Solomon addresses an issue that causes a great deal of perplexity to people because he’s made this statement that the righteous and wise and their works are in the hand of God (Ecclesiastes 9:1). At first that sounds like a great place to be. Then he says: “All things come alike to all: One event happens to the righteous and the wicked; To the good, the clean, and the unclean; To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner; He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath” (Ecclesiastes 9:2).
This is where it gets a bit complicated. He is saying on one hand the righteous and the wise are in the hand of God. Now he’s saying the same things that befall the wicked befall the righteous, the good. We get a bit of a dichotomy here. He makes no distinction between righteous and wicked. What happens to the wicked also happens to the righteous.
So, what do we have so far? The righteous and wise are under His special care and guidance. Whatever happens is in God’s hand. Then we have as reinforcement, “. . . All His saints are in Your hand; They sit down at Your feet; everyone receives Your words” (Deuteronomy 33.3). This is consistent with Ecclesiastes 9:1, “… the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. People know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them”.
So, we also see that God’s attitude of love and hatred are not to be measured by our outward condition, by external factors which might be affecting us, “All things come alike. What happens to the wicked, happens to the righteous.”
Bad things have happened, difficulties have come into our lives while serving God and being faithful to Him. God is saying that while you are joined to the living there is hope.
Since all things come alike to all, what part does experience play in the development of godliness? We will all experience in life a whole series of events. Solomon lists in eight verses things that we can relate to in our lives. He is telling us there’s a time for every purpose under heaven, some good, some bad.
“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw away; A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–8).
So, the question that forms is, if anything bad happens does that mean that God is not pleased with me? Solomon says in Proverbs 12:21, “No grave trouble will overtake the righteous But the wicked shall be filled with evil.” So, if I have a grave trouble am I righteous or am I not righteous? Is that the problem? Do I have this situation because I am not righteous? Does a hurtful, negative experience mean that we are unrighteous?
As society continues in the negative lawless direction that it is going, we who are trying to live godly are going to have to struggle more and more. There’s going to be more adverse, difficult experiences coming at us. That’s just the nature of where things are going currently. So once again, do hurtful negative experiences mean that we are unrighteous?
Solomon noted more disparity in life: “I returned and saw under the sun that — The race is not to the swift, (not to the fastest) Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
Verse 11 is a caution. It is really telling us that we are not the masters of our own lives. We are often going to be disappointed with experiences of life. Events will not always meet our expectations. As a footnote to ‘time and chance’ that is mentioned here, it says, “time and chance happens to all men.”
If something happens to Christ’s followers, God has allowed it. However, time and chance is not the same as the world sees time and chance. God is involved. If He allows something negative and bad to happen, He’s in charge. He could have stopped it. He could have changed the circumstances, but He does allow experiences to come upon us, positive and negative, because He’s working with His family.
King David acknowledged that our ‘time’ is in God’s hands: “My times are in Your hand; (the same word for ‘time and chance) Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, And from those who persecute me” (Psalms 31:15). And Solomon said we should consider what is happening in the day of adversity (Ecclesiastes7:13-14). We are told to consider when adversity befalls us, that God has given to man great capacities, the mind of man, and within those capacities can be great happiness. We are not to forget who gave us these capacities, and to never trust and rely on our own strength.
Sadly, everything that is happening in this world is forcing humanity to rely on their own strength. Even the churches conditions are a mess from top to bottom. And people are being forced to rely on their ability to piece it all together, to figure it all out.
God knows that humanity needs to be reminded of its own mortality. To this end, time and chance is a counter to the pride of life as difficulties come upon us. The natural mind desires to be its own master. It is the natural proclivity of our minds. Events often don’t match expectations so that we will not become dependent on our own abilities to order our lives. We see what’s going on around us enough to know, there’s less and less out in our physical existence that we can rely on. And our reliance upon God is going to have to grow strong. And our experiences, positive or negative are a part of that process.
Even the Apostle Paul was concerned about the conditions of his time in that people tended to not properly discern their need to depend on God: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:1-3).
The human proclivity is to establish our own righteousness apart from God’s righteousness. To do it our way. Life’s experiences allow us the opportunity to acknowledge the Potter working with the clay. Oftentimes it’s not until after that bad experience has passed that we’re able to look back and see the value it is to us, what we learned, what we gained from it. That which seemed unjust, becomes justified when we see the result.
“There is a vanity which occurs on earth, that there are just men to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 8:14).
But, if God is involved, good will come out of it. As much as humanity would like to be in charge of its own destiny, he is not. And it is on this very point that many have stumbled.
Many young people have turned away from God because of negative experiences. Instead of anger and resentment against God for allowing a bad experience, what God wants is a careful, considered examination and evaluation of our relationship with Him.
“When I applied my heart to know wisdom and to see the business that is done on earth, even though one sees no sleep day or night, then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it” (Ecclesiastes 8:16–17).
If God did not allow experiences, good and bad, how much attention and effort would we put into our relationship with God? When things went well for ancient Israel, they forgot God. The experiences of Israel are instructive in that way. Solomon sums up how we should deal with our experiences:
“The end of a thing is better than its beginning; The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, For anger rests in the bosom of fools. Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For you do not inquire wisely concerning this. Wisdom is good with an inheritance, And profitable to those who see the sun. For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense, But the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it. Consider the work of God; For who can make straight what He has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, But in the day of adversity consider:” (Ecclesiastes 7:8–14).
Wisdom is available to those with a mind to seek it (Proverbs 1:20,23). By deeply thinking through life’s experiences using God’s Spirit, we can put our life in perspective with God’s bigger picture.
God might not orchestrate every single one of our experiences. But if He allows it, He is involved. Many of our bad experiences we tend to orchestrate ourselves, and God doesn’t stop us walking smack into the brick wall that we’ve just built. Those experiences we are to learn from as well.
Many of Paul’s experiences are described in his letter to the Corinthians. Considering Paul’s life experiences what should we expect ours to be?
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you. And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak,” (2 Corinthians 4:7–13).
Paul also gives a personal example that he experienced that was not pleasant: “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9).
God wants His people to be seen as living examples of Jesus Christ’s life and the relationship He had with the Father. Therefore, as with Paul, Christ must work within us to make sure our ‘eye’ is good: “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. . . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
It is by the experiences of life, a time for every purpose, that we depend less on ourselves and more on God; we come to see ourselves as God sees us. Experience, if you want to give it a definition means “events that lead to the accumulation of knowledge”.
We grow as we explore and analyze our experiences. It is not helpful to get angry or resentful at any of our life’s experiences. Rather, we need to capitalize on the knowledge and understanding we gain from them to fulfill God’s overall purpose for us. We all need to use our experiences to forge a closer relationship with God.