Over the last two chapters of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher has spoken in great detail about his attempts to find real meaning in life. For instance, he talked about his great building projects and extensive public works. He reported on his attempts to find satisfaction through relationships. He explored the drinking and partying lifestyle. He acquired huge sums of money and material possessions. He invested in the arts and had hundreds of members of the opposite sex available to meet his every need. And if those things weren’t enough, he even went one step further:“Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 2:19).
Now for most people, this situation might sound like a dream come true. After all, there are probably few people who haven’t considered the possibility that more friends, more money, or more possessions would mean more real happiness. But even with all these advantages, Solomon was finally forced to ask a difficult question:“So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23).
So having come to these dead-end conclusions, the Teacher decided to turn his attention to something else- the problem of a calendar that seemed to follow the same repetitive series of events under the sun…
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
If passage sounds familiar, then it may be due to the fact that these verses formed the basis for a famous American folk-rock song from another generation. And while its nice to know that God’s Word once helped to produce a hit record, there are a few more important things hidden away within these eight verses- and we’ll start our look at those things next.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV).
If you’re like most people, then you probably have an instinctive understanding that a “right time” and a “wrong time” exists for many things. For instance, a farmer doesn’t plant his or her crops in the middle of winter and then attempt to harvest those crops in the summer. That’s because the farmer understands that the seasons dictate “…a time to plant, and a time to pull up what is planted” (Ecclesiastes 3:2 MKJV). The problem is that people sometimes fail to realize that this idea also extends to other, not-so-obvious areas like work, relationships, and everyday decisions in life.
If you look at the structure of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, you’ll find that each of these verses follow a certain format. In other words, the twenty-eight “times” mentioned within these verses follow a structure inside the framework of this passage. For instance, the chapter begins with the thesis (or proposition) quoted above in verse one: “Everything on earth has its own time and its own season” (CEV). Verse two continues by setting the parameters for human life under the sun: “There is a time to be born and a time to die” (ERV). It then continues with a positive or constructive element followed by a negative or destructive element: “A time to plant and a time to harvest.”
The next few verses continue with a list of positive, favorable, or constructive activities followed by negative, unfavorable, or destructive counterparts. But this time, those positive and negative attributes are listed in reverse order: “A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones” (Ecclesiastes 3:3-5a).
In this context, the word “time” carries the idea of a particular circumstance, situation, or event in life. Like the passing seasons, these periods leave and return throughout the lives of all humanity. For instance, verse two tells us that there is a “time to put to death…”(BBE). This verse carries the idea of a death that occurs through the execution of a convicted criminal or the prosecution of a just war, while “…a time to heal” recurs often in the lives of doctors, nurses, and countless other medical professionals.
We’ll look at a few more examples to illustrate this idea next.
“(A) time to tear down, and a time to build up” (Ecclesiastes 3:3b LITV).
When you think about it, this idea of “tearing down” and “building up” is something that takes many different forms throughout our lives. For some, it may mean the demise of a building or a place that holds many memories. It could mean the end of a relationship that has grown unhealthy. It might even mean moving from a life that has been established in one place to begin again in a new place. While these changes may often be difficult, Solomon is quick to remind us that the act of tearing down is countered by the opportunity to build up as well.
“A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).
Anyone who has ever laughed at an inappropriate time will recognize the truth behind this verse. And while there are times when laughter and dancing are appropriate, its equally true that things like weeping and sorrow have their place in our lives as well. While there is no “right way” to handle the grieving process, this passage tells us that there are times when it is appropriate for us to demostrate grief in a way that is genuine and appropriate for the situation.
“A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones” (Ecclesiastes 3:5a).
Back in the days of the Old Testament, a field had to be cleared of large stones and other debris before it could be planted. Once those stones were collected from a field, they could then be used to help construct walls, pathways, or even someone’s home. This meant that an Old Testament landowner didn’t always plant and didn’t always build- there was a time that was appropriate for each type of activity.
