1. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
2. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
3. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
4. a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
5. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
6. a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
7. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11
The wisdom writer starts off with noticing and naming the extremes of life ~ birth and death. She follows that up with the every day experience of the earth yielding and offering food to sustain our life.
It is the next couplet that I struggle the most with. I realize that killing is a reality. As a country, it has been almost seventeen years since 9/11, there are too many school shootings, and countless other acts of violence. We hear about these daily...they weigh heavy on our hearts...and I think, over time, do something to our souls. The problem is that we can think...maybe you have even heard a sermon...that suggests what the wisdom writer is saying here is that God is controlling all this. Or that God even ordains or has a plan for this. If there is one prayer I have for my ministry is to take such theology and remind people of what Karl Barth once said, "When we talk about God, we are talking about ourselves with a megaphone." Such reasons and rationales, that God would okay killing someone or that it was a part of a plan, makes my soul ache. God is not a puppet master pulling strings or commanding/demanding us to follow some script. There is choice woven into our human condition.
God doesn't cause the tragedy, but God can be found in the midst of those heartbreaking moments.
To quote Mr. Rogers who said, 'In times of pain, look for those who are doing good; this is where God is.' And maybe, we can be part of what is good in the face of tragedy. Some might say that takes power away from God. But I think it takes the power out of is a sense that God stands on the sidelines in the face of brokenness. When we say, "God has a plan," it actually might relieve us of having to respond. When we say, "God has a plan," it is because we would have to admit we don't have a plan. In some ways, we are placing God on the hook so we don't have to be. We can say, "God has a plan," when innocent children die in a shooting because otherwise we'd have to talk about our country's clinging to guns. We usurp our responsibility/accountability and call it theology.
Part of what the wisdom writer is saying is that in the both/and kairos of life, there is too much hurt and there are moments of healing. There is too much division and there are times of coming together. Mr. Rogers helps us see and guide us toward where we might direct our gaze. We do this not to deny the hurt, but to say there is healing. Not to shrug our shoulders but to roll up our sleeves.
I am not sure that is exactly what Ecclesiastes meant...but I know I find more than a trace of God's grace in seeing these words of life in this way.