Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 - Life under the Loom

Imagine two little mice who live in a weaver’s shop, a way back 100 years ago. All day long the steady hum of the loom fills their life. Overhead the shuttle passes back and forth colours appear and disappear. Every so often the loom stops and scissors appear and snip a thread and tie it off. A new spool is loaded on and a new set of colours starts. “What did he do that for?” asks one of the mice. “Black is all wrong – why did he stop that beautiful burgundy?” Then off the noise will go again with different colours mingling in among, black, and reds, golds, and purples, greys, and creams, greens, and then it all stops, and snip and more threads are started in – pinks, and oranges, and sunset tints, with yellow and burnt umber. Then stop and snip. And off it goes again.

"That looks a right mess," says one of the mice.

"Well the weaver knows what he is dong."

"What weaver? I don’t believe in a weaver. Sure that machine goes on and on like it always has – right from the day you were born, it just keeps tramping along. No-one outlasts the loom. It will still be going the day you die. And I don’t believe in a weaver."

"Sure there’s a weaver. What about all the changes, what about the rhythm of the loom? What about the design of the carpet?"

"There can’t be a weaver sure the thing is a shambles. Straggly ends of tails everywhere, colours mixing and clashing."

"Ah but it will look great from the other side says the other. There’s a time for gold, and a time for black, a time for red and time for browns, a time to cut and a time to tie. A time to tighten and a time to slacken. That’s the weaver at work – you mightn’t see him, but each thread is planned and designed by him to create a masterpiece. You have to remember that we live under the loom, and we can’t see the whole thing, and even if we could see it, we’re so small that we couldn’t see it all at once."

Living under the loom means two things: we can’t see the weaver, and we can’t see what he is doing – and so to us it looks a mess.

The way the world deals with this is to either pretend that there isn’t a weaver, or that he’s not very good, or that there are some weaving vandals who sneak in and weave dark threads in and although the weaver sees his work marred by these dark threads there’s nothing he can do about it. So either a non-existent weaver, or a stupid one or a powerless one.

What Solomon is arguing here is that there is a weaver, that his plan incorporates all that happens and that he is both good, clever, and all powerful.

God is in control of your life, not you v1-8
The opening verses of ch 1 speak of the repetitive cycle of life, as if the world were some sort of giant machine that just keeps rolling along. Life as we look at it and as Solomon looked at it seems chaotic random and repetitive. Things seem to happen for no particular reason – illness, death, disaster,. But what Solomon is saying in these opening 8 verses is that there is a pattern, and that that pattern is overseen by God.

There is a time for everything. There is nothing that escapes the control of God. There are no flukes or chance happenings in God’s universe.

These verses aren’t our marching orders – these verses aren’t telling us that we need to make time to tidy up and time to throw stuff out, or that we need to make time to laugh and take time to weep. Those things are true, but that is not what Solomon is saying here.

Solomon is not prescribing what we should do, he is describing what happens regardless of what we do. He is not telling us to put order into our lives, he is telling us that there is order in the events that happen to us in our lives. And more than that he is telling us that so much of our lives is beyond our control. We like to think of us as setting the course of our lives, but Solomon outlines here either things that happen to us, or ways that we react to things which happen to us, all of which are beyond our control.

There is a time to live and a time to die. We have no say about when we arrive in this world. Its not as if we were sitting around some table in Heaven with God and we said, “Well now’s the time I would like to make an appearance”. And neither, in the natural course of things, do we choose the time or manner of our deaths.

These are events over which we have no control. And Solomon is saying much more than the set events of birth and death are decreed, but everything in between. It is all appointed by God.

There is a time to plant – sowing in winter is pointless, God has set the season for planting and the season for harvesting.

And even when man does what he should not – the destructive events of life like murder – these are not outside of God’s decree. God isn’t sitting wringing his hands wondering what’s going on. And although man is utterly sinful and chooses to sin, God is still sovereign. Nothing catches him unawares.