Now it seems that the Teacher understood that the constant replication of “a time for this” and “a time for that” would quickly become boring and repetitive for his audience. So like a good author, he worked to maintain his reader’s interest by reversing these negative and positive attributes for us once again…
“A time to embrace and a time to turn away” (Ecclesiastes 3:5b).
In some cultures, an embrace is part of the social fabric of everyday life while in other cultures, the act of hugging another person is highly inappropriate. A wise person knows that there is a time for physical affection and a time to be sensitive to the needs and concerns of those who might not appreciate an embrace. We’ll look at one way to help make that determination next.
“There is a time to hug someone and a time to stop holding so tightly” (Ecclesiastes 3:5b ESV).
A wise person knows that there is an appropriate time for an embrace and a time when an embrace would not be appreciated. One way to help tell the difference can found in the New Testament book of Romans where we’re told to, “…give preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:10 NASB). A person who gives preference to the emotional and social needs of others is someone who is most likely to know when there is “a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing” (ESV).
“A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away” (Ecclesiastes 3:6).
While there is a time to search for something lost, its also possible to become so preoccupied with something lost in the past that it begins to affect the future that someone may have enjoyed. In situations like this, the Teacher reminds us that there is “a time to keep, and a time to cast away” (ESV). This may refer to physical possessions, but it also may refer to the regrets we often hold over something we have lost. Remember that God’s grace can allow us to move forward and cast away anything with a time that’s passed.
“A time to tear and a time to mend” (Ecclesiastes 3:7a).
The act of tearing one’s garment was recognized in those days as a culturally appropriate expression of deep personal distress or emotional pain. This response was often seen during a period of mourning and the process of repairing a garment that had been torn in this manner was a sign of closure indicating that the mourning period had been completed.
“A time to be quiet and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7b).
A person who says the wrong thing at the wrong time can cause all sorts of damage but Solomon’s counsel actually goes far beyond the words we say.
Remember that the words we speak are just another form of communication- and its possible to say a lot without ever speaking a word. For instance, have you ever written a letter to someone in anger and later regretted it? Have you ever felt sorry that you pushed the “send” button on a post, status, or email? In today’s age of social media, it especially helps to remember the Teacher’s counsel: “There is a time to be silent …” (ESV).
“(There is) a time to keep quiet and a time to speak out” (Ecclesiastes 3:7b).
It’s sometimes difficult to know when to speak out and when to remain silent but the Scriptures provide us with some information that can help us make good decisions in this area. For example, one good time to remain silent occurs whenever the opportunity to spread gossip takes place. You see, the best way to eliminate gossip is to refuse to participate in it. Intsead, Jesus provided us with a better rule to follow…
“If your brother or sister in God’s family does something wrong, go and tell them what they did wrong. Do this when you are alone with them. If they listen to you, then you have helped them to be your brother or sister again” (Matthew 18:15 ERV).
When dealing with a situation that could lead to gossip, the right move is to keep silent and speak to others privately. Jesus also provided us with another good incentive to remain silent and refuse to take part in gossip…
“I promise you that on the day of judgment, everyone will have to account for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36 CEV).
The word used for “careless” in this passage means worthless or lazy. In the verse following Matthew 12:36, Jesus goes on to say, “Your words now reflect your fate then: either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37 TLB). So Jesus tells us that we will have to give an explanation for every idle, careless word we’ve ever spoken- and that by itself should provide enough incentive to know when to keep silent.
On the other hand, Ecclesiastes 3:7 reminds that there is an appropriate time to speak up. For example, the right time to speak out may occur when instances of…
- Injustice (the violation of what is truthful, right, or lawful)
- Defamation (the act of injuring or destroying someone’s reputation)
- Prejudice (to favor or dislike something without good reason)
- Unrighteousness (the act of breaking of God’s law[s] or dealing fraudulently with others) (1) occur.
Another example when it may be appropriate to speak out takes place when a government’s laws begin to conflict with the laws of God. For instance, if a government engages in practices that are clearly unbiblical or refuses to allow it’s people the freedom to acknowledge and follow God, then a Christian’s responsibility to obey God must take priority. If a government’s laws begin to conflict with clear Biblical teachings, then a Christian’s ultimate responsibility lies with the highest authority. That authority is God Himself- and in such instances, it may be “…time to speak out” (Ecclesiastes 3:7 GW).
