“God Made Everything Beautiful in Its Time”


In the fullness of time, God will unite all things in heaven and on earth in Christ, and that will be the most beautiful and perfect thing to behold in eternity! God has ordained this from eternity past, and his plan is perfect. The result of this plan is “everything is beautiful in its time”!

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 (text); Ephesians 1:3-10
January 2, 2011
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Time”: one of the most important words today. Every creature and everything in creation is time-dependent. In the world’s most developed countries, “time is of the essence.” But even in less-developed countries like the Philippines, time is also essential. In the Philippines, people refer to “Filipino time,” signifying that time is also important, although it points to the culture of always being late for events and appointments. Sociocultural experts classify cultures into two main types: time-oriented and people-oriented. Filipino culture, for example, places much emphasis on people and relationships and not on time, and that’s why they’re always late—not for work—but especially for church.

Ecclesiastes by Gustave Doré (1866)
Ecclesiastes by Gustave Doré (1866)

We know that the world operates by time from the abundance of cliches and idioms about time: “a matter of time,” “a race against time,” “Do you have the time?” “the time of my life,” “kill time,” “borrowed time,” “quality time.” Children have “Once upon a time” and “time out.” Prisoners “do time” and every New Year we say “time flies,” as if time is a bird.

Before God created the heavens and the earth, there was no such thing as “time.” There was eternity: a concept that is so hard to conceive for the finite minds of finite creatures. Ephesians 1:3-10 says that from eternity past, God predestined those people whom he will save. And after he created the world, God began counting days and nights, although on the first three days, we don’t know how he counted time since the sun, moon and stars were not even created yet. No one knows how “morning” and “evening” looked like during those first three days.

We know that time is of the essence for God. The Preacher—the one who wrote Ecclesiastes, assumed by most to be King Solomon—tells us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” People who are not Christians say that life is a cycle and “history repeats itself,” implying that the world operates on its own without a purpose. “It just so happened,” fatalists and even deists would say. In the book of Esther, there are several places where it would say, “Now it happened,” and so they seem to be random events. But what the Book of Esther points out is that behind all of these “coincidences” was God sovereignly controlling all events in the world.

The Preacher sees God’s controlling hand over the world’s affairs. Because everything that happens is under God’s sovereign control, he sees three things beautiful in its time and with a purpose: Life’s Events, Man’s Work, and God’s Works.

Life’s Events

The ESV translation uses two key words in the first verse: “season” and “time.” “Season” means a set time or appointed time that an event must happen. For example, in Esther 9:27, Mordecai proclaimed that at the “appointed time” every year, the Jews would celebrate Purim to commemorate their victory over their enemies in Persia. So there is an appointed time or an appropriate season that God has set for each person, event or activity. Aren’t a person’s birth and death, and a country’s time of war and peace appointed by God alone?

But in the 1960s, there was a popular anti-war song entitled “Turn, Turn, Turn.” The song uses the poem in verses 1-8 of our text, but the title words seem to suggest that life is just an ever-turning cycle of repetitious events. I assume that since the composer of this song is an unbeliever, the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 are mere coincidences and life’s cycles without any relationship to a providential creator.

The Preacher teaches that man’s activities are ordered by God’s timing. Seasons are the most important thing for farmers; they don’t plant during the dry season. Killing and healing implies war and peace, maybe even the death penalty for crimes. Breaking down and building up, casting stones and gathering stones, tearing and sewing: destroying the old and building new things. Loving and hating, embracing and not embracing, seeking and losing, keeping silence and speaking all involve personal relationships.

What do we learn from these? First, there are appointed times for everything. We know that life is full of ups and downs. We don’t know when God would send us good things, or when he would send us sufferings. What’s going to happen in this new year? Would we prosper financially, or suffer hard times? Would our children be well, or stray from our discipline? Would our relationships continue in peace or be broken? Would we continue to be healthy, or would some major health problem come to us? Would a child be born, or would someone die? These are God-appointed times and seasons and events, and we don’t have control over these. And of course, we don’t like it a bit.

Second, there are actions and emotions fit for specific events in life. Personally, there is a time for sleeping and working: you can’t sleep when you’re at work. Or you must not shout back during a heated argument, but keep silent until the other person cools off; it’s better to keep silent when we’re angry, because we tend to say things we will later regret having said. We don’t laugh and dance during funerals, or be sad and mourn during birthdays. Some things are fit for worship, and other things fit for other events. Are love songs fit for worship? How about hard rock complete with blaring drums and guitars and screaming singers and congregations? When we appear before an earthly judge, do we wear dirty shorts and T-shirts and flipflops, so why do we wear such clothes when we appear before the holy Judge of the Universe? If we don’t sing funeral songs for Christmas, then why do we sing rock ‘n roll music during a holy assembly before God? Our actions and emotions must be fit for specific life events.

Third, since there are God-appointed seasons and times, we must accept and honor them. Don’t get bitter, blame God or hate God when a loved one becomes seriously ill or dies. Every Lord’s Day is a holy day. Every Christmas or birthday or wedding is a season to thank God. Every funeral is a day to remember the life of a friend or loved one. When the New Year comes, the Christmas season is over and it’s time to move on to other things in life.

