Embracing Our Limitations
We all like to have answers. In life’s endless uncertainty, and especially when the world or our own personal circumstances feel chaotic, we long for surety. Just think of all the experts to whom we look for guidance: medical experts, social experts, political experts, and so on. Yet while the proliferation of experts may be unique to our day, the quest for certainty is not. In every age, humans have searched for some kind of rhyme or reason to make sense of the grand events of history and the experiences of their individual lives.
We find an ancient example of this quest in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Its writer shares with us his attempts to understand “all that is done under heaven,” applying his heart “to know wisdom and to know madness and folly” (Ecclesiastes 1:13, 17). Yet in the end, he concludes that “man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun.” Most people arrive at the same conclusion without so much effort—all we need is enough time to live our lives and to observe the world around us. The wise response to this truth is to humble ourselves and live by the light of God’s word. In other words, we acknowledge that while God does not permit us to know all we might want to know, He has given us all we need. Genuine humility admits, and even embraces, this limitation.
If we were to behold the fullness of all of God’s activity and purposes, it would be like looking up directly into a very bright sun. The light we are meant to live by is revealed in Scripture. It is the word of God that lights our path: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). It may not light all our surroundings, but it does light the way ahead—if we will walk in trust and obedience.
Rather than busying ourselves with what cannot be known, we need to come to the Scriptures humbly, expectantly, and consistently, so that we might discover the light it provides. We won’t understand life entirely, but we may understand it sufficiently, and so sing with William Cowper:
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
This view of life under the sun is what will enable us to increasingly trust that God will, in His own time and in His own way, bring perfect order out of seeming confusion. He will use all of our circumstances to complete all of His purposes for all of eternity.
Keep the King's Command
1Who is like the wise?
And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A man's wisdom makes his face shine,
and the hardness of his face is changed.
2I say:1 Keep the king's command, because of God's oath to him.2 3Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. 4For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?” 5Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. 6For there is a time and a way for everything, although man's trouble3 lies heavy on him. 7For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? 8No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it. 9All this I observed while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun, when man had power over man to his hurt.
Those Who Fear God Will Do Well
10Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised4 in the city where they had done such things. This also is vanity.5 11Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. 12Though 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. 13But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.
Man Cannot Know God's Ways
14There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. 15And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.
16When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one's eyes see sleep, 17then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
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