What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Bet you didn’t think I’d be doing one of these posts on a passage from Ecclesiastes.
I sat down with these verses the other day, asking God to help me understand how they fit together. As He answered that prayer, I began to see just how much they show God’s character and our identity relative to Him.
The first verse, verse 9, says: “What do workers gain from their toil?” A common theme in Ecclesiastes is wondering about meaning and meaninglessness. This question considers why the heck we work so hard all day long. It’s only gained more relevance as time has gone on and culture has progressed to turn us all into little worker bees.
Verse 10 continues: “I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.” Following verse 9, it seems like that burden is hard work with little to no reward. But verse 11 changes the game.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” God is the One who makes all things new and beautiful in His timing. He is before the beginning and after the end; He has put longing for eternity in our hearts, but not understanding for it in our minds.
How do a question about the worth of work, a statement about God’s burden for us, and a declaration of what God has done fit together?
As I sat with Him, God helped me make sense of it: The writer questions the meaning of work because He sees that so much of our work is futile, without God, striving for nothing that really matters. We work to achieve, when God has not placed an expectation for achievement on us. His burden for us is trusting who He is and what He is capable of. That’s why the writer switches pace to talk about how God has made everything beautiful in its time and no one can fathom His deeds. This passage shows that work outside God’s mission is worthless, because God has not placed a burden of work on us, but of faith. His only requirement is that we trust Him, the One who makes everything beautiful in His timing, the One whose forever we long for but cannot comprehend. God’s gift of an eternal heart leads us to trust Him, because we have forever desires with worldly, transitory minds. We need to trust Him, because we can’t understand. We can trust Him, because He is who He is. Trusting Him is the “burden” He places on humanity, and that is why it makes absolutely no sense for us to slave away at work by ourselves, for ourselves.
God’s call is for strivings to cease. We may perceive it as a burden, because it’s hard to put aside our confidence in our own capabilities. But once we trust Him instead of ourselves, we discover a God who is infinitely more able, making more beauty than we can dream of, outside the realm of our tiny comprehension.
Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’
(BSTUD is a blog series studying the Christian holy scriptures. BSTUD = B(ible) STUD(y). You can read more BSTUD posts here.)