There Is a Time for Everything
“For everything there is an appointed time, even a time for every affair under the heavens,” says the Bible. The writer of those words, the ancient wise King Solomon, went on to say that there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to build and a time to tear down, a time to love and a time to hate. Finally, he observed: “What advantage is there for the doer in what he is working hard at?”—Ecclesiastes 3:1-9.
UPON reading those words, some people conclude that the Bible does indeed teach that there is a predetermined time for everything; that is to say, they think that the Bible supports the belief in fate. Is that really so? Does the Bible support the notion that everything in life is controlled by fate? Since “all Scripture is inspired of God,” what we read in one part of the Bible must harmonize with what we find in other parts of it. Therefore, let us see what the rest of God’s Word, the Bible, has to say on the matter.—2 Timothy 3:16.
Time and Unforeseen Occurrence
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon further wrote: “I returned to see under the sun that the swift do not have the race, nor the mighty ones the battle, nor do the wise also have the food, nor do the understanding ones also have the riches, nor do even those having knowledge have the favor.” Why? He explained: “Because time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
Rather than suggesting that everything in life is determined by fate, Solomon was pointing out that humans cannot accurately predict the outcome of any endeavor “because time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.” Often, something happens to a person simply because he is in the right place at the right time, or we might say, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Take, for example, the statement: “The swift do not have the race.” You may recall or may have read about the famous, though bizarre, 3000-meter women’s race in the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. Two runners, one representing Britain and the other representing the United States, were both hoping to win the gold medal. Halfway into the race, however, they collided on the track. One fell and was out of the race; the other was so disheartened that she finished seventh.
Was it fate that things turned out that way? Some may say so. But clearly it was the collision—an accident no one could have foreseen—that caused both of them to lose the race. Then, was it fate that they collide? Again, some may say so. Yet, commentators attributed the accident to the intense competition between two strong athletes running a close race, with each trying to dominate. As the Bible says, “time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.” No matter how well-prepared one may be, there are always some unexpected elements that may affect the outcome of an endeavor, and it has nothing to do with fate.
What, then, does the Bible mean when it says: “For everything there is an appointed time”? Is there anything we can do that will affect the outcome of our life—our destiny?
The Best Time for Every Endeavor
Far from speaking about any individual’s fate or describing the eventual outcome of one’s life, the inspired Bible writer was speaking of God’s purpose and how it would affect mankind. How do we know that? Basically, that is what the context tells us. After mentioning many things that appear to have “an appointed time,” Solomon wrote: “I have seen the occupation that God has given to the sons of mankind in which to be occupied. Everything he has made pretty in its time.”—Ecclesiastes 3:10, 11.
God has given mankind many occupations, or things to do—Solomon listed a number of them. God has also given us the free will to choose what we want to do. However, for every task, there is a time that is right, or favorable, producing the best result. Take, for instance, Solomon’s statement “a time to plant and a time to uproot what was planted,” found at Ecclesiastes 3:2. Farmers know that for every crop, there is a right time for planting it. What if a farmer ignores that simple fact and plants a crop at the wrong time or season? Should he blame it on fate if he does not get a good harvest, even though he has worked hard on it? Of course not! He simply did not plant the crop at the right time. The farmer could have done well had he followed the natural order of things established by the Creator.
Thus, what God has set down is, not the fate of individuals or the outcome of all events, but certain principles that govern the operation of human affairs in line with his purpose. For humans to enjoy the result of their endeavors, they must discern and work in harmony with God’s purpose and time. What is predetermined and unalterable is not the fate of individuals but what God has purposed to do. Through the prophet Isaiah, Jehovah declared: “My word that goes forth from my mouth . . . will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.”—Isaiah 55:11.
What, then, is God’s “word,” or stated purpose, regarding the earth and mankind’s future that “will have certain success”?
Understanding God’s Time
Solomon provided a clue. After saying, “Everything [God] has made pretty in its time,” he went on to say, “Even time indefinite he has put in their heart, that mankind may never find out the work that the true God has made from the start to the finish.” The NIV Study Bible renders this verse: “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”—Ecclesiastes 3:11.
Much has been written on this verse. But the simple fact is that deep down in our heart, all of us at one point or another have wondered about the meaning of life and about our ultimate destiny. Throughout the ages, people have found it difficult to accept that life consists solely of toiling at the occupations at hand, only to have death end it all. We humans are unique among all living creatures in that we think not only about the here and now but also about life’s end and beyond. We even yearn for the possibility of living forever, eternally. Why? As the scripture explains, God has “set eternity in the hearts of men.”
To satisfy that yearning, people have grappled with the concept of life after death. Some conclude that something in us lives on after we die. Others believe that we will be reborn in endless reincarnations. Still others think that everything in life is fixed by fate or providence and that there is nothing we can do about it. Sadly, none of these explanations have been completely satisfactory. This is because by their own efforts, “mankind [will] never find out the work that the true God has made from the start to the finish,” says the Bible.
This deep-seated conflict between the desire to know and the inability to find the answer has tormented thinkers and philosophers throughout the ages. However, since God has put that yearning or desire in our heart, is it not logical to look to him to provide what is needed to satisfy that desire? After all, the Bible says of Jehovah: “You are opening your hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:16) By turning to God’s Word, the Bible, we can find satisfying explanations about life and death and about God’s eternal purpose regarding the earth and the human family.—Ephesians 3:11.
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“The swift do not have the race.”—Ecclesiastes 9:11
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If a farmer did not plant a crop at the right time, should he blame the poor harvest on fate?
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We think about life and death because God has “set eternity in the hearts of men”