(1) NT:94 Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
“A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8).
Ecclesiastes 3:8 can be a difficult verse to assess. For instance, if God is a God love (1 John 4:8), then how can the Scriptures tell us that there is a time to hate? Well, let’s see if we can answer this question by looking at one of Jesus’ teachings on this subject…
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life– he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26 NIV).
This is a situation where a little knowledge regarding the languages that were originally used to author the Bible can really be helpful. In this instance, the original word for “hate” in this verse can have different meanings depending on the context. For example, this word can mean…
- To detest. (1)
- To love less (as in, “I hate turnips more than broccoli”). (1)
- A feeling of strong antagonism and dislike. (2)
Since the Ten Commandments tell us that we are supposed to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12), the first definition (“to detest”) can’t apply. The third definition (“A feeling of strong antagonism and dislike”) also doesn’t apply here. That leaves us with the second definition (“to love less”) which definitely fits the context. So this verse tells us that Jesus’ followers must put Him first in all things. Everything else -even someone’s own life and family- must take second place to following Him.
The Scriptures also tell us that there is something else that we should hate…
“Let those who love the LORD hate evil” (Psalm 97:10 GW).
“Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts” (Amos 5:15 NIV).
“Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good” (Romans 12:9 CEV).
One dictionary defines evil in part as,“the quality of being morally bad or wrong; that which causes harm, misfortune, or destruction, (or) something that is a cause or source of suffering, injury, or destruction.” (3) To these definitions, we might add one more: “Evil is the absence of something good that should exist.” In other words, when something good should exist but doesn’t, then what’s left is evil.
So while the Scriptures instruct us to love others (even our enemies- see Matthew 5:44), Ecclesiastes provides us with a reminder that there are certain things (like evil) that we should hate as well.
(1) NT:3404 miseo Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.
(2) “hate, hatred” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(3) American Heritage Dictionary Of The English Language, Third Edition
The Teacher opened this portion of Ecclesiastes by providing us with twenty-eight different examples of the fact that “there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” (ASV). But now it seems that he has gotten so caught up in this unceasing repetition of life that he’s even gone back to asking the same questions again…
“What do people really get for all their hard work?” (Ecclesiastes 3:9).
If this question sounds familiar, then it’s probably because it is a restatement of a question that’s been already asked in chapter one, verse three (1:3): “What do people get for all their hard work under the sun?” In other words, “Is there any lasting value to be gained from all our efforts here on earth?” This is more of a rhetorical question but it does serve one important purpose: it helps our author shift his viewpoint in a significant way…
“I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a).
The monotonous responsibilities of life seem unfold in a way that no one can change or escape- periods of life and work that quickly become burdensome, difficult (CEV), and hard (CEB). Yet despite these things, Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God is engineering a plan that will ultimately make everything beautiful in its own time.
Now this may be a difficult statement to accept in today’s age of landfills, junkyards, and toxic waste sites. But remember that this verse tells us that “God has made everything beautiful for its own time.” The local municipal garbage dump wasn’t always a municipal garbage dump- and it won’t be in the future. God has made “everything beautiful in its time” (NIV) and the time is coming when that will be true of every polluted, contaminated, or deteriorated area once again.
“He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b).
Unlike those who believe that this life is all there is to human existence, Solomon clearly accepted the concept of an afterlife when he said, “(God) has put a sense of eternity in people’s minds” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 GW). The difficulty for Solomon (or others who deny the existence of God) is that it is impossible to find any real meaning to our existence “under the sun” without this eternal perspective. As one commentator puts it, “We cannot grasp fully all of God’s plans. Consequently because we cannot see the full consequences of our works beyond the grave our labor, lacks ultimate gratification.” (1)
(1) Dr. Constable’s Notes on Ecclesiastes p. 16 <http://biblestudyfiles.com/01%20-%20Old%20Testament/21%20-%20Ecclesiastes/21%20-%20Ecclesiastes.pdf>
“He has set eternity in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God makes from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b MKJV).
