Passage: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection
Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 helps us navigate the unfolding experiences of our life as they come, when we don’t know what they’re all adding up to.
In Ecclesiastes 3, the Teacher observes a riddle that is at the heart of our human experience. First, he observes both that “there is a time and a season…for every matter under heaven”, and that God has made “everything beautiful in its time” (3:1; 11). We sense, then, that each experience of life, even the hardest ones, can be “beautiful” in their own place. He also observes that because “God has put eternity into man’s heart” (3:11), we have a natural drive to understand how each experience of life fits meaningful into a greater whole—a greater narrative of what God is doing “from beginning to end” (3:11). We cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end, however, no matter how much we must go on searching—a toilsome and wearying predicament if there ever was one! This is hevel.
How, then, do we live in light of this riddle? Because we do not know the greater purpose that God is working from beginning to end, the Teacher tells us to take each day as it comes, receiving from him daily the simple gifts he gives us to enjoy. The Teacher said this because he perceived that “whatever God does endure forever” (3:14)—he sensed something of the power and sovereignty of God—that God does have a purpose he is working out decisively.
As Christians, we know even more than the Teacher did. Though we, like him, don’t yet see the full picture of what God is working out, we do know, and can trust God’s heart. When Jesus came to earth, he perfectly revealed God’s heart to us. He navigated the “times and seasons” with perfect wisdom, experiencing the full breadth of joy and hardship in Ecclesiastes 3, then died on the cross, to absorb the full hevel of our broken world, and offer us forgiveness and belonging in the kingdom he is bringing. The cross is the ultimate example of something ugly being “beautiful in its time”—of a tragic experience being folded into the victory of God. We can trust God’s intentions, and we can trust his plan. One day, we will see “what God has done from beginning to end” and we will rejoice!
• A Riddle at the Heart of Life (3:1-11)
• How to Live in Light of the Riddle (3:12-15)
Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide
Re-read the passage(s): Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
A Riddle at the Heart of Life (3:1-11)
Q) Re-read Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 and meditate on these verses together. Consider:
• What do you notice about the list of experiences in the poem in verses 2-8, and how they’re arranged?
• What is the significance of the words “under heaven” in verse 1?
• Which experiences in this poem have you experienced as being “beautiful” in their time? In what sense were they beautiful? What about some of the harder and more tragic experiences?
Q) How would you explain, in your own words, the “riddle” the Teacher observes, in verses 1-11?
Q) The Teacher describes our search to find out “what God has done from beginning to end” as “toil”—that is, it is exhausting. When have you experienced the exhaustion that comes from trying to figure out what God is up to in a certain season of your life? What did God teach you through this experience?
Q) In the sermon, Ben used the analogy of “red pieces” in a puzzle, to describe challenging or painful events in life, which we have trouble seeing—or even imagining—how they could “fit” meaningfully into God’s greater purpose. Is there something in your life that you would describe as a “red piece”? What would it look like to entrust this piece to God?
Q) Related to the above question: Why do you think it is so hard to entrust the “pieces” of our lives to God?
How to Live In Light of the Riddle (3:12-15)
Q) In the sermon, Ben mentioned some unhelpful ways of responding to the riddle. As a review, they were:
• We can deny the riddle—that is, we can say that life really has no overarching purpose. There is nothing that God is actually doing from beginning to end, because all of life is random and purposeless. So, we should just live our lives and get as much enjoyment out of them as we can before we die.
• We can ignore the riddle—We acknowledge that God is probably doing something from beginning to end, but discerning what he is doing doesn’t occupy much of our “head space” or “heart space”. We live our lives much the same as those who deny the riddle (above).
• We can acknowledge the riddle, but become cynical—that is, we can affirm that God has an overarching purpose, but go through life with a sense of jadedness because we know we won’t “figure it out” under the sun. We expect plans to fail, we expect the worst, we look down on those who pray to discern the future, those who get their hopes up, etc, as “naïve”.
Why is each one of these an unhelpful response? Which one of these three unhelpful responses are you most tempted to fall into? Why? What does that look like for you?
Q) Re-read Ecclesiastes 3:12-13. What does the Teacher perceive is the best way to live in light of the riddle? What was your first reaction to these verses? Why?
Q) How easy or how difficult is it for you to receive the simple gifts of God and find enjoyment in them? What are some of the simple gifts of God that you have been enjoying recently?
Q) Re-read Ecclesiastes 3:14-15. What can the Teacher discern about God’s character from these verses? How does this help us to take each day as it comes? (LEADER NOTE: Verse 15 is notoriously hard to translate, but the closing phrase “God seeks what has been driven away” (ESV), “God seeks what has passed by” (NASB), or “God will call the past into account” (NIV), most likely has the sense, in this context of a passage about times and seasons, of God redeeming seasons that have already past, ensuring there is some value in them, that they too “fit” beautifully into what God is doing from beginning to end).
Q) In the sermon, Ben said that “we don’t only know God’s power, we also know God’s heart”. How does Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection assure us of God’s heart—his loving intentions—towards us in all times and seasons? Why is the cross in particular a great assurance that God can make “everything beautiful in its time?”
Q) What is your one main takeaway from this week’s passage and sermon? It might be:
• A thought you want to keep considering
• An attitude you want to embrace
• An action you feel called to take
Additional Application Questions
Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?
Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and outside of the church?
Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.