Is change good or bad? As we look back over our lives, we can spot changes that were obviously good as well as ones which felt very harmful. But as we take a step back and look at change itself, how should we feel about it? What good reason might God have for positioning us within a single footprint of the onward march of time and change?
Our Two Responses to Change
One of the more helpful things I could say to you about change at first sounds too elementary to be worth saying. But here it is: The numbers 136 and 137 are right next to each other.
I was reading a couple of psalms: Psalm 136 and Psalm 137. And these two psalms could not be more different from each other. Psalm 136 lists major events in ancient Israel’s history, and after each line, it goes back to the same refrain: “His love endures forever.” Here’s an excerpt:
Swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea,
His love endures forever,
To Him who led His people through the wilderness,
His love endures forever,
To Him who struck down great kings,
His love endures forever.” (Ps. 136:15-17, NIV)
“His love endures forever.”
Then you get to Psalm 137. When Psalm 137 was being written, the Jewish people were in exile in Babylon. Their temple had been destroyed. Their cities had been crushed. Their infants, as we find out at the end of the psalm, had been murdered by being dashed against the rocks.
And now in the city of Babylon, the city of their captors, the Jewish people were being asked to sing. The Babylonians were saying, “So, Jews, sing us a song from back home.”
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land? (Ps. 137:1-4, NIV)
“How can we sing the songs of the Lord?”
And of course their answer was: we can’t.
Some people look back over the changes in their lives, and they worship. That’s Psalm 136.
Some people look back over the changes in their lives, and they weep. That’s Psalm 137.
Next to each other in the Bible.
Next to each other in your row at church. In your row, there’s going to be someone who looks back over the changes in his or her life, and they’ll want to worship. In your row, there’s going to be someone, maybe you, who looks back over the changes in your life, and you’ll want to weep.
Because more than anything, you miss when the kids were young. Or when the two of you were still together. Or when that loved one was still alive.
Right now, in your season of life, you might look back over your life’s changes and feel like worshiping. You might feel like weeping. I want you to know that either one can make good sense. Either one is something the people of God feel from time to time.
Is change good? “You might look back over your life’s changes and feel like worshiping. You might feel like weeping.”
Speaking of “from time to time,” why did God create you and me in time in the first place? Why place us within a lifetime that starts off slow before accelerating into a baffling vortex of change?
A Seasoned Guide in Navigating Change
In exploring how we should feel about change, I want to enlist the help of a wise, old guide named Solomon. This reflective monarch lived a long time, had the time and wealth to experience his desires, and came to know a thing or two about change and time.
From his book Ecclesiastes, Solomon helps us fill in three massive blanks in our lives. In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon tells us
- Our highest hope
- Our deepest fears
- What we actually get
So, according to Solomon, what is our highest hope?
#1 – Our Highest Hope
Here’s how Solomon describes your and my highest hope:
“He has also set eternity in the human heart.” (Ecc. 3:11b, NIV)
The word “eternity” basically means forever. God has placed eternity, forever in our hearts. Originally, we were meant for
- Bodies that don’t wear out
- Homes that don’t wash away
- Achievements that don’t rust
- Smiles that don’t drop as soon as the conversation is over
- Sunsets that don’t dissolve into darkness
- Friendships that don’t give up on us
- Loved ones who don’t die on us
We were built for eternity.
And that’s the answer to question #1: What’s our highest hope? It’s eternity. It’s forever.
“What’s our highest hope? It’s eternity. It’s forever.”
The problem is that, even though we’re made for eternity, everything we love we seem to lose.
- Do you love being able to play sports? Enjoy it while you can.
- Do you love being young and cool and popular? Enjoy it while you can.
- Do you love being able to work hard and make money? Enjoy it while you can.
- Do you love having good health? Enjoy it while you can.
- You love your family? Enjoy them while you can.
This was actually the Buddha’s great insight: Everything dies. Everything fades. Nothing lasts. And so the Buddha’s solution was to stop desiring. Stop craving. So the Buddha would see a beautiful woman, but he would train himself to see this beautiful woman as a corpse. He would see her as rotting flesh and worm food, because that is what she would eventually become. Suddenly she didn’t seem quite as attractive to him.
The Buddha was right—to a certain extent. It’s true that everything dies. Everything fades. Nothing in this life lasts.
Is change good? “It’s true that everything dies. Everything fades. Nothing in this life lasts.”
Solomon then moves from our highest hope to our deepest fears.
#2 – Our Deepest Fears
What are our deepest fears? How about this fear: We work hard all our lives, trying to accomplish something with our lives. But then there’s that question that comes knocking on the door after hours. It’s a scary question:
“What do workers gain from their toil?” (Ecc. 3:9, NIV)
We work hard all our lives, but ultimately what does it accomplish? Because after all, in the end, we die like a dog:
All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” (Ecc. 3:20, NIV)
So what’s the point? What in my life is going to matter?
So that’s our first deep fear: No Point. Does what I do make any difference? Does it have a point? This is the fear of No Point.
“Does what I do make any difference? Does it have a point?”