In Genesis 1:26 we find God’s first recorded statement regarding humanity:“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (NKJV). This tells us that the human race first began with a concept in the mind of God. This basic truth is so important that someone’s decision to accept or reject it will have a great effect on the direction of his or her life.
You see, there are many who feel an overwhelming sense of futility. “Futility” is defined as, “useless and without purpose” (1) and that’s how some people view life. Such people see the world as a place without reason, without purpose, and without hope for the future. You see, if a Creator doesn’t really exist and our own existence is just a product of chance, then it means that human beings are really nothing more than cosmic accidents. It also implies that everyone came from “nothing” and returns to “nothing” when he or she dies.
Now anyone who seriously thinks about the meaning of these beliefs must eventually come to terms with an important question: “If I came from nothing and then return to nothing when I die, then what does everything I do in-between add up to?” This is the question that Solomon wrestles with throughout the book of Ecclesiastes.
But the problem is even deeper than that. No other living creature struggles with the need for meaning in life as humanity does. No other living creature has a similar concept of ideas like “eternity” or “forever.” Unlike other living creatures, human beings have the ability to contemplate the possibility that our actions will have consequences that extend beyond our physical lives.
The reason for this is found within the two Scriptures quoted earlier: God has created humanity in His image and has placed eternity within our hearts. In other words, human beings resemble, model, and represent the eternal God who created us- that’s why we can grasp the idea of eternity. But that knowledge by itself doesn’t necessarily provide life with meaning. That’s because finite human beings can’t fully grasp the plans of an infinite God during our lives here under the sun (see Isaiah 55:8-9). As one version of the Scriptures puts it, “He has given us a desire to know the future, but never gives us the satisfaction of fully understanding what he does” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 GNB).
(1) The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company
After spending much of the first three chapters asking questions, the Teacher is now ready to provide us with a few answers…
“So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).
While finite human beings may never be able to fully grasp everything concernng an infinite God, there are some things that we can definitely comprehend. A few of those things are mentioned in the passage quoted above. While these verses serve to forecast the ultimate conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes, they also help to remind us of some important truths regarding life and work.
You see, these verses tell us that the ability to find enjoyment in life is really a gift from God. While it may be easy to focus on the negative aspects of life here under the sun, its important to take time to recognize the blessings God that has given to us and thank Him for them. For instance, the ability to enjoy a good meal and find a sense of purpose in our work are gifts from God that we should receive with appreciation. This is especially important in light of what comes next…
“And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
One good way to understand the idea behind this passage is to think in terms of something under construction. While human beings may sometimes produce work that is cheap, mediocre, or temporary, God’s purposes are substantial, thorough, and permanent. In fact, anything God does is so perfect that it can never be improved upon by adding or subtracting from it. God’s work demonstrates His character and this is something that should generate respect for Him just as the quality and expertise of a skilled craftsman generates respect for him or her.
However, its also possible to look at this verse with a sense of resignation. After all, if “…everything God does will last forever. There is nothing to add to it, and nothing to take from it” (NLV), doesn’t that imply that human beings are really just living out a pre-programmed existence? If nothing God does can ever be changed, then why bother to choose anything? We’ll consider that question and look at the answer next.
“I’ve also concluded that whatever God does, that’s the way it’s going to be, always. No addition, no subtraction. God’s done it and that’s it…” (Ecclesiastes 3:14 MSG).
If everything God does lasts forever (CEV), then isn’t it true that our lives consist of nothing more than carrying out a pre-programmed assignment from God? Well, here’s how one commentator answers that question…
“God’s determination and human freedom are not necessarily an either/or situation; they can be a both/and situation… (we) may contend that God controls the world by what he knows men will freely do. Knowing what men will do with their freedom is not the same as ordaining what they must do against their freedom” (1)
The fact that God knows our choices in advance does not necessarily mean that we are no longer free to make those choices. Instead, we could say that God has directed human history by incorporating our free choice into His ultimate plan. In other words, God controls the world by what He knows people will freely do- and knowing what people will do with their freedom is not the same as ordaining what they must do against their freedom. In this way, God works “…so that people are reverent before him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14b CEB).
