Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come? No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death. As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it. Ecclesiastes 8:8.
The biggest revelation of Ecclesiastes for me is the concept of time and chance. I know that might not resonate (I like that word today, it somehow fits my head space) with some of you but for me just the idea that every good or bad thing which happens is not somehow dictated to me through God’s control-freakish hand is a comfort. The concept leaves room for improvisation (a musician’s creative dream) and options for a myriad of combinations.
Say there’s only eight options for everyone to choose from in any category. The combinations are more than simply 8 x 8 since each choice can be combined with more than two options at a time. In fact, one could arguably go with all eight at once. This leaves the outcome open to a nuanced state of the equation. For instance, if I combine six out of eight, the outcome will be different than with four, depending on the weight of the two added to the four.
Solomon explains the problem of predicting the future by bring up the wind as an illustration of the death clock. No one understands what makes the wind so unpredictable; God’s “algorithms” are much more sophisticated than anything we’ve ever invented to date. A person’s time of death is subject to past or present choices made either in innocence or contrivance that affect the now. It is also subject to the whim of other people’s involvement in the now. For instance if I eat too much raw meat, the chance of getting heart disease increases, though we can’t consider it a foregone conclusion. I’ve known people who ate badly all their lives and barely struggled with their health yet also know of many who have done pretty much the same thing and died early.
Also the involvement of other people in our timeline dictates what may happen to us as well. Say one of us gets in a fist fight with someone and that other person throws a right hook which breaks his or her neck, the day of the person’s natural death becomes trumped by the results of the fight. What couldn’t have been expected happened.
Again, as a means of illustrating further the unpredictable nature of our lives (for us that is), he brings up the tenaciousness of wickedness as another example. Now his declaration sounds like a prediction of the future but actually points to something else entirely. What Solomon sees is a trend or well worn path which predicts a general outcome rather than a specific one. He mentions in a later verse that the wicked oftentimes receive in this life what the righteous deserve and visa versa. The nature of time and chance dictate this “bad” outcome due to sin/wickedness being a part of the equation of the aforementioned time and chance.
In one of my earlier discussions about this subject I spoke of crossing the street and the choices which led up to doing it safely or being harmed by it. In true Hebrew fashion Solomon revisits this factoid in order face deflect the human desire to know the future. His conclusion is it can’t be known. We need to get over it, accept it and move on. Only God knows the future—because to Him it is the eternal now. Even prophecy in Scripture doesn’t give any details only “headlines” as my mother likes to call them. Without those details we all crave so much, we end up with far too many interpretations of these prophecies that it confuses everyone as to what Christians really believe. I have no desire to go into all the differences on this subject. Suffice it to say, I don’t know who’s right and I really don’t care. If you read Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah or any other prophetic book you desire, you won’t get anything but the headlines and speculating on the details might be a fun exercise but any conclusion will be off.
Just like the Pharisees and other leaders of Israel in Jesus’ era, we get the specifics right but not the manifestation or the outcome. When Jesus arrived, they recognized Him as a man of wisdom, knowledge and power, but rejected Him because He didn’t fit into their conclusions about the facts. With either spiritually jaundiced or veiled eyes they tried to interpret the things of God and failed to accept the very one they looked for.
This taught me a lesson about my own understanding of Scripture: no matter what I know, I can always grow; no matter what I think I understand, I must hold my perspective and conclusions loosely so that truth can do its work in me. Bias is dangerous and out of line for those coming out of spiritual blindness. Humility is the evidence of not only spiritual growth but sight.
There is a good reason we don’t know the future: We can’t handle it. We would try to change the outcome which is self-defeating because then our “changes” would make what we “know” about this future a lie, thus making our ability to change it suspect.