What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. God 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. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.
He was baptized Felice Leonardo Buscaglia, but many knew him as Leo Buscaglia, or Dr. Hug. While teaching at the University of Southern California the suicide of one of his prize students led him to more deeply seek the meaning of life and how best to live. The fruits of this quest made Buscaglia a much sought after lecturer and one of Public Broadcasting’s most popular speakers. Strangers would see Dr. Hug on the street and run up to him for a welcoming embrace.
One of Buscaglia’s favorite stories was about his immigrant mother, lovingly called “Mama” by everyone. Buscaglia would tearfully recall how his father came home early from work one day and announced that his partner had embezzled funds. It meant that the Buscaglia family had lost all of its money!
Upon hearing the devastating news Mama did something very strange. She went out that afternoon and sold one of her most expensive pieces of jewelry to get the money to buy all of the ingredients for an extravagant feast. When she returned home laden with all of the delicious goodies, her family scolded her for such a wasteful expenditure. But Mama explained: “The time for joy is now when we need it and not next week!” Buscaglia told how Mama’s action rallied everyone’s spirits for difficult days ahead. Yes! The time for joy is now!
That is what I see wise Solomon saying in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. There is not another book in the Bible like Ecclesiastes to take on the enigmas and riddles of human existence. Solomon looks squarely at the problems of our years lived under the sun. But a sober and clear-eyed Solomon comes to the Spirit-inspired conclusion that now is the time for joy. I think you might be encouraged by spending some time reflecting on what Solomon says about the time for joy and rejoicing is now: see 2:24-26; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7-8.
In today’s scripture Solomon wonders about life’s many ups and downs, all the trials and tribulations, asking, “What do workers gain from their toil?” With the word “gain” Solomon uses a word straight out of the world of ancient business and finance. He is asking about the bottom line of life, “What does all of our effort mean?” “What does it all get us?” “Do we come out of life ahead or behind?”
Solomon doesn’t try to unscrew the inscrutable, but comes to the bottom line conclusion that “God has made everything beautiful in its time.” One day we will see the big picture and see the wonder of each moment! So, in the meantime Solomon urges that now is the time for joy: “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in their toil.” Then Solomon happily adds, “…this is the gift of God.”
Centuries later the apostle Paul is under house arrest in Rome, chained to a Roman soldier awaiting his possible execution. He knows well that the time for joy is now when he needs it. He never tires of rejoicing in the Lord or telling Christians everywhere to rejoice: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
I don’t need to sell our most expensive jewelry to celebrate, nor even spend any money! I can forgo life’s slings and arrows, the bad news on the television, the coarseness of our culture, and still celebrate the Lord and His goodness now. That is, Solomon says, God’s gift to us today! Enjoy!
Grace and peace,
P. S. Our Advent devotional for 2018, We Have Seen His Glory! is now available on Kindle!