There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NIV
Ecclesiastes is a detailed quest for meaning and purpose. From the beginning words of “Meaningless, meaningless,” there is a hope that something beautiful can rise from the ashes of human toil and existence. It is a book that has stood out to me for its rawness, it’s pursuit, it’s hope of beauty, goodness, purpose and meaning. It is a book that resonates with my journey. It’s dialectically wildly uncomfortable in content and uncomfortably wild in relevance. It describes the overlap of eternity and time, transcendence and immanence, humanity and Divine.
I remember standing in my front yard a few summers ago looking up at the evening blue sky. Every summer the hot air balloons come to Ashland for Balloonfest. My children are in awe as the balloon gods descend from the skies in all their splendor. My son Miles, when he was three years old declared, “Dad, isn’t it so bootiful?”
Something ordinary like a hot air balloon had mesmerized him. The regular evening sky became a kaleidoscope of colors. Beauty caused him to stop, stare, and lose track of time.
My friend and I were talking about the Planet Earth series. One scene that captivated us was this gigantic orca whale completely out of the water. It’s majestic, it’s untamed, it’s awe-some.
But is it the same whale that entertains us as Sea World?
Beauty begs for us to experience it. Beauty mesmerizes us. We cannot explain it. Pictures don’t do it justice. Beauty cannot be contained or controlled. We’re left saying, “I guess you had to be there.”
Three year old Miles can draw you a picture but the experience—the essence of the moment—transcends words.
The first eight verses of chapter three are a song describing how there is a time for this and a time for that. It seems to the writer of Ecclesiastes that to every good thing seems an equal and opposite thing.
- How do we get ahead in a world of give and take?
- What’s the overarching story?
- Why do we live?
The existential crisis in this book is one that we can relate to if we give it thought.
- Why do the evil prosper?
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- Why does life seem so fleeting and haphazard?
- Is there a plan?
Then we read verse 11: “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”
The word “beautiful” means suitable. God makes things suitable for their own time. Rather than looking back or looking forward, it is suitable that we should enjoy the present. Something happens in the present that does not happen as we look forward or behind us.
Beautiful and sacred become synonymous in the wisdom literature. Wise ones discern the infusion of sacred amid the secular. The work, toil, sorrow and happiness of life in general is common to all people of all time. Every generation has felt the routine, monotony, of life.
The sun rises and the sun sets, tides ebb and flow and seasons comes and go. What is unique? “Unique” is the invasion of the sacred through the ordinary and common around us in the present.
Beauty provides transcendance. We recognize that beauty is miraculous in a world of war, sickness, violence, despair.
Deep within us when we see something beautiful we recognize it is not merely a personal preference. Both Christians and atheists alike get perturbed when you relegate something deemed beautiful by them, or important to them, as merely a personal preference.
G.K. Chesteron, in his book, Orthodoxy, says that if Christians must always be on guard as to the problem of evil, might atheists have to answer for the problem of beauty and pleasure in the world?
Why do we even experience beauty if the world is simply defined by naturalistic definitions or natural, uncontrollable rhythms?
Chesterton asks the scandalous question of why does sex feel good? Some creatures asexually produce offspring. If sex is merely about pro-creation, and some organisms do this asexually, why do humans experience pleasure?
Furthermore, and more pointedly, why do we experience pleasure, period?
Our ability to label something as beautiful is the imprint of a beautiful God. The Scriptures declare that God is beautiful, majestic and full of splendor!
Beauty becomes the reminder of our God’s “suitable” time/rhythm for our lives. If the beauty we behold on earth has its origin in God, then there must have been beauty in God from all eternity.
Beauty is what God is.
We find beauty/sacredness in the most ordinary of experiences because, the Ecclesiasites tells us (and the choir of scripture resounds), God is in our present.
Beauty really becomes God’s activity in our midst.
Therefore, when we look at something beautiful we don’t just see a beautiful thing. We see the world as it was intended to be. Beauty is a world made right—a world made suitable.
We fall into God’s providence and recognize his goodness.
Put simply, we trust in the suitability of God’s character and plan.
Beauty reveals that the world is straight out of the mind and heart of God. God is beautiful and only creates beautiful things. When we look at something truly beautiful we see God.
Beauty shows us that God has made a “suitable” time for everything. Beauty is extravagant…it doesn’t make sense in a world of routine, monotony, and gray.
In the words of the teacher, beauty shows us that in a world of endless cycles, a small ember of eternity remains aglow in the human heart.
In a world of practical…status quo…decaying…ugliness, beauty stands out.
As the teacher writes, “We do not understand God’s scope.”
In other words, we don’t control the world.
Beauty creates a stark contrast between what we’re seeing and what we know as reality. (“A time for this” or “a time for that”)
God’s beauty is the answer to the writer of Ecclesiates—what is meaningful, good, right? The answer: to recognize the sacredness of relationships, time, and space—our very present moment.
And so, at the end of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher sums up the wise life in 12:13:
“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.”
In other words, allow God’s plan to be beautiful, to be suitable, in your life.
- Cease your striving.
- Stop your whining.
- Come out from hiding.
- Desist from complaining.
- STOP—and smell the roses.
May you find God in the small details of creation.
- Cherish friendships.
- Sip good coffee.
- Hug a little longer.
- Listen to the birds sing.
When you do, you will find your heart. A heart in which God has planted eternity. In the words of Jesus, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”