Reconciling injustice and the absolute sovereignty of God

Posted: October 5, 2013 in Bible Study - Ecclesiastes, Theodicy
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Ecclesiastes 3:16-19 

The presence of wickedness and injustice is an enigma if we do not know of the patiently seeking, sovereign Father. But if we do, we know that He is not ignoring injustice or compromising His own righteousness when the evil seem to go unpunished and injustice seems to triumph. Because the march of time is the outworking not of blind fate but of the patience of a seeking, saving God,  we can be sure that in the end, His justice will finally prevail. “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked,” why? because, “…there is a time for every matter and for every work.” (Ecclesiastes 3:17) The Teacher is reminding us of the poem he gives us at the start of this chapter:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Notice that in verse 1 the Teacher uses the term, ‘Under heaven’. This phrase is used only 3 times in Ecclesiastes, unlike ‘Under the Sun’ which occurs 25 times. ‘Under the Sun’ means looking at life from a purely horizontal level, as if there is nothing beyond the Sun. ‘Under heaven’ implies a greater vision; there is something beyond the Sun – or rather, Someone. Under heaven implies the vertical dimension; to live under heaven means to live with an awareness of God and His oversight of all things.

This adds a new dimension to our poem. What at first seems like a meaningless cycle is in fact a meaningful, purposeful cycle. Nothing happens without purpose, because there is a Person behind all that happens.

Paul says as much in his address to the Athenians, after declaring to them God’s sovereign hand over all people:

‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ (Acts 17:30-31)

The absolute sovereignty of God is the only thing that enables us to be confident of this coming Day of justice.

It is in Jesus Christ we find that these two ‘dilemmas’ of the absolute sovereignty of God and the problem of evil are both answered in one action:

‘…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.’ Acts 20:23

All the times and events under heaven had been leading up to this time. This was a time of death, uprooting, killing, breaking down, mourning, hating, war, as the human heart and its hatred of God was exposed as we crucified His Son. It was a time of silence – not silence from the crowds who mocked, or from Jesus himself as he cried out, but silence from the Father as He gave no response to the cry, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’. It was the time when wickedness was truly in the place of justice and righteousness as the Righteous One hung in the place of the unrighteous ones and all the wickedness of the world was heaped upon him and judged. If there was any work for which there was just the right time, this was it.

And because this was the right work at just the right time under heaven, this also became the time for birth, planting, healing, building up, dancing, for loving and for peace, as God raised him up ‘loosing the pangs of death’. The poem of Ecclesiastes 3 is a perfect combination of positives and negatives, of matters of death and matters of life, but it points us to the even more perfect combination of death and life; the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Maybe this is why – even without realising the full implications of his words – the Teacher used the phrase ‘under heaven’ in introducing his poem. His certainty about the ‘definite plan and foreknowledge of God’ was pointing him forward in types and shadows to that moment which we now look back on with clarity and enables us to say, with Paul,

‘What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? …in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:31-32, 37-39)

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