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…I perceived that whatever God does endures forever, nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before Him. I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. Ecclesiastes 3:11,14,18
There are three ‘so that’s’ or ‘that’s’ in these verses. The first one is: God has put eternity in our hearts yet so that we can’t find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. In other words, God has put a longing in our hearts for the infinite, or the eternal, but He has rigged it so that we can really only know the finite.
We have a longing for eternity but yet we can’t figure it all out because we’re limited in time and space. We have a yearning for something more, because we have souls that are eternal. We are really made for a relationship with God almighty. We all have a God sized hole in our hearts that is only filled with Him. Some people figure it out, some never do. Those that don’t spin around in all different sorts of directions, filling that hole with a variety of things.
The second ‘so that’ is that God is eternal and His works last forever. God has made it that way so that we would fear Him. Solomon doesn’t embellish this fact much, he just states it. God is infinite, and we’re not, so we ought to fear Him.
The final ‘that’ is in verse 18: I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they are but beasts. In other words, God is God and we are not. He wants us to know how much we need Him. The thing we all have in common is that in a hundred years we’ll all be dead. In that way, we are like the beasts of the fields. There has to be a meaning to the life we are given, because one day we will die.
There is a classic little book, A Confession, by Leo Tolstoy. He wrote it in 1882. It’s an interesting read, not very long, and although he was a Russian intellectual, it’s very easy to follow his logic and his journey toward God. I highly recommend it. In his search for God, he read Ecclesiastes, as well as Buddha and Schopenhauer (a German philosopher).
Tolstoy’s real faith was in himself and in his own perfect will, to be better in the eyes of other people. But he found it all meaningless. He realized that he was paid well to be a teacher, but he really didn’t know much of anything. By the age of 50 he was obsessed with suicide, keeping loose ropes away from himself lest he hang himself on a beam.
His question was, “Why do I live?” His answer up that point was, “In infinite space, in infinite time, infinitely small particles change their forms in infinite complexity, and when you understood the laws of those mutations of form you will understand why you live on the earth.” ( From Chapter 5)
Another way of saying it: “You are an accidentally united little lump of something that ferments and become life. Then one day it disintegrates and there will be an end of the fermenting and of all the questions.” If that’s true, then why do we cry out for our ’15 minutes of fame,’ as Andy Warhol first tagged it? Or, as Dallas Willard puts it in The Divine Conspiracy, (pg. 9) why did ever people want to be ‘The Oscar Meyer Wiener’ where everyone will be in love with me?
Tolstoy eventually moved from having faith in himself and in only the rational knowledge, which brought futility to having a faith in irrational knowledge which was found in admitting that there was a God. He didn’t find this faith by being with the other rich intellectuals. In his search for meaning, he found it by spending time with the peasants. They worked in heavy labor but were content in life. He spent the rest of his days living a simple life with them, sorting out a faith in God.
Tolstoy discovered in his late fifties what Solomon wrote about. Our hunger for meaning in life and significance is a signal of what God planted in us. It’s who we are and why we are here. We were made by an infinite, eternal God. We bear His image. We were meant to count, just like water is made to run downhill. God has placed eternity in our hearts, with souls that live on after we die. That’s what makes us different than animals. One day we will all stand and give an account to our Creator.
So if you get an urge to try out for ‘American Idol’ or to do something to make a mark, know it is because God has placed eternity in your heart. You were made to count because you’re more than just an accidental lump of something that evolved from some primordial goo. You were made by a God who loves you, knows you by name, and has a plan for your life. You don’t have to worry about having loose ropes laying around, and that’s good news.