There is a time when healing comes, and we get better from whatever was afflicting us – who chooses that time? Some of you would love to be able to choose that time, but that timing is in God’s hands. Neither do we choose the times of joy in our lives, and we can’t choose the times of sorrow – they come, often when we are least ready. They catch us unawares.

There’s a time of victory – scattering stones on fields was was victorious troops did to render the land unproductive; and there’s a time of defeat – when you are on the receiving end. Again it’s not up to us.

There’s a time when close family love is able to be expressed, but there are times and circumstances that mean we aren’t able to embrace. Distance, work, sickness.

Things get lost and we have to look, things wear out and we have to ditch them. Often the timing of that isn’t in our hands. We don’t plan to lose something and spend half and hour turning the house upside down looking for it. We don’t plan that today I will wear out my washing machine. It happens. So much of our lives are outside of our control.

And so it goes on –

a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,

Grief, along with the tearing of garments comes unbidden, and unannounced. But there is also a time when grief’s pain has subsided and we can mend the garments and start to get life back in order. But these times aren’t something that you plan or orchestrate yourself.

a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,

Times when we are in circumstances where we are filled with love, times we are brought into circumstances where we see things we wished we hadn’t.

a time for war and a time for peace.

All of life is encompassed, all our emotions are included, the whole sweep of human existence, the good and the bad, the creative and the destructive and what Solomon is saying is this – you don’t control your life half as much as you think you do. And he is not being fatalistic, he’s not talking about the tyranny of time, as if he wants us to throw up our hands and say – well it doesn’t matter what I do.

The whole point of this is to put us in our place.

Unlike William Ernest Henley who wrote a famous poem called Invictus which ends like this:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Solomon says, “Oh no, by no means are you the master of your fate or the captain of your soul. You can’t even control what happens to you and around you.”

And how often we are apt to make that same mistake we think, “ I’ll go here and do this, I’ll save for Christ years, and then buy such and such. I’ll retire at 50 and take the rest of life easy.” Or the most famous one, “I’ll become a Christian when I’m older.” As if we are somehow in control of the twists and turns of our lives. As if we know that there will be a later, or a 50, or 7 years time.

These verses are humbling
We are not the mighty intrepid explorers of life that we think we are, instead we have to take what cards we are dealt.

In one sense he does want us to despair. He wants us to despair of thinking that we rule – because that is the whole point of sin, we think we rule our lives, that we can shake our tiny fist at God and say, “How dare you tell me how to live”. Solomon wants us to see the futility of thinking we’re in charge of our own lives.

And as James says,
13Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (James 4)

These verses are also realistic
Look at the list and see what Solomon is saying –
Life for us in unpredictable. Life will have its share of pain. Some Christians live as if God has forgotten what he is doing whenever trouble comes – they think that if you trust Jesus all will be rosy for you. Not Solomon. For Solomon, disaster doesn’t mean that God is absent. Too often I hear pastors and Christians after some tragedy or disaster saying something like, “God didn’t want this to happen, God didn’t plan this, God had nothing to do with this.” And while that seems like nice advice at the time and seems to let God off the hook, it simply reduces God to some weak ineffective nice old man who wanted nice stuff to happen but is powerless to make it happen.

Solomon’s God is much more robust than that. Solomon’s God is sovereign over the disasters as well as over the good times. We come to the obvious question in a minute.

These verses also give great confidence to the one who trusts God.
Everything is planned – there are no flukes, no accidents. The Bible tells us that he knows the number of hairs on your head, that he is aware of all the movements of even the smallest birds – and it is not just a case of knowing what is happening, it is a case of directing it. So when God says, “I know the plans I have for you” (Jer 29:11) he means exactly what he says. Everything that comes to you, from the cradle to the grave, comes from the hand of a God who only ever does what is right. Here is a warrant for confidence

This is breathes life into us when the hard times come, this gives us stability when the storms of life batter down on us – everything under the sun is controlled by a sovereign and personal God.

That raises an obvious question – if the universe isn’t a soulless series of events but rather is a series of events orchestrated by a personal God – is that not worse? Consider if a branch falls from a tree and kills your child that is completely different from someone cutting the branch off a tree to land it on your child.

