3 Teacher: For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven:
2 A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, a time to collect the harvest;
3 A time to kill, a time to heal;
a time to tear down, a time to build up;
4 A time to cry, a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, a time to dance;
5 A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;
a time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance;
6 A time to search, a time to give up as lost;
a time to keep, a time to throw out;
7 A time to tear apart, a time to bind together;
a time to be quiet, a time to speak up;
8 A time to love, a time to hate;
a time to go to war, a time to make peace.
9 What good comes to anyone who works so hard, all to gain a few possessions? 10 I have seen the kinds of tasks God has given each of us to do to keep one busy, 11 and I know God has made everything beautiful for its time. God has also placed in our minds a sense of eternity; we look back on the past and ponder over the future, yet we cannot understand the doings of God. 12 I know there is nothing better for us than to be joyful and to do good throughout our lives; 13 to eat and drink and see the good in all of our hard work is a gift from God. 14 I know everything God does endures for all time. Nothing can be added to it; nothing can be taken away from it. We humans can only stand in awe of all God has done. 15 What has been and what is to be—already is. And God holds accountable all the pursuits of humanity.[a]
The contrast between God and humanity could not be starker. The teacher drives this point home by reminding his reader that human lives and earthly accomplishments are fleeting. Nothing tangible is permanent. No work lasts. It all slips away and vanishes into thin air. Compare that to God. Everything God does is substantial. Everything God accomplishes lasts forever. Every word God speaks makes a difference. And so, God places within every person a sense of eternity to know yet not understand Him. This world with all its goodness and beauty is not as good as it gets. There is more, so much more, and we are made for that reality too. But not now, not yet.
The creation story in Genesis 2 recognizes the common origin of humanity and the animals. There God forms the first human from the “dirt out of the ground” and breathes into him the breath of life, and the man known as Adam becomes a living being. But within a few short verses, God declares that it is “not good” for Adam to be alone and seeks a “perfectly suited partner” for the human. So God forms from the “ground” every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and He brings them to Adam to see if any of them are a “right and proper partner.” Finally, when no suitable companion has been found, God fashions another creature from Adam’s own human flesh. When Adam sees her, he knows he has met a perfect partner. Clearly, both Genesis and Ecclesiastes stress how much humanity shares in common with the animals. While we may be different—as explained in the Genesis story—we are all creatures, made of the same stuff, breathing the same air. And perhaps most to the point, we share a common destiny: death.
Teacher: 16 Again, I looked at everything that goes on under the sun and realized that in place of justice, wickedness prevails. In place of righteousness, wrongdoing succeeds. 17 I said to myself, “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a right time for every pursuit and for every action.”[b] 18 I thought about how people act: “God often puts them to the test to show them how much they are like the animals.” 19 The fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so does the other, for we have the same breath within us. In the end, we have no advantage over the animals. For as I have said, it’s all fleeting. 20 Humans and animals alike go to one place; all are formed from dust, and all return to the dust once more. 21 Who really knows whether the spirits of human beings go up and the spirits of animals go down into the earth? 22 So I realized there is nothing better for us than to find joy in the work we do, for work is its own reward. For who will bring us back to see what will be after we are gone?