I’ve been thinking about a verse in Ecclesiastes: “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (3:11)
It comes as part of a meditation on the value of work—a series of disconnected one-liners:
a. What does the worker gain from his toil?
b. I have seen the burden God has laid on men.
c. He has made everything beautiful in its time.
d. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.
e. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is a gift of God.
f. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.
g. God does it so that men will revere him.
I’ve been pondering the value of my work, which is probably why this passage resonates with me. What do we gain from our toil? (a) In the end, nothing. (See my reflection, “Who Will Remember me?”) And life is heavy (b)—“toil and anxious striving,” as 2:22 puts it. Much of Ecclesiastes underlines this point.
And yet, taken a day at a time, life is also beautiful. (c) God makes it so. It is a gift from God that we eat and drink and find satisfaction in our work. (e) There is nothing better than this. (d)
The paradox at the heart of this paradox is verse 11. At humanity’s core—at our heart—is an ineradicable sense of eternity. We look beyond the horizon. We long to make a difference in the long run. We pine for glory and fame and remembrance. And in some dim way we know that this is related to God, who alone is eternal. He does what endures (f); it is perfect and complete. We are meant to revere him for it (g).
Yet while eternity is in our hearts—we can’t get rid of it, no matter how we try–we can never grasp it. It lies forever just beyond our reaching fingertips. “They cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Therefore: we take pleasure in our daily life, and we honor God for doing the perfect thing that we cannot. To him alone belongs the glory—though our longing for it suggests that we were made for something beyond what we find “under the sun.”