This past week saw the Scripture reading at church intersect with a certain hippy song. While reading up about the 60’s hit called ‘Turn, turn, turn (to everything there is a season’ I discovered that it was sung by a band called ‘The Byrds’. It may have occurred to Pete Seeger who wrote the song that there was irony in the fact that the band that popularised the song passed into the folds of history and that even to their notoriety there was a season.
But perhaps Pete Seeger does not see irony as eagerly as someone like me who tends towards Irish.
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes observed by the third chapter that there is a timing, pattern or rhythm to life and from a strictly naturalistic point of view that there is a time for everything under the heavens (or otherwise phrased as under the sun).
It’s not an exhaustive study but there is an idea that God times things in
- the way we live daily,
- in our lives and their finite-ness (beginning, content and end),
- in the timing of His purposes for His plan of redemption, and especially
- in the first and second coming of Christ
Our lives follow a daily pattern: “And there was evening and there was morning – the first day” (Genesis 1:5 NIV).
The circadian rhythm with which we are all intimately familiar, the rhythm of light and dark encompassing 24 hours; waking, working, resting and sleeping. According to Christ’s prayer, we are to ask the Father for ‘our daily bread’. Though we see things from the point of view of a monthly salary, the Father seems to look at our practical concerns on a daily level.
Within our lives there are also different times as the writer of Ecclesiastes notes and as Peter Seeger popularised with that hippie song from the 60’s:
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing…” (3:1 – 5 NIV)
There are larger patterns in life with the most obvious one a time to be born and a time to die. Like the Capital Letter at the beginning of a sentence and a full stop. Brackets, book-ends on a shelf. We have no control over when we are born and when we die, a timing of God’s own choosing and not a random fate as those think who tend towards atheism.
As goes human life, so goes plant life: plant (born) and uproot (die) although I enjoy the contrast – taking us out of a womb serves as the start of life and putting us in the ground as the end of it, whereas cultivated plants grow in the ground they are placed and when they die we take them out of the ground.
There is indeed a time to kill and heal, to tear down and build. When SEAL team 6 raided the Bin-Laden compound in Abbottabad it was a time to kill. Killing is not pleasant but sometimes it is appropriate in a given time for righting a wrong or punishing evil. There are also many times in the life of a country where it is appropriate to set aside time for healing. Some cultures are very inventive, like the Irish who combine a funeral and a party and call it a wake, thereby combining the time of mourning and dancing…and sometimes to excess with drinking as well. A time for every opposite activity and result.
Why scattering of stones? Sabotage, you can’t farm in a quarry. There is a time for everything, to embrace and another when to embrace would be appropriate. Strangely enough, most of us have enough emotional intelligence to discern when the proper time is for things. From another point of view, timing is about our reaction to things that happen to us. The actual circumstances and the timing of those is not up to us.
God’s timing is perfect: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.” (Galatians 4:4 NLT);
The intervention of God was evidently waiting for the right circumstances for Christ to enter the world. How does a mere human being even try to make sense of that from a point of view of logic? Logic and reasoning are too small, inadequate. What about all the people who lived and died before Christ and merely had nature as a witness to God? From our point of view that is like a math puzzle without a solution but for Him who knows everything – and who has a perfect sense of fair play – it is not insurmountable.
And again: “He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.” (1 Timothy 2:6 NLT).
Even the spread of the message was evidently planned for first century Palestine as occupied by Rome. Again, why not in the internet age? Google would have served to effectively spread Christianity but then our faith might be as shallow as an app that we could use one day and discard the next when we get an upgraded smartphone. But God chose that era in a sovereign act of will whose wisdom will doubtless floor us one day when we have the capability to understand.
“From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 4: 17 NLT).
The timing was just after John the Baptist had been arrested and the where was in Capernaum in Galilee. Why Capernaum in Galilee and why then? A dusty, probably neglected shore of the lake. And probably not exactly catching Capernaum at its finest hour. I have no idea what to make of it except He knows what he’s doing.
And the conclusion of history is timed to a moment when it will be right: “For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2 NLT). This is yet to come but I wonder if I will get to see the timing of it, and marvel.