“What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted” (Ecclesiastes 1:15).
GOD HAS MADE THE PRESENT WORLD AN UNPREDICTABLE PLACE. Lest we think figuring out which buttons to push will invariably get us what we want from the world’s vending machine, God prevents us from having this much control. He makes sure we can’t straighten out every crooked thing in our lives. Paul describes this by saying “the creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20).
This means the future is frustratingly unknowable. We may push all the right buttons and life’s candy bar still not be forthcoming. “I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong . . . but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Sometimes God allows our plans to materialize, but sometimes He does not. This unpredictability is meant to disabuse us of any notion that we’re in control of what happens.
Human civilization. If we’re honest, we have to admit that conditions in the world are getting worse and worse. For every problem we’ve solved, we’ve created several new ones, each more terrible than the last. But rather than confess our powerlessness, we suppose it is just a matter of time until science solves all the riddles. This is, as David Ehrenfeld called it, the “arrogance of humanism.”
Individual lives. We may know non-religious folks who disregard God in making their plans, and we believe they will find out the hard way that human plans don’t always pan out. They should be more humble, we think. But if the “human race” and “certain individuals” need to learn the limits of human endeavor, so do all the rest of us. Godly people certainly have some advantages in life, but they are not exempt from the restraints on human activity to which God has subjected the entire world. It’s a bitter pill to swallow (and a blow to our religious pride), but not even the godliest can make things turn out the way they want them to all the time.
The truth is, none of us can figure this world out and control it — none of us. That is the message of the Book of Ecclesiastes. For that reason, Ecclesiastes is a powerful preparation for the gospel. Its purpose is to deny that we are the masters of our own destiny, and if it defeats us in that way, a great victory will have been won.
“There are some defeats more triumphant than victories” (Michel de Montaigne).