Then we read what may be the most familiar part of Ecclesiastes (thanks in part to the Byrds’ 1965 hit record “Turn! Turn! Turn”): “There is a time for everything…a time to be born and a time to die”–and everything in between. Though the teacher retains his “meaningless” theme, he begins to interrupt this theme with some good news.
“I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil–this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.” (3:12-14, NIV)
Life’s reality is that it mixes darkness with light. Humans are pretty much like animals. They live and die. “All come from dust, and to dust all return.” (3:20) But, says the teacher, “there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work.” (3:22) Remember? This is a gift of God. But don’t try to do it all yourself. Join with others so the work will be easier to accomplish, giving one time to enjoy both work and life.
Despite the teacher’s instructions about what can be the joy of work and life, he can’t avoid the dark side of life. He dives into the depths of darkness in a way that should make all of us stop in our tracks: “I saw the tears of the oppressed–and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors–and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.” (4:1-3)
Have we ever felt that way? Before we say “no,” look around the world. More darkness than light? In some parts of the world, life ends in relatively quick death, with only suffering in between. Is this what the teacher saw? No wonder he wrote that everything is meaningless. Is that life’s reality?