Remember that God has appointed times and seasons and events for the sake of his people. He sovereignly orchestrates all things—good and bad—for the sake of his people. There’s no way around God’s sovereignty, whether we like it or not.

Fourth, violating these God-appointed times and seasons results in disaster. Sleeping on the job, planting during the dry season, or building projects during economic hardships all have disastrous results. Not doing anything when another nation attacks your nation for the sake of peace will result in defeat and destruction. This is what happened to Europe when Nazi Germany started attacking their countries one by one and they continued trying to appease Hitler. There is a time for peace, and a time for war.

Fifth and last, since these are all God-appointed, we are to depend on God, and continue in prayer and service to God. We don’t know when our time would be up. We are to trust that God knows what he’s doing and everything that he does is for a purpose, especially for the good of his elect. Later, the Preacher tells us, Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him” (Eccl 8:12). It will be well with us who fear God.

Man’s Work

We all praise and thank God and say life is good when things are going well for us. We say we love life and life is beautiful. But what happens when mourning comes, or when our marriage breaks down, or when we lose our job, or when friendships sour, or when persecutions come? “God made everything beautiful in its time”? Is this true? We then lose sight of the beauty of life that God has given us.

After God finished his work of creation in the first six days of time, God looked at all his handiwork, and says, “It is very good!” Everything was perfect, including the man Adam and his wife Eve. Everything was in perfect order, and there was no sin, no death, no crying, no mourning. Man was in full communion with God, having perfect holiness and righteousness. Everything was beautifully and harmoniously created.

But this beauty was marred by sin. Death, killing, breaking down, weeping, mourning, tearing apart, broken relationships, and war broke into God’s paradise. But even after this beauty was damaged, there is still joy, hope and peace. There’s still the beauty of birth, dancing, building up, embracing and peace in this world. We just have to see that all of these times and seasons are appointed by God in his beautiful timing.

Since all of these are God-appointed, we must see everything from a heavenward view. If we place our trust in earthly things and people, we are in for trouble, because this world changes over times and seasons. The only One who could be trusted is someone who does not change: the Immutable Lord. Everything in life is meaningless and useless if we look at it only with our earthly wisdom and outlook. This is why the Preacher says about man, “What gain has the worker from his toil?” (v 9) Earlier, he asks the same question, What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Eccl 1:3) Then he answers his own question, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Eccl 2:11). His conclusion was, “Nothing! All my work gained nothing!”

What does he mean? Is he teaching us that we are not to work, since everything is in vain, and all for nothing? Let us remember that work was part of God’s appointed plan for man, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). This was the Lord’s command to Adam before he sinned, and therefore we must not think of work as a result of sin. We must never avoid it and live in laziness. Sloth is condemned by God: “Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger” (Prov 19:15). Jesus calls the slothful servant “wicked” (Matt 25:26).

The term “work” in Genesis 2:15 means preparing, tending and taking care of, and “keep” means guarding. So productive work is part of God’s good and beautiful purpose for man after he created him in his own image. Even God “worked” for six days, resting only on the seventh day. These two words are also used of the ministry of the priests in the Tabernacle (Num 3:7-8; 18:7). So man’s work is part of his “priestly” calling to take care of and guard God’s creation, a concept the Reformers called “the priesthood of all believers.” This is why Paul commands us to value all honest work, and even consider working for our employers as if we are working for God. He condemns laziness, Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands… (Eph 4:28). He commands Christians not “walk in idleness” but “to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thess 3:11-12).

The Preacher found joy in the work of his hands, “to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (Eccl 3:12-13). God has given us this natural joy when we see the work of our hands. The problem comes when we take pride in them and we take all the credit for all that we have accomplished, as King Nebuchadnezzar did, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30) God destroyed his pride afterwards by taking away his mind. We are to take joy in our work, but the source of our joy is not our work, but God. We are to thank God for the talents with which he has blessed us, and for the work that he gave us.

And ultimately, our earthly work and possessions are only temporary and earthly: “You can’t take it with you.” God judged the rich man who planned to build a bigger barn and to eat, drink and be merry and did not care for anything else beyond his possessions. Why are there so many rich people in this world who are depressed and who commit suicide? Happiness rooted in pride in possessions does not bring joy; only complete trust in God does. Why is this true even for those who don’t have faith in Christ alone?

Solomon says that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (v 11), which means that God has created man with a knowledge of an eternal God. All human beings have this longing in their hearts to know God, and that the soul exists even after death. Because God has written the knowledge of the eternal God and of God’s law in the human heart, Paul says that no one can say on Judgment Day that they didn’t know that God exists. No one will find joy and happiness apart from God, but the problem is that man suppresses this knowledge and truth because of his sinful nature (Rom 1:20-21; 2:15).

The beauty of work comes only when we see that it is also God-ordained and God-appointed. And ultimately, the most beautiful work of all is the work that believers do when they work as if they work for the Lord, and when everything that they do is for God’s glory. When the goal of our work is the glory of God and the proclamation of the good news of salvation in Christ, our work is beautiful in God’s sight. Paul points this out when he wrote to the Thessalonian brethren, we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:9). His reward was nothing else than God’s commendation, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom 10:15) The proclamation of the gospel of Christ is one of God’s beautiful works.