Two aspects to the answer – this world isn’t all that there is, and this world isn’t the way God designed it to be. That doesn’t mean that he is helpless to change it – it just means that the change required is much deeper reaching that we ever imagined. Our world is full of natural disaster and sickness because we are here – God condemned the whole physical universe because of our sin. So if all sickness and suffering and disaster are to be banished, then man will have to be radically dealt with too. We either need to be wiped out, or transformed.

And that is what the Gospel promises. Everyone who comes to Jesus will be transformed, everyone who doesn’t will be punished. And tehn there will be a new earth populated with people who no longer have the ability to sin, and the earth will no longer rebel at our presence or be under God’s curse.

This is what we long for and this is in part what Solomon means when he says, “God has set eternity in our hearts.”

There is a big picture, but you can’t see it v9-11
Solomon expects us to ask this question that’s why he says, “What does the worker gain from his toil?” – this is his way of asking what is the purpose and meaning in life? “I have seen the burden God has laid on the hearts of men” – he means this whole business of the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the fluctuations of life.

And then he answers his own question and he tells us 3 things

There is a big picture and each piece fits

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Solomon is not saying that everything is beautiful in itself, but in its time. Bad things happen to Christian and non-Christian alike. But what Solomon is saying here is that there is a big picture, and each event has its place in that picture. And what God is doing is creating something beautiful. We get glimpses of that even in our own lives, where something has happened to us, it has been hard at the time, but God has used it for good. And when we get to see the pbig picture we will see that everything has its place.

Here is where part of our confidence comes from – it isn’t all haphazard, each event has a purpose and place.

We know instinctively that there is a big picture
Solomon tells us then that we know instinctively that there is a big picture. “He [God] has set eternity in the hearts of men”. Although it’s kind of hard to prove, monkeys, and cats and cows aren’t sitting wondering why things happen to them, or why they are here, or what their purpose is in life. This belongs to mankind. God has wired us in such a way that we know instinctively that there is more to life than this. Someone dies, and we know they have gone, but somehow we feel that they still exist. There is something in us that knows that there is more to life than this. When we see a great evil done, and the perpetrator takes his own life, we instinctively feel that that isn’t fair, that there has to be some form of justice. That’s not just a fond yearning, God has set eternity in our hearts.

Whenever things happen to us we instinctively want to know why – that is part of eternity being set in our hearts – because God is a rational God, and he has made us in his image and because of that we know that there has to be a reason for everything, things don’t just happen at random. So the very act of wanting to know why is a God given instinct.

We feel that in eternity we will see everything evened out. There we will see the big picture.

We can’t see it in this life
Solomon tells us that “no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end”. What he is saying is that although there is a reason for everything, and although we instinctively know that – we don’t actually know the reason.

We don’t get all the answers. And that’s frustrating. In other words, God gives us a desperate thirst for answers to why – but he only ever gives us glimpses of the answers. Now why would he do that? Because he wants us to set off on a search, not just for the answers, but for the answerer. Our big problem isn’t that the world is puzzling, and that we need solutions, our big problem is that we are messed up and we need help.

God’s big aim is that we get to know him. If you don’t have the answer to something, you set out to look for someone who does. And all the questions that we ask find their answer in God.

But more than that God does it because he wants us to trust him. You see even when you become a Christian you don’t get some sort of answer book, its not as if you have become the teachers pet and get the inside track on everything. Solomon says here, “they cannot fathom” that means no-one.

And that’s comforting in a strange way for many times things happen to the Christian adnd we wonder why – why a miscarriage, why an illness, why did I have to spill water on my keyboard when I was writing this sermon and fry my keyboard. How does that fit in to God’s vast eternal plan? And we never get an answer. And the reason is this, God doesn’t just want to satisfy our curiousity, he wants to satisfy our deepest longings. He isn’t going to be treated as some sort of cosmic answer man, but he wants us to trust him and relate to him.

There are times when as a father you have to do things that you can’t explain to your kids, they just don’t have the mental ability to take it all in – the factors are too complex, so you say to them just trust me. That’s what God is doing.