“What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again” (Ecclesiastes 3:15).
This verse presents an important challenge for translators and different versions of Ecclesiastes 3:15 have handled this challenge in a number of different ways…
- “God requires an account of what is past. (NKJV).
- “God seeks what has been driven away” (ESV).
- “God will call the past to account” (NIV).
- “God repeats what has passed” (HCSB).
- “God seeks that which has passed by [so that history repeats itself]” (AMP).
One thing is clear: as the Teacher began to place his focus on God, he quickly came to the realization that the events and choices of the past were not as meaningless as he once thought them to be. Solomon saw how the great events of human history and commonplace occurrences of everyday life seemed to repeat in unending cycles- but he also viewed God as the unseen conductor orchestrating the choices of our lives to serve His purposes.
Those choices -large and small, routine and extraordinary- have ultimate consequences for everyday life. You see, if there is a God who serves as the ultimate judge of our choices and decisions, then everything we’ve ever said or done carries real meaning and importance- and “God will call the past to account.”
(1) Geisler, N. L. (1976). Christian Apologetics. Includes index. (231). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
“I also noticed that under the sun there is evil in the courtroom. Yes, even the courts of law are corrupt! I said to myself, ‘In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds’” (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17).
Although the events of life seemed to repeat in an unending cycles, Solomon noticed that there was one area where there seemed to be very little order: the area of law and justice. As the Teacher observed the world around him, he said, “I have also noticed that in this world you find wickedness where justice and right ought to be” (Ecclesiastes 3:16 GNB).
Of course, any discussion on a topic like this has to begin with certain presumptions. For instance, terms like “justice,” and “right,” and “wickedness” imply that certain standards of right and wrong exist. In other words, something “good” or “just” corresponds to a standard that is right and correct and something “bad” or “unjust” doesn’t.
Pretty simple, right? But how about this: how do we even know that concepts like “right” and “wrong” really exist? Well to answer that question, let’s consider this statement…
“Concepts like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ do not exist.”
Now here’s the question: is that statement is right?
Do you see where we’re going with this? We can prove that the concepts of “right” and “wrong” exist simply by answering this question. You see, if that statement (or any statement) can be right or wrong, then we at least know that those concepts definitely exist. (1) So now the question becomes,“What standard should we use to determine right from wrong?” This question is more important than it may appear because it has implications that go far beyond a simple question.
For example, if human beings represent the ultimate moral authority in the universe, then ideas like justice, rights, and lawfulness become concepts that are defined by the group or individual. In other words, once a group or individual decides that certain actions are correct, just, right, or fair, then they are. On the other hand, if the God of the Scriptures exists, then He represents the ultimate moral authority and precepts like justice and fairness are derived from Him.
This idea helps forms the basis of an argument for the existence of God known as the “Axiological” argument for God’s existence. The prefix “Axio” refers to the “study of values” and the Axiological argument uses the existence of values or morality to prove the existence of God. The Axiological argument for God’s existence can be stated in three points and we’ll look at those points next.
(1) Of course, someone could reply to this question by saying, “I don’t know.” But the next question would then become, “Is it right to say that you don’t know?”
“I saw something else under the sun: There is wickedness where justice should be found. There is wickedness where righteousness should be found” (Ecclesiastes 3:16 GW).
The Axiological argument for God’s existence uses the presence of values or morality to prove the existence of God. In this context, a “value” is a reference to the worth or importance of something while the term “morality” identifies a standard that describes what someone should or shouldn’t do. We can state the Axiological argument for God’s existence in three easy points:
- There are objective or absolute moral laws that exist for all humanity (“objective” means existing independently of perception or an individual’s conception).
- Every law must originate from somewhere (sometimes stated as “every law must have a law giver”).
- Therefore, there must be an objective or absolute source from which these absolute moral laws derive.
