I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. Ecclesiastes 3:12
In the tenth century, Abd al-Rahman III was the ruler of Cordoba, Spain. After fifty years of successful reign (“beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies”), al-Rahman took a deeper look at his life. “Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call,” he said of his privileges. But when he counted how many days of genuine happiness he’d had during that time, they amounted to just fourteen. How sobering.
The writer of Ecclesiastes was also a man of riches and honor (Ecclesiastes 2:7–9), power and pleasure (1:12; 2:1–3). And his own life evaluation was equally sobering. Riches, he realized, just led to a desire for more (5:10–11), while pleasures accomplished little (2:1–2), and success could be due to chance as much as ability (9:11). But his assessment didn’t end as bleakly as al-Rahman’s. Believing God was his ultimate source of happiness, he saw that eating, working, and doing good could all be enjoyed when done with Him (2:25; 3:12–13).
“O man!” al-Rahman concluded his reflections, “place not thy confidence in this present world!” The writer of Ecclesiastes would agree. Since we’ve been made for eternity (3:11), earthly pleasures and achievements won’t satisfy by themselves. But with Him in our lives, genuine happiness is possible in our eating, working, and living.
What do you turn to most to find happiness? How can you eat, work, and do good with God today?
Heavenly Father, today I will do all things with You by my side.
Ecclesiastes 3 emphasizes humanity’s inability to discern the ways in which God’s plan and purposes are at work, suggesting that this is often experienced by people as a “burden” (v. 10). For although God has “set eternity in the human heart . . . no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (v. 11). The word translated “eternity” (Hebrew ‘olam) can be translated in a variety of ways. Here, some scholars argue it means “the age to come,” some say it refers primarily to the future, and others believe it refers to how all of time is connected. Whatever the meaning, the teacher in Ecclesiastes suggests that trying too hard to understand life’s whys or the ways in which God’s purposes will be realized will make it impossible to find satisfaction in the ups and downs of daily life (v. 12).