Verse 10 is essentially saying that God is sovereign, and some things that He has established cannot be changed. Naming a thing is an indication that the thing so named is set. This is why the principles given in John 4:34 and Psalm 16:11 are so important to the converted. Being in God's presence is the overall solution. These statements by Jesus and David give assurance that contentment in life lies within the combination of properly blending the knowledge of God's purpose and deliberately choosing to live according to that purpose within a relationship with our very Creator.
This combination is what makes everything in life matter in a positive way, producing satisfaction and contentment in life. In this three-verse section, Solomon addresses four situations that revolve around not getting much in the way of these qualities from life because people do not give of themselves sufficiently to make the relationship work. Each verse, rather than answering, produces questions that, with a brief explanation, are helpful. If one does not get answers he can accept, then dissatisfaction and discontentment remain.
The questions that arise in these verses are expressions of justification that a converted person might give himself for not zealously throwing himself into the relationship with God. They are for the most part expressions of doubt that linger to support the lack of progress.
Solomon touches on five questions. The first is based in verse 10: “Since what's going to be is going to be, why bother to make decisions? Isn't it all predestined anyway?” This is broadly why some will not really cooperate with God in a relationship. Martin Luther gave this German proverb: “As things have been, so they still are; and as things are so shall they be.” In other words, the proverb is asking if there is anything we actually control. Things are so far from our control, why make an effort?
In this verse, the One “mightier than he” is God. We must firmly accept that God can indeed accomplish His purposes without our cooperation. He does not need us, but He most assuredly loves us! God indeed has “fixed,” that is, named what He will accomplish, but He has also given us free-moral agency.
We must know that the world we live in is not a prison. We are free to evaluate and then choose what our personal world will be, but we are not free to change what the consequences of our actions will be. This is why we should give everything thoughtful consideration. Stepping off the roof of a ten-story building may be our choice, but once we commit ourselves and do it, there is no altering the outcome! The reality is that our choices do make a great deal of difference. Like everything in life, they matter.
The second question is also based in verse 10. Why disagree with God? We cannot oppose Him and win, can we? This question suggests that God's will is difficult, painful to accomplish, and should be avoided at all costs.
Compare this with what Jesus says in Matthew 11:29-30: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Add to this what He says earlier in His ministry about doing God's will being nourishing and energizing to a Christian (John 4:34). Why would anyone, making a fair analysis by comparing God's way with his self-chosen way and seeing what mankind has produced in this world, rather have his own way rather than God's? That makes no sense whatever!
If God really wanted to make life truly difficult, He would give man absolute freedom. It really builds satisfaction and contentment, right? No, not at all.
Like Job, we must know what our limits are, and one of them is that we do not have the wisdom to out-think and out-talk God. We must truly realize that the more we talk, the emptier our words become, which is exactly what happened to Job. This leads to the fact that humanity must accept that God, as sovereign Creator, is free to act as He sees fit in every situation. Such acceptance will help to produce the contentment that mankind yearns for.
The third question appears to be drawn from Solomon's many words in writing this book, in addition to all the words we might hear in sermons and the like. He asks, “What do we accomplish with all these words? Does talking about it solve the problems?”
Verse 11 in the New International Version reads, “The more words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?” Are we not receiving a thorough education in this as we listen to all the convoluted political and economic arguments in recent times? Yet, these are all words of men. The Word of God is exactly what is needed because it is truth! God's truths do not bind people; they free (John 8:32). Satisfaction and contentment are the fruits of truth that is accepted and used. One must listen to God's Word and use it for satisfaction in life.
The fourth question arises from verse 12: “Who knows what is good for us?” This question is directly linked to the previous one. It brings to mind a saying that this same Solomon states twice, in Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
Human history proves that without the knowledge of God, mankind finds himself satanically deceived, drifting forever on a vast sea of human speculations. However, God knows what is good for us, and He is willing to share it with His children. Without the knowledge of God's truth, life remains vanity, meaningless. God's Word says, “He who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:17)—in, I might add, satisfaction and contentment.
The fifth question also derives from verse 12: “Does anybody know what is coming next?” This question must be understood within the context of the entire book. It is not talking about small, day-to-day issues, but rather the huge ones that pertain to the overall purpose being worked out on earth. Of course, the answer is that nobody knows perfectly except for God. Everybody else's opinions are largely speculations. If God gave us more specific detail, it might severely damage the vital use of faith. He gives us enough information to keep us looking ahead and to encourage us to be patient and make the best use of the time that He gives us to prepare, because time is valuable.
The proper answer to all of these questions—especially if it is correct that they are self-justifications raised by converted persons due to a lack of growth—lies in one's use of the faith that God has given us to function within the relationship that He has opened to us.
Life is God's gift, and He desires that we spend it involved with Him, using our faith to prepare for an eternal relationship with Him in His Family Kingdom. This will produce the enjoyable satisfaction and contentment in life that He desires for us. Involving Him is the above-the-sun life.
If there is no Kingdom of God, and if no grand purpose is being worked out, then nothing matters except for what is happening at the moment. This mindset is tilted toward either humanism or secularism, and its fruit is the moral and ethical depravity of a Sodom and Gomorrah. Those with this mindset have nothing glorious to prepare for, so why should they deny themselves any pleasure, any excitement, that their minds and bodies desire right now? God's children, however, because they possess the faith, cannot allow themselves to drift into such a destructive mindset.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment
The meaning of these verses is mystifying. One commentator suggests this title: “Questions Without Answers.” This does not mean, though, that one should ignore God and His way and avoid receiving godly correction. Why? Because God does have the answers, and He reveals them individually within the relationship. We may need the answers very much.
The questions must be understood, at least somewhat, against the background of the context of the previous two chapters, in which he is showing that the roots of true satisfaction and contentment lie in God's gifting within a relationship with Him. In addition, we must understand them by evaluating the book's overall theme, in which he urges us to keep God's commandments, thus to live an above-the-sun life. We can also seek to grasp them by considering Solomon and what he reveals of himself.
Solomon presents a series of perplexing statements, but he gives no clear answers in the immediate context. Recall, however, that the overall subject of the chapter is about finding satisfaction in life, and he uses examples to illustrate circumstances about why life is puzzling and dissatisfying.
Let us consider Solomon himself. Did he know the answers? First, he probably knew the overall answer to satisfaction and contentment in life, but he did not necessarily experience it because he did not apply God's way well. It is difficult to see how, having a father like David, as well as the personal experiences he had with God early in his manhood, that he did not know the overall answer. However, did he truly believe it? Did he live it? Both are necessary.
God has not answered this in absolute terms as He does regarding David. We have no doubt that David will be in God's Kingdom. Based on what is in the Bible, the answer regarding Solomon is that he apparently fell short. Is he lost? We do not know.
Nevertheless, he knew intellectually what the missing link is. The answer to contentment in life hinges on whether one knows what God's overall purpose for his life is. It is another matter altogether whether we believe that purpose is true and make the effort to seek God and live as He commands by faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment