In Godís Hands

1So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in Godís hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him.

In the previous section of the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon found himself at the end of his quest, by human means, to understand the things of life. He discovered that, no matter how worldly wise he may be, a man could not understand fully what goes on in life: "When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe manís labor on earthóhis eyes not seeing sleep day or nightóthen I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it" (Eccl. 8:16Ė17). Here, he continues that thought, concluding that whatever happens on earth is in Godís hands: "So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in Godís hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him" (vs. 1). God is in control. We cannot change that. And this is fine with Solomon. What is puzzling to Solomon, however, is that, despite the fact that God is in control, the "righteous" and "wise" do not know "whether love or hate awaits [them]". One might think that, since a loving God is in control, then the "righteous" could always expect a life of ease and peace, a "good" life with no suffering. Yet, this is not the case. This mystery of providence is a stumbling block for many.

Life, even for the most devout Christian, is not a bed of roses. God allows affliction. As Jesus pointed out: "In this world, you will have trouble" (John 16:33). Many would ask, "Why, Lord, is there trouble for us?" Part of the answer to this question is that God, in His sovereignty, has largely chosen to put the world under the stewardship of sinful man. And since sinful men are given by God the free will to run things down here, sin happens. Where sin is, there is affliction. And yet, the answer is more complicated than this. Despite the fact that men run things down here, God does direct circumstances according to His will, for we have statements from Godís word, such as: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). So, though there is pain and affliction in this sinful world, what we experience, what we must endure, is in "Godís hands". Many ask, "Well, how can a loving God allow His children to experience pain?" One can respond, simply: "Do not you, as a parent, allow your children to experience pain? Do you not discipline them? Do you not allow the doctor vaccinate them so that they will not contract horrible diseases? Do you not, for their good, deny them things they would think pleasurable?" The fact that God allows us to undergo affliction is not a sign that He does not love us. On the contrary, the fact that we are disciplined by God is a sign that He loves us: "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees" (Heb. 12:7Ė12).

Yes, the godly at times suffer; the ungodly at times prosper. "Godís approval or disapproval of us cannot always be read from [what happens to us]; things are not always what they seem to be to us or what our friends construe them to be. After all, Jobís three friends took the bare facts of his suffering and incorrectly concluded that he must have sinned grievously; otherwise he would not have been suffering as he was. Nor must we conclude that God hates those to whom He sends adversity and loves those who receive prosperity. If believers are to walk by faith, there will be times when outward appearances and facts will defy explanation for the moment. It is cruel to add to the hurt of oppressed persons by suggesting that they are definitely objects of Godís judgment. Such narrow-minded reasoning would suggest that all suffering is the result of personal sin, but that would be unbiblical" [Kaiser, 94Ė95]. We learn in the Bible, that the suffering of Godís children has its purpose. "Certainly some suffering is (1) educational (as Elihu informed Job by divine inspiration in Job 34:32;35:11;36:10,15,22); some is (2) doxological, for the glory of God (as Jesus showed His disciples the proper deduction to be drawn from the man born blind in John 9:1-3); some is (3) probationary (as when Habakkuk looked out from his watchtower on a world of tyranny, violence, and sin and found the answer in patient waiting for God's long-suffering retribution to take effect); some is (4) revelational (as the prophet Hosea learned the isolation felt by God as a result of Israel's spiritual adultery when he, Hosea, lost his own wife in physical harlotries); and some suffering is (5) sacrificial (as the suffering Servant bore great pain because of the sin of others, see Isa. 42;49-50;53). Therefore, it is most unfortunate when men hastily make a one-to-one nexus between personal guilt and suffering" [Kaiser, 95]. As for myself, I can truly say that all suffering I have experienced in life has been beneficial to me, in some way. I can see, looking back, Godís hand at work, in all times of affliction that I have experienced. Think back. Can you not see Godís hand at work in your life through your times of affliction?

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