The idea behind the Axiological argument for God’s existence is this: there are certain moral absolutes that transcend (or go beyond) every human culture. But in order to transcend every human culture, these moral absolutes must originate from a source that transcends every human culture as well. This transcendent moral source is generally recognized as “God.”
To put it another way, we could say that the existence of an absolute moral law implies the existence of a Being who established that law and tells us what kind of behavior is just, right, and fair. In order to do this, we first have to show that there are certain moral absolutes that exist for everyone at all times and in all places. This brings us to the idea of “described” and “prescribed” behaviors.
The idea of described behavior is easy because it’s something that we experience every day. Described behavior means that we simply look at an ethical or moral choice and talk about what we see. Described behavior doesn’t try to identify whether a choice is right or wrong- it simply reports on what someone chose (or chose not) to do.
The idea of prescribed behavior is pretty easy as well. Prescribed behavior doesn’t just identify someone’s choice- it goes beyond the described choice to determine what that person should or shouldn’t do. For instance, if you’ve ever said, “You were wrong to do that,” then you are already familiar with the idea of prescribed behavior. That’s because prescribed behavior tells us what we should and shouldn’t do.
Prescribed and described behaviors don’t only exist for individuals- they also exist for societies and cultures as well. We’ll talk about how this ties into the Axiological argument for God’s existence next.
“Everywhere on earth I saw violence and injustice instead of fairness and justice” (Ecclesiastes 3:16 CEV).
The Axiological argument for God’s existence says that there are certain moral absolutes that transcend (or go beyond) every human culture and that these moral absolutes originate with a transcendent moral source. This transcendent moral source is generally identified as “God.” Those moral absolutes are then expressed as “prescribed behaviors” that tell us “what ought to be” and “what ought not to be” for every society and culture.
The famous author C.S. Lewis once used his own personal experience to help illustrate this idea…
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line…” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
The “straight line” that Mr. Lewis talks about represents those moral absolutes that prescribe right and wrong behavior- what we should and shouldn’t do. Like a straight edge, these moral absolutes help us determine when the actions of an individual or society have become “crooked.” So what are some examples of these moral absolutes? Well one example would be this: “It is wrong to kill someone without reason.”
One moral absolute that transcends every culture is the universal belief that it is wrong to intentionally end the life of another human being without any reason. While cultures may differ in their definition of “good reason,” every society and culture recognizes that it is wrong to kill someone without any reason. This universal moral law is sometimes expressed when a government or individual stands accused of “crimes against humanity” in facilitating the unlawful deaths of others. The idea is that the act of killing someone without good reason is an absolute moral wrong that is understood and accepted by every society and culture.
Here’s another example: “It is wrong to be unjust.” Now “justice” is defined as, “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.” (1) Again, we may differ on what actually constitutes “injustice” but the principle remains the same. If injustice exists, then there must be a separate absolute standard that tells us when certain actions become unjust.
Remember C. S. Lewis’ earlier quote: “…how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line…” If there is no objective moral law to tell us that its wrong to be unjust, then the concept of injustice no longer exists and every action -no matter how cruel or unfair- becomes right. (2)
(2) Some of the information provided concerning the Axiological argument for God’s existence was adapted from the excellent study materials provided by pleaseconvinceme.com
“Moreover, I notice that throughout the earth justice is giving way to crime, and even the police courts are corrupt. I said to myself, ‘In due season God will judge everything man does, both good and bad'” (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 TLB).
If there is one thing that virtually everyone can agree on, it’s the fact that injustice exists in our world today. Because of this, it’s easy to ask, “If God is good and just, then why is there so much injustice in our world today?”
Well, the short answer to that question is that just because God hasn’t executed justice doesn’t necessarily mean that He won’t execute justice. Remember that Solomon has already told us that, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). If this is true, then it means that a just God will establish a time to execute justice as well- or to use the words of Ecclesiastes 3:17, “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (ESV).