How then should we live? v12-15
3 responses then

Humble yourself and trust God
If the whole point of the ups and downs of life is to bring us to the point where we see that we aren’t as wonderful as we thought we were; and if God has given us this instinctive reaction that we know there is more to life than this, then the thing to do is to humble ourselves and go to this God and say, I can’t cope, I need you.

That’s what v14 is saying, “God does it so that men will revere him.” The whole purpose of it is to bring men and women into a right relationship with God.

And why would that God accept a person who for years has said “I want nothing to do with you?” Ecclesiastes doesn’t tell us, for that we have to go to the New Testament, and we find that Jesus is the one who reconciles men to God. Because Jesus came to bring people back to God, and he did it by taking the blame for all their years of self-rule and putting other things in the place of God.

And this is important because as v15 says God will call the past to account. There will be a day of judgment when all people will see that God is in charge, and that he will punish all who failed to recognise his authority.

And the fact that we are not in control of our own lives as much as we think we are will be that we are totally unable to escape what God has in store for us, unless we have asked Jesus to take the punishment for us.

Live by trusting God
For the Christian the issue of trust isn’t just about starting the Christian life, it is how we live it. Whatever comes to us, we need to realise that our times are in his hands (Psa 31:15)

The Christian is like a mouse who gets to run on the half finished rug on the loom. We can see why some of the colours are there, sometimes we know why some of the blacks are there, but we can’t see the full design yet. And its only in Heaven we will get to see the full design and to understand fully why there are all the colours and shades that make up our lives.

Yet while we are here we need to remember that there is a weaver, and because of Jesus he cares passionately about us.

And where the illustrations break down there is another great truth – for becoming a Christian is like having a personal relationship with the weaver. You still can’t see the whole picture, but you know the weaver and you know that as he weaves the threads into your life, it is out of love and nothing else. And because you know him and you know he loves you, you can trust him with you life, and whatever colours he introduces you take as being from the hand of God.

And in all circumstances the weaver has said I will always weaver what you need into your life – whether it is strength, comfort, courage, my presence. He promises that the ups and downs of the times of our lives will never be so much to swamp us.

There are things we will never fully understand in this life – but we are never to give up on God’s sovereignty.

And because of that it is possible to

Enjoy life as it comes

v12 and 13 Solomon writes “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil, this is the gift of God.”

Once we accept that God is sovereign and we are limited, and put our trust in him through Jesus, then we can know that there is a big picture which will turn out for our best, that we have a personal relationship with the weaver of our lives, and that this plans are not to harm us but to prosper us and to give us a hope and a future.

And this is a gift from God – not something we can earn. And if we let this truth sink down into our lives we will be able to live lives marked by contentment, enjoyment and confidence amid all the tensions of the times that come to us. And this doesn’t mean walking about with inane grins on our faces, but this joy is deep and profound, one that sees the trials instead of ignoring them, but looks to the hand of a gracious father behind them all.

You see, some Christians don’t think this life is to be enjoyed - they look on this life as something to get through – fix your eyes on Heaven, thole life – and you can tell them by the look on their face. Grim determination. Rarely do you see them smile and relish the simple pleasures. Solomon hear only echoes Paul “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all to the glory of God”. There is a joyless Christianity that betrays our Saviour.

But delight in God is our duty – and it is a possibility, “delight yourself in the Lord” Ps 34:7 says, Neh 8:10 says the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

And this is what Ecclesiastes is about, delighting in living for God and under God in a fallen world, delighting because we have a saviour who died for us, a father who loves us and a Holy Spirit who transforms us, delighting because your God is sovereign, and nothing can happen to you except what he permits for good reason. Here is the freedom to enjoy life as God gives it – not always harking back to the past, or looking forward to the future for better times, but enjoying whatever time God has put you in now.

That is a gift of God to those who live under the loom of life but trust the weaver who has laid down his life for them.

1 comment:

Timothy Hadden said...

Where did you get the mice and the loom story?