then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out. Eccl. 8:17
No one likes the unknown. We don’t delight in discovering that we cannot figure something out. We want to know how things are going to end. The dilemma explained in Ecclesiastes is that however much we want to know, we do not know the end of things.
This is one of the major discoveries that the Preacher made in his quest. He sought to seek and search by wisdom everything that is done on this earth, with every resource at his disposal to accomplish this search, and yet he couldn’t find out what God has done from the beginning to the end (Ecc. 3:11). Like most of us, the author of Ecclesiastes was trying to discern the purpose, to find the scheme of things (7:27).
The dilemma is most fully stated in Ecclesiastes 3:11 –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. It seems to be that eternity is an ability and desire to know meaning and purpose beyond oneself, the ability to know that you know, part of the image of God in man. God has given us this ability and desire, but this desire cannot be met apart from God, and not in this world. We cannot discover God’s purpose and purposes; we cannot find purpose in life on our own, apart from God. We have this unmet longing that only God can fill.
C.S. Lewis refers to this in various places in his works; “if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity, 120). This longing for understanding purpose beyond ourselves he describes as “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited” (Weight of Glory, 30-31).
We have been created this way on purpose, so that our restlessness would drive us, like it did for the author of Ecclesiastes, to seek and search for and desire something beyond ourselves. As Augustine said, “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” The Preacher is telling each one of us to look to God in Christ. Knowing Jesus enables us to comprehend God’s bigger purpose, not in all the specific details, like why did someone close to me get caught up in sin that is destroying his marriage, but in the sense that we can understand that God controls the purpose of the events in my life. I don’t have to understand God’s reason to believe that his reason is always for my good and his glory.
Accept the fact that man cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end, that we are finite and he is infinite, and trust God because he always sovereignly and graciously does what is good from beginning to end.
Part of an ongoing series on Ecclesiastes