’s something else that is the ultimate sabotage to timing
– God placed eternity in the human heart
• we can understand the concept, but cannot comprehend it
• so, though we know there’s an infinite past and infinite future, we have no idea what it means, and we “will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end”

There is more to time than our little life span – infinitely more
– yet we see so little of it and we naturally want more
That’s why he asks, “What profit is there to the worker . . .?”

Vv. 12-13, Discovery statement #1: “I know”

The best we can hope for:
1. Rejoice
2. Do good – what’s fitting, appropriate, wise
3. Luck out – “who eats and drinks and sees good in all his labor”

Not cynical, fatalistic, or unbelieving
– you are here in the situation God created, act wisely and enjoy it

V. 14, Discovery statement #2: “I know”

“Everything God does . . .” – in contrast to our human lives
– we have no foothold here – no revealed order to “forever” or “eternity”
• we have no wisdom to manage this
– nothing can be added to it and nothing can be taken from it
• it’s out of our hands

But could this possibly create a fissure humans could squeeze through?
– could God’s work that is “forever” include humans?
– is it possible that we’re not a temporary project?
The Preacher doesn’t go that far, but neither does he rule it out
– he leaves it hanging there

But we gain something from the discovery of our limitations
– “fear” – God’s infinite superiority drives us to reverence

v. 15, A monkey wrench in the machine

This is a confusing verse (even in the original Hebrew text) – no one really gets it
– “God seeks what is pursued” or what “follows after”
– perhaps, what humans hope to pursue (eternity) only God can pursue

Maybe the verse is supposed to be confusing – throw us off balance

Vv. 16-17, Back to life “under the sun” or “welcome to my world”

“I have seen” – voice of experience again

Last week, a family went off to Bass Lake for summer camp — they decided to spend vacation with their church
• be together in nature where we feel so much closer to God
• to read the Bible together in the morning, sing worship in the evenings
– they had taken a long hike and then were cooling off in Merced River, but the mother their three sons swept away
• the mom and oldest son were pulled out of the river before being carried over the waterfall
• but the youngest two sons, six and ten years old, died
– how could their “Christian” vacation lead to such ruin and sadness?
• it’s just too confusing

This is the biggest question that has ever plagued humankind, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”
– why is wickedness allowed to displace justice?

The Preacher had to resolve this in himself, “I said to my heart”
– v. 17, God deals with these issues, though we may not see when or how

Vv. 18-21, Another thing he had to resolve in himself

“I said to my heart” – these strange things are a “test”
– to remove impurities from metal, ancient assayers would melt it
– God’s point: show humans that we’re no better off than animals

In Genesis, humans are the crown of creation — superior to animals and challenged to rule over them
– but when it comes to death, “Who knows that the breath [spirit] of man ascends upward . . .?”
• no one can look past that curtain

V. 22, The voice of experience again, draws final conclusion

Same as before (v. 13), “nothing better”
– “You have your activities, be happy in them”
– no one can show you what’s behind the curtain
• what will happen in the world after you’re gone OR
• what will happen to you after you die

CONC: Ecclesiastes clarifies important issues regarding life with God

1. This lifetime is a gift – live right and enjoy it the best you can

2. Don’t expect everything to make sense – that isn’t given to us

3. When it comes to God, know your place
– everything will go better for you if you learn reverence (“fear”)

But ultimately Ecclesiastes fails us
– it tells us how to live in a world that’s run by a God of order, but it doesn’t tell us how to know Yahweh
• the God of Ecclesiastes is distant from humans — and we’re not given any information that helps us close the gap
– it tells us that there’s order to the world, but also mystery
• only, the Preacher leaves us there, scratching our heads

Mystery is one of those things control freaks cannot handle
– they need everything clarified, to make sense, to work out
– mystery is a kind of disorder
• if we can’t accept it, bumping into can create angst, frustration, even despair

For mystery to be meaningful, we have to know the One behind it
– it’s not enough to know God is infinitely powerful and in control
• we have to know he loves us – that’s what turns fear into awe, and awe into reverence and worship
• but we don’t learn that from Ecclesiastes

We learn this from the One who has come down to us
– who embraces us as his lost brothers and sisters
• from Jesus Christ, the ultimate mystery and ultimate revelation of God

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