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Ecclesiastes 3:16–17

“Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.”

If this world is all that there is, if we just die and that is the end of it all, then life is inherently futile. There is no transcendent purpose that gives meaning to creation. There is no right or wrong; everything just is, so there can be no lasting moral evaluation of it. Something that is wrong today might be right tomorrow and vice versa. No true judgments are possible; everything is relative, and if everything is relative, everything is meaningless. However, if there is a perfectly good Creator who defines the world and all that is in it, life is meaningful. The fleeting nature of life with all of its apparent absurdities will give way finally to eternity, when the plan of the Lord will be seen more fully, the meaning of apparent coincidences will be revealed, and all injustices will be rectified.

The key to understanding the book of Ecclesiastes is to recognize that the Preacher is making one very simple point—only God can make sense out of life. Today’s passage indicates as much. In 3:16, the Preacher observes what we have all seen with our own eyes: in the very place where justice is supposed to be found, wickedness often reigns. Even in the best justice systems, criminals often go free because they are able to bribe an unjust judge. All too often, justice is bought and sold. Criminals escape justice and the innocent are punished. There is no better example of this than in the trial of Jesus. The false witnesses to His “crime” at His trial could not even agree with one another, but He was convicted anyway even though such testimony should have led the judges to throw His case out of court (Mark 14:53–65; see Deut. 17:6). Miscarriages of justice are inevitable in our fallen world.

Honest atheists see this reality and are driven either to suicidal despair because they realize that goodness cannot prevail, or to Friedrich Nietzsche’s “will to power,” whereby they seize whatever power they can and use it to their own advantage. Their reasoning is that we might as well do all we want before we cease to exist. Thankfully, there are precious few consistent atheists, and Ecclesiastes 3:17 explains why. The Preacher understands that despite the fact that justice is not always done on earth, a day is coming in which God will judge both the righteous and the wicked. Such knowledge is planted deep in the human heart and is a consequence of our being made in His image (Gen. 1:26–28). Even the most forthright unbelievers know that God will judge all, and generally speaking, this understanding keeps them from collapsing in despair or becoming tyrants.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

For believers, the knowledge that there is a day of perfect judgment coming fills us with hope. We understand that on that day everything will be set right. Every injustice will be overturned, and people will receive their due. Believers will receive heaven because they are so closely united to Christ that His perfect obedience and its due reward is reckoned as theirs (2 Cor. 5:21). Unbelievers will be condemned for their sin, for they are not covered by Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

For Further Study
  • Psalm 96:10–13
  • Ezekiel 34:11–24
  • John 12:48
  • Romans 2:12–16

Lord Over the Hearts of Men

Our All-Knowing, All-Seeing Lord

Keep Reading Inerrancy and the Doctrine of Scripture

From the March 2015 Issue
Mar 2015 Issue