God’s Works

Solomon tells us that God “made everything beautiful in its time.” Here, the word “beautiful” is the same word used to describe the outward appearance of Sarah (Gen 12:11, 14), Rachel (Gen 29:17), Esther (Est 2:7) and Job’s daughters (Job 42:15). And it is also used to describe Joseph’s great looks that attracted the wife of Potiphar (Gen 39:6). But the word may also connote beauty in the perfection, harmony and fit of God’s wonderful works of creation, redemption and providence.

This is the solution to the Preacher’s problem with a changing world and the seemingly endless toil and labor of mankind in this harsh world. God has already ordained from eternity all things for our good—from his vantage point, his work of creation and redemption after Adam’s sin is perfectly good and beautiful. He has already set in motion from the creation of the world everything for the good of his people. We read about this perfection of God’s mighty works all throughout Scripture when it says, “It happened,” or “It came to pass.” These are not coincidences, but God’s perfect timing and control of events.

If not for this knowledge, how else would we find joy in God, give thanks to God and persevere in all the ugly events of sufferings, trials, and afflictions? It’s impossible for anyone to find joy and peace apart from this truth of God’s sovereign control of events in the universe. As in the case of so many people, we will give up hope in the face of despair and misery if we ever lose sight of this vital truth. Thomas Brooks (1608-80), a Puritan minister, wrote the following encouragement to “all afflicted and distressed Christians… to silence him, and means to quiet him”:

What God our Father wills is best. When He wills sickness, sickness is better than health. When He wills weakness, weakness is better than strength. When He wills poverty, poverty is better than wealth. When He wills reproach, reproach is better than honor. When He wills death, death is better than life.

But how could Solomon say everything is beautiful when there’s so much sin and misery in this world? We obviously don’t see this beauty and harmony today, causing many people to question our belief in a good God because they only perceive a world of suffering and evil. We see God’s beautiful creation—mountains, rivers, valleys, the majestic heavens, the diversity of peoples and cultures—but we also see how they are being destroyed by mankind’s evil and greed. We meet people with good and loving hearts, but there seems to be an overwhelming number of evil people than good people.

However, whether we see the beauty of God’s work in this life or in the life to come, we will surely behold its beauty in God’s perfect timing, in the fullness of time, when our Lord returns from heaven. Paul blesses God in overwhelming thankfulness when he says,

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph 1:7-10).

In the fullness of time, God will unite all things in heaven and on earth in Christ, and that will be the most beautiful and perfect thing to behold in eternity! God has ordained this from eternity past, and his plan is perfect. The result of this plan is “everything is beautiful in its time”!

We don’t see it now, but in his own time, God will show us his beauty. In the meantime, while we wait, let us persevere to live a life looking forward to God’s beautiful timing. Let us do everything—whether we eat or drink, in word or deed—”do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17). We are to “set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2). Only then will we see God’s beautiful handiwork in this world of suffering and sin.

This is how men and women of faith in the ancient days persevered through the miseries of life: Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Job, David; the martyrs of the early church and the Reformation; the martyrs today in many foreign lands where preaching the gospel is not allowed; those of you who suffer from sickness, financial hardship, or broken relationships. These things are ugly from our earthly perspective, but when our glorious future is revealed from heaven, even these things will be made beautiful in God’s time.

“Everything is Beautiful” was a popular song in the 1960s, and some of its lines go like this:

It’s time to realize
That beauty lies
In the eyes of the beholder…
We shouldn’t care ’bout the length of his hair,
Or the color of his skin.
Don’t worry about what shows from without,
But the love that lives within.

The song teaches that all people of all colors, languages and cultures are beautiful in God’s sight. We must see the inner beauty, not the outward beauty, of other people, and if we do, everyone will be beautiful. This is so true. But the message of this song is also one of stark universalism: God loves everyone in the same way, and that all religions are equally beautiful in God’s sight, which implies universal salvation. The Holy Scripture says that nothing is good and beautiful and perfect in God’s sight except when it is seen as united to Christ in the fullness of time.

This New Year, consider that for God, time is of the essence. Jesus would be born in “the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4). He begun his ministry by preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He predicted the day he would die on the cross, “My time is at hand” (Matt 26:18). He knew that he would be raised from the grave on the third day (Mark 8:31; Matt 24:30-31). Before he ascended into heaven, his disciples asked him if he would soon restore the kingdom to Israel, but he warned them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:6,7). This is what our last song, based on Psalm 104, says,

The seasons are fixed by wisdom divine,
The slow changing moon shows forth God’s design;
The sun in his circuit his Maker obeys,
And running his journey hastes not nor delays.

God has sovereignly set the times and seasons, and it is not for mere creatures to inquire or know about these times, except those that God has revealed in his Word or in nature. In God’s time, Jesus will come again to establish his kingdom on earth and restore everything to its beauty. He does all things perfectly and he needs no help in accomplishing his purposes because he has ordained everything that will come to pass. Only this awareness of God’s total sovereign control will make us stand in “awe and fear before him.” Amen.