On a more basic level, the eagerness felt by engaged couples exposes a fundamental desire that all people share: a longing for eternity. This point is well made by the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:9–11:
What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
Let’s consider two ways this text teaches us about our longing for eternity. First, we are told that God “has made everything beautiful in its time” (v. 11). One modern commentator has called this verse “the greatest statement of divine providence in the whole of Scripture.” What makes this biblical text so striking is that there is much in life that is far from beautiful. But the Preacher isn’t unaware of the ugliness that pervades the world. His question in verse 9 echoes the curse pronouncement in the garden of Eden: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” This is not merely a rhetorical question that is detached from the pressures of real life experience (see 1:3). The apparent futility of hard work with little gain is something he has witnessed firsthand. “I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (3:10).
To be clear, the biblical record affirms the dignity of work. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were commanded to execute their duties with the promise of being fruitful (Gen. 1:28–31; 2:15–17; see Eccl. 3:13). But after the fall, work is toilsome (Gen. 3:17–19). We no longer perform our tasks in the lush environs of a garden but in the harsh conditions of a wilderness filled with thorns and thistles, failure and frustration. As the Preacher laments in Ecclesiastes 2:23, “Work is a vexation.” When we face hardship in our careers, injustice in the workplace, and defeat in completing assignments, we are confronted with the painful truth that this fallen world will never yield lasting gain. Vocational dissatisfaction reminds us that we were made for something greater than that which our hobbies and careers can offer.
But there is hope. We are told that God has made everything beautiful in its time. The “everything” in Ecclesiastes 3:11 harks back to the “everything” in verse 1: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” That life is lived under the watchful care of a sovereign Creator illumines our understanding of everything. In light of His providence, we learn that there is a time for birth and death, for planting and gathering, for mourning and dancing, for war and peace. Over all these things, God is in control. The beauty is found in the discovery that God orchestrates every last detail according to His perfect design.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 is the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament. In Romans 8:28, the Apostle Paul states, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Notice that Paul does not say that all things are good but that all things work together for good. And what is the good? It is being conformed into the likeness of Christ (v. 29). As Christians experience the seasons of life, we can be comforted in knowing that God uses every circumstance to shape us more and more into the image of His Son.
On August 24, 1662, more than two thousand ministers were ejected from the Church of England for not conforming to the Book of Common Prayer. The day was known as Black Bartholomew’s Day, a solemn reference to when thousands of French Huguenots were massacred on the same day in 1572. One of the ejected ministers was a Puritan named Thomas Watson. In response to the Great Ejection, he wrote a short book titled A Divine Cordial, based on Romans 8:28, in order to comfort Christians undergoing suffering. He observed that “the best things and the worst things, by the overruling hand of the great God, do work together for the good of the saints.” It is undeniable that this world is often grim and filled with heartache. But God beautifully uses both joys and sorrows to transform us as Christians into the likeness of Christ. Disappointments have a way of making us long even more to be with Him.