Secondly, there’s the fear of No Fair:
“Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter.” (Ecc. 4:1, NIV)
We all know what fairness is. The problem is it’s very rare that we actually see it. Often, oppressors have power and seem to stay in power. While the oppressed, Solomon says, can’t even get comfort. The Syrian refugee. The victim of famine in North Africa. The guy who didn’t ask to be born in North Korea.
We see the tears of the oppressed, and it reminds us of a terrible fear: That there will just simply be no fairness in life. That the oppressors never do get brought down to size. That the oppressed never do get justice.
“We all know what fairness is. The problem is it’s very rare that we actually see it.”
Our third deep fear is No Friends:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecc. 4:9-10, NIV)
The fear of No Friends can be a real fear even for people who have friends. Because they might still be asking, Is this person being real? Does this person actually care about me? What happens when I stop being a success? Could it be that, in the end, I’ll be alone?
Those are some pretty dark fears.
- In the end, there was no point.
- In the end, it’s just no fair.
- In the end, no friends.
“Those are some pretty dark fears.”
Again, what’s our highest hope? Eternity, forever. It’s what we’re built for.
What are our deepest fears? No point. No fair. No friends.
So, what is it that we get?
#3 – What We Actually Get
We know what we hope for, and we know what we’re afraid of. But what do we actually get?
What we get is found 30 times in the first 8 verses of Ecclesiastes 3:
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecc. 3:1-8, NIV)
Our highest hope: eternity. Our deepest fears: no point, no fair, no friends.
What do we actually get in this life? Time.
Which isn’t eternity. But it’s not exactly our worst fear, either.
“What do we actually get in this life? Time.”
Time. Decades, years, months, weeks, days, hours, seconds in which to laugh and cry. To dance and mourn. To build and to take apart. To plant and to uproot. Time to give birth and to give burial. Time in relationship and time in loneliness. Time in the nursery and time in the nursing home.
Time in which we have the highs and the lows. The joys and the sorrows. The sweet tastes of heaven and the bitter tastes of hell. The Merry Christmases and the miscarriages. The vacations and the visitations. The “It’s a boy,” “It’s a girl,” and the “It’s cancer.”
Time. From first job to retirement. From Curious George to Readers’ Digest. From training wheels to walkers.
“From Curious George to Readers’ Digest. From training wheels to walkers.”
And what is time good for?
What Time Teaches Us
Here’s what time is good for:
First, it’s in time that we learn what love is. We begin to love things: friendship, chocolate chip brownies, a baby’s smile, sunrises, husband, wife. It’s in time that we learn what love is.
And it’s in time that we learn what loss is. In time, everything we love we seem to lose, eventually.
When you have love and you have loss, it’s almost like a math problem:
Love + Loss = ??
What does love and loss equal? Marriage + the loss of a spouse equals what? Childbirth + empty nesting equals what? A life of good health + a disappointing diagnosis equals what? Here’s what love and loss equal:
Love + Loss = Longing
Time teaches us longing. Time with its loves and its losses teaches us that we weren’t made for time.
Is change good? “Time with its loves and its losses teaches us that we weren’t made for time.”
This precious sand that keeps sinking through our fingers—though we try to slow down its flow with vacations and weekends, and though we try to manage it with our day planners and monitor it with our watches. Time just keeps slipping through.
With its loves and its losses, time teaches us longing. So that, if we’re thinking straight, we start longing for what? If we’re thinking straight, what does time make us long for?
What God Is Up To
Whatever we’re up to, God is doing something with our time. What is it? It’s in Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 that we discover what God does with our time:
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” (Ecc. 3:11-13, NIV)
Is change good? “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
Solomon says God is making everything beautiful in its time. He’s working everything out through time. Time is, in fact, a gift from God. How so?
It’s because of what God is bringing about as a result. What is God accomplishing through our loves and losses and longings? Here’s a hint: It’s all going to lead us back to him. Here’s the next verse:
“I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.” (Ecc. 3:14, NIV)
Every love worth loving is a gift from him. Every loss worth grieving is an invitation to him. Every longing finds its actual satisfaction in him.
So that if you’re thinking straight, all of life—the joys and the sorrows—is meant to draw you to him. Birth and death, laughter and tears, dancing and mourning—it’s all meant to draw us to fear and honor him. To long for—even if we’re unaware of it—him.
Is change good? “All of life—the joys and the sorrows—is meant to draw you to him.”
In other words, life in all its randomness is not random. There’s a point. It’s that what you love might draw you to thank him. That what you lose might draw you to need him. That what you long for might invite you to find satisfaction in him.
Over 1500 years ago lived a famous professor and orator named Augustine. Augustine had tried to find what he was looking for in romance. He found romance, but it wasn’t what he was looking for. He tried to find what he was looking for in success. He found success, but it wasn’t what he was looking for
But then he found Jesus.
And when Augustine wrote his autobiography, called The Confessions, he wrote this prayer in the introduction:
“God, You have made us for Yourself. And our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
Time and change give us sweet tastes of heaven and bitter tastes of hell. So time is our opportunity to choose between the two.