He Has Made Everything Beautiful
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also he has put eternity in their (our) hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11
This line comes from the very well known and well used passage at the beginning of Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven…”
It is a powerful reflection of the human idea of time. Because we are finite creatures, we understand time, in three ways; past, present, and future. We know by experience, and by the fact of our temporal nature, that the past is real. We have experienced it, it is in our memory. We know the present is real, because it is that part of time where we act, speak, and know with all of our senses in the immediate now. It is that moment when we experience the realities of pain and pleasure, suffering and joy. The present is when that swift-suddenness we call “insight” occurs. It is in the present moment that we “see” the truth of things as they are at this moment in time. It is that moment in time when we experience the gifts of surprise, awe and wonder. But, as the scripture says here, none of us can know the future. We can only hope for it, have faith in it, and work toward it. The fullness, the wholeness of time, can be known by God alone. Only he can know the past, the present and the future at once, completely. And, though he has placed a desire for the future in us, we can not know it, cannot predict it, can not divine it. It is not within our finite competence to do so. We are not God.
God, though, has blessed us with an intellect capable of knowing, contemplating and learning from the past. He has also given us a free will, and a conscience, with which we can decide and act based on what we know, in the here and now. Christians decide and act based on the knowledge of God we have gained from experience, in union with the gifts of faith, hope, and love that God fills us with in the here and now. It is this union of intellect and will, given to us by God, through which we enter the future, trembling with humility. Why? Because we know that we are ignorant and weak that, therefore, we are in constant need of God’s grace and mercy, and forgiveness, here and now. In other words, for us, it is always time for humble dependence on God.
As Christians we know the history of God’s action in time through the scriptures. We know that he created. We know that he sent his only begotten Son to enter time with us, to live with us, to suffer and die for us, in order to make eternity with him possible for us again. It is this “knowledge” that is the fecund seed of the “future” that has been planted in our hearts. It is this “hope” that is poised on the still point of every moment, that stands at the very verge of entering eternity. This is the desire that God has planted in our hearts; the desire to finally enter the eternal now of his presence. We cannot know the day or the time of our deaths, or of his return in glory. That is not for us to know. What we are called to do is to remember, here and now, what God has done for us, to live this moment as if it is the moment of our entry into eternity, by living our lives in imitation of Christ. That is the way to the future. There is no other. Though we cannot know the future, in faith, we believe in it; in hope, we yearn for it; in love, we act in union with it every day, every moment of our lives. We do not fear the future, we live for it in every thought, in every choice, in every act. That is enough for us.