Whether because of COVID-19 or due to governmental reaction to the virus, these past months have provided a stark message to the world that many things are outside our control. Businesses have failed no matter how hard their owners labored; people have fallen ill no matter how many health foods they consumed, and political currents have destroyed cities no matter how decent the people who live there.
Imagine a baby newly aware of his ability to deliberately move his arms, hands and feet. Lying on a blanket near a window, he sees that each time he waves his arms, the leaves outside the window dance. Delighted with this power, he repeats his gestures. Suddenly, the leaves stay rigidly still and our baby bursts into tears. Unbeknownst to him, the leaves were responding to an autumn wind, not to his machinations.
There are things in this world that we can influence and other things that we cannot. One of the secrets to sanity and happiness is recognizing the difference.
The world-record for the biggest-selling popular song with the oldest lyrics belongs to The Byrds’ rendition of Turn, Turn, Turn from 1965, containing words from the third chapter of King Solomon’s book of Ecclesiastes. This book, Kohelet in Hebrew, is read during the holyday of Sukot each year, a joyous week that we are currently celebrating. It contains a credible explanation for our mystery.
A time to be born And a time to die
A time to plant And a time to pluck…
The seven verses of Ecclesiastes we are examining (3:2—3:8) contain twenty-eight events for which “there is a time.” Some events are under our individual control. Other times, we can only respond to events in our world. By scrutinizing each verse from the perspective of strong individual control, we find that verses (3:2—3:4) deal with events in our lives where we need to follow external triggers. Verses (3:5—3:7) deal with events under our control.
In Kohelet 7:8, Solomon provided the clue to the pattern he followed:
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning…
This verse tells us to look at the end of the section we are studying for a clue.
A time to love And a time to hate
A time for war And a time for peace
This verse contains both types of events. Loving and hating are decisions made by each of us. Whether our nation is at war or peace lies outside our personal choice. King Solomon teaches that our lives contain both kinds of events and we need to learn to distinguish between them.
Fatalistic people deem everything in life to ‘just happen’ so they attempt little and achieve less. Foolish people imagine they can control every aspect of their lives and fritter away their time and energy fighting reality. Those of us who follow King Solomon’s guidance recognize that while everything is ultimately in God’s control, we must spend our time and efforts on those things our endeavors are likely to impact while adapting to and accepting those things the wind blows our way.
It is always the right time for Biblical wisdom
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Updated and reprinted from 2012