Sometimes this justice is partially executed within the course of human history, such as when a criminal is justly punished for a crime. But this justice may sometimes be administered later as well. The New Testament book of 1st Timothy touches on this idea when it says, “The sins of some people are obvious, going ahead of them to judgment. The sins of others follow them there” (1st Timothy 5:24 ISV). While it may sometimes seem as if people will never have to answer for the wrong they have done, no one gets away with injustice forever. The consequences always come; it’s just a question of when, for as we’re told in Romans 2:6, God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”
“I also thought about the human condition—how God proves to people that they are like animals. For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die. So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust (Ecclesiastes 3:18-20).
From a strictly horizontal viewpoint, what real advantage does a human being ultimately have over a cow who eats grass in a field? Well, if your perspective is limited to all that takes place “under the sun” then you may see no real advantage- and we’ll talk more about the effects of that mindset next.
“I know that God is testing us to show us that we are merely animals. Like animals we breathe and die, and we are no better off than they are. It just doesn’t make sense. All living creatures go to the same place. We are made from earth, and we return to the earth” (Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 CEV).
If God does not exist and our lives are restricted to all that takes place “under the sun” then its natural to assume that human beings are really nothing more than highly evolved animals. And even though human beings have been responsible for some great accomplishments, in the end, a human being and an animal “both breathe the same air and both ultimately die” (TLB). This is why death has sometimes been referred to as “the great equalizer.” In death, a great human and the lowliest animal both suffer the same fate.
Now most people probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking, “If this life is all there is to our existence then I’m really no better off than an animal.” Nevertheless, a person who doesn’t believe in the existence of God or an afterlife has to deal with the impact of those beliefs every day. That’s because our true beliefs are expressed through the choices that we make and the way that we feel about life even if we’re not always conscious of it.
You see, people act on what they really believe even if they don’t immediately realize the reasoning behind their actions. For example, if someone believes deep down that life is ultimately pointless, then that belief is sure to lead to actions and feelings that reflect that conviction. And if human beings are really nothing more than highly developed animals, then there’s really no reason why we shouldn’t act like them.
Now someone might respond to this idea by saying,“Well, if you want to believe that ‘god’ exists because that belief gives you a sense of meaning and purpose in life, then that’s OK for you.” But that response misses something important: if God really doesn’t exist, then any human desire for His existence won’t make Him real. On the other hand, if God does exist, then any human desire for His “non-existence” won’t make Him disappear. Either God is real or He isn’t. Either our lives are limited to our existence “under the sun” or they’re not. Our thoughts and feelings and desires don’t do anything to affect God’s existence or non-existence.
“For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why we are here! No one will bring us back from death to enjoy life after we die” (Ecclesiastes 3:21-22).
While human beings may hope for a better eternal destiny than a common animal, who can really say? As far as we can tell from our earthly viewpoint, the eternal destiny of a human being is no different from that of a chicken, an iguana, or a cockroach. Of course, this subject brings up a common question for many people:“How can anyone really know what happens after we die?” Well, one good way to answer that question is to think about a person who is a planning a trip to an unfamiliar destination
You see, when someone wants to travel to a place where he or she has never been before, that person will often try to find someone who has already visited their planned destination. Then he or she can ask about the best route to take, problems to watch out for, and where to stay after their arrival.
In a similar way, a person who knows Jesus has the same kind of advantage as the traveler in this illustration because Jesus has already been to the other side of death and come back to tell us about it (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and Revelation 1:18).
For instance, Jesus provided us with the route to take when He said, “‘I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me'” (John 14:6 RSV). He has also warned us about some problems that we might face along the way by saying, “‘…Don’t let anyone mislead you. For many will come announcing themselves to be the Messiah, and saying, ‘The time has come.’ But don’t believe them!'” (Luke 21:8 TLB).
Jesus also let us know about what we can expect when we arrive at our final destination when He said, “There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly” (John 14:1-3 TLB).
So Jesus’ death and resurrection provides hope both now and in the future for those who place their faith and trust in Him. But for those with an “under the sun” worldview, “…the best thing people can do is to enjoy their work, because that is all they have” (Ecclesiastes 3:22 NCV).