Commentary on Eccl 3:1-11
Today we have a well-known passage which was even the subject of a popular ‘hit’ song some years ago.
It is part of a longer passage whose overall theme is death, the inevitable end of every life. Life here is presented as equally divided between things which bring pleasure and sadness, comfort and pain. Each has its own ‘time’ slot, so to speak, and we have little control over one or the other.
Our occupations – some bringing joy, others pain – are overshadowed by the inevitable end in death. Death casts its shadow on life, which is a series of contradictory acts, some of them listed here, but all end in the meaninglessness of death. We are subject to times and changes over which we have little or no control. Only one thing remains supreme – the all-knowing and all-loving God. We are totally in his hands and the sooner we realise that the happier we will be.
At the end the Teacher says that, although we can try to see meaning in individual events as they unfold, we can be mistaken and the overall direction of the world is totally beyond us. God’s world is simply too big for us to grasp. “God’s beautiful but tantalising world is too big for us, yet its satisfactions are too small. Since we were made for eternity, the things of time cannot fully and permanently satisfy.”
The New Testament keeps reminding us that we “have here no lasting city”. We are pilgrims passing through. We have no permanence in this world. The important goal is not to be reached here, because it does not, cannot exist. The ultimate goal is beyond this life.