Our brief study of Ecclesiastes has looked at the contrast the book draws between “life under the sun” and “life under heaven.” Life under the sun is life that ignores the transcendent and forgets that there is a sovereign Creator and Judge who evaluates all things and will reward or punish all people based on how they have responded to Him. For those who look at things through the prism of life under the sun, everything is vanity (Eccl. 1:2–3) — fleeting and meaningless. Life under heaven, on the other hand, examines life with the knowledge that the Lord is watching all and will render a final verdict. Consequently, those who live life under heaven understand that there is an appointed time for everything and that no suffering is meaningless but rather is used of God for their good and His glory (Eccl. 3:1–8; 7:1–13).
Understanding life in this way — living life under heaven — requires us to take the long view, for it is undeniable that we do not always understand the divine purposes behind what happens to us. We have a limited perspective on events, unable to see how everything is fitting together for our good and the Lord’s glory (Rom. 8:28). Though we understand that God is working in all things for our good, we often do not understand how He is doing so or why pain is necessary to make us holy. Much of what has happened to us will perplex us until we die, and only in eternity will the purposes behind what has made us suffer be clearer to us.
Ecclesiastes often encourages us to take the long view of life. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 calls us to cast our bread upon the waters that we might find it again after several days (Eccl. 11:1). This is a metaphor for long-term investment of time, money, and other resources. Putting what is ours to wise use may not bring an immediate return, but in time there will be a handsome profit on our effort. The same principle applies to serving the Lord. In many cases, there is no immediate gain for doing the will of God, but we know that in eternity those deeds done in faith will be rewarded in a manner that is far greater than what we can receive in the here and now (Rom. 2:6–11).
Ultimately, life under heaven says that our purpose is to fear God and keep His commandments (Eccl. 12:13–14). As we do this, keeping in mind that our ultimate reward is in the age to come, we are assured that life has an ultimate purpose.
Patience is a critical virtue in the Christian life because of our need to take a long view of things. It can be challenging to remain faithful in suffering or to spend hours ministering with little visible return. When we take the long view of things, however, we find the strength to press forward even in the context of great difficulty. Let us surround ourselves with people who will encourage us to take, as we are able, an eternal perspective on all things.