The Readings: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15; Galatians 2:11-21; Matthew 14:1-12
“He brings everything to pass precisely at its time; He also puts eternity in their mind, but without man ever guessing, from first to last, all the things that God brings to pass” (NJPS).
Translations of the verse vary. “He hath made everything beautiful in his time” (KJV) is equally possible for the beginning of the verse. NRSV paraphrases ‘eternity’ as “a sense of past and future”; others, “the world”; others, assuming a textual error, “toil.” Nevertheless, the general sense is clear. It’s not that God is absent or inactive, but that the speaker can’t make out what God is doing.
This inability is clearly a source of pain, and the speaker is all over the map in the implicit evaluations of God’s conduct.
Is the situation different if we pull the camera back to include the rest of the Bible? On the one hand there is the Great Story running from Genesis to Revelation whose highlights we Christians celebrate in the course of the Church Year. On the other hand, there’s the experience of Abraham, recipient of splendid promises of posterity and land, who remains childless for decades after receiving the promises and has to negotiate for a place to bury his wife. Or Jacob, in his self-description on meeting Pharaoh: “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage” (KJV).
It’s not that the speaker doesn’t know the Great Story; it’s that where the speaker is living it doesn’t help. So with us, and in these places the speaker isn’t a bad traveling companion. “Two are better than one… For if they fall, one will lift up the other” (4:9-10).