Trusting in the sovereign goodness of God helps us know how to respond to all the joys and trials of life. Whether we are having a good day or a bad day, there is always a way for us to glorify God. So the Preacher says: "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him" (Eccles. 7:14).
Some days are full of prosperity: The sun is shining, the birds are singing, there is food on the table and money in the bank. If there is work to do, it is the kind of work that you enjoy doing. If you are taking the day off, you get to spend it the way that you want to spend it, with the people you love. Every day like that is a gift from God that calls us to be joyful.
But not every day is like this. Some days the sun isn’t shining, the birds aren’t singing, and nothing seems right with the world. There may be food on the table, but there is no money in the bank. Work is a chore; vacation is boring; and you may feel like you don’t have a friend in the world. Yet this day too is a day that comes from the hand of God, a day that is under his sovereign control. The Preacher does not have the heart to tell us to be joyful on such a difficult day, but he does call us to a wise consideration of the ways of God. When adversity comes, recognize that this too is a day that the Lord has made. "Shall we receive good from God," Job asked on the day of his adversity, "and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). No, we should acknowledge that both the good days and the bad days come from the hand of God.
The Preacher says further that it is impossible for us to know what will happen in the future. Given what he said at the beginning of verse 14, we might assume that the righteous people are the ones that prosper, while the wicked always suffer adversity. Yet sometimes exactly the opposite occurs: the righteous suffer adversity, while the ungodly prosper. Thus it is impossible for us to predict what will happen in coming days. As the Preacher says, "man may not find out anything that will be after him" (Eccles. 7:14). We have no way of knowing whether the coming days will bring us greater prosperity or more adversity.
Living with this kind of uncertainty need not cause us anxiety or despair; rather, it should teach us to leave our future in the hands of God. Most of us would prefer to control our own destiny. Instead, we should entrust our lives to the loving care of our sovereign God. If we do this, we will be well prepared for both the good days and the bad days. In his comments on this verse, Martin Luther gave the following pastoral advice: "Enjoy the things that are present in such a way that you do not base your confidence on them, as though they were going to last forever... but reserve part of our heart for God, so that with it we can bear the day of adversity."
This is all part of what it means to "consider the work of God." When the Preacher tells us to "consider," he is telling us to do something more than simply see what God has done. He is telling us to accept what God has done and surrender to his sovereign will. He is telling us to praise God for all our prosperity and trust God through every adversity. The Puritan Richard Baxter said it well: "Take what He gives, / And praise Him still, / Through good or ill, / Who ever lives."
Martin Luther, "Notes on Ecclesiastes," in Luther's Works, trans. and ed. by Jaroslav Pelikan, 56 vols. (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1972), 15:120.
Richard Baxter, quoted in Derek Kidner, The Message of Ecclesiastes, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1976), 68.
Editor's Note: To read more from Philip Ryken on the subject of God's sovereignty, head over to his previous article in this series.
Philip Ryken (PhD, Oxford) is the Bible teacher on Every Last Word, a weekly radio broadcast from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Dr. Ryken also serves as president of Wheaton College. He and his wife Lisa have five children: Josh, Kirsten, Jack, Kathryn, and Karoline. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including Art for God's Sake and Grace Transforming. When he is not preaching or playing with his children, Dr. Ryken likes to play basketball and ponder the relationship between Christianity and American culture.
This article was originally published on reformation21 in June 2009.