Why Do I Feel Empty?

I. Chapter 3, verses 1-8 – For all the variety of human activities and necessary human actions, God himself has established—he has appointed—an appropriate time. This is illustrated through a series of virtual opposites.

A. It appears that most of these opposites exist as a recognition that this world is fallen and sometimes calls for measures that would be non-existent in an unfallen world. This leads one into a discussion and deep contemplation on the presence of sin and death in the world and the reality of an eternal covenant of redemption. Unfathomable wisdom and sovereignty of God! It also shows the continual movement of events in this world so that at one time one condition dominates and another time perhaps the opposite. In this fluctuating world, the constant is that there is a time for each under God’s appointment.

  1. Birth would be normal in an unfallen world, but death would not exist – 2. Adam and Eve were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:27, 28). The “time to die” became a certainty upon the commission of the first transgression (Romans 5:12).
  2. Planting would be an ongoing activity; if plucking up means harvesting, then it would probably be an activity of an unfallen world. – 2; This also can be seen as the divine planting of a nation and the plucking up of others according to God’s own purpose. The Amorites were not plucked up until their iniquity was full (Genesis 15:16).
  3. Neither killing nor healing would be known in an unfallen world – 3. They were given plants to eat, not animals (Genesis 1:29).Tearing down and building up in an unfallen world would relate to the progress of human knowledge in obedience to the command to subdue the earth. Though much of human progress comes in an effort to overcome the devastation wrought in a fallen world, much of it is a simple increase in knowledge because of the fascination and wonder of all that is contained in and possible through the power, beauty, teleological relations of the world as pure creation
  4. Weeping would be unknown unless it were the response to an expansive manifestation of joy and delight, and then it probably would be, not the opposite of, but an extension of laughing; mourning would not exist to place a gray cloud over the affections and drag one’s joy into the dust. – 4
  5. Clearing a land of stones and throwing them aside sometimes is followed by gathering those stones for a type of construction. Everything has its place in its time. Only God is necessary everywhere at all times. Embracing and refraining from it is consistent with Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians 7:4, 5.
  6. Though earnestly searching, sometimes almost with a desperation, limitations of time, breadth of vision, memory, and circumstance show us tat we are limited. The time arrives when the search is over, and we shut off our hopes of success. We testify to our weakness and limitation in such an admission but should be energized to admire the Great Shepherd who ceases not until he finds his lost sheep. Not only elect of God shall perish. When we throw away things, we testify to the corrupting power of this fallen world and that our need for things is in a constant state of flux.
  7. An experienced seamstress should see the irony of how fleeting is the usefulness of our best work. I have seen my mother originating, amending, amending, ripping out, putting back together all sorts of clothes. She sewed up tears in uniforms by putting a reinforcement under the tear so that a scrap became the giver of wholeness. She lengthened sleeves and legs and would destroy one garment in order to salvage another that was more useful and better. Time and growth and destruction render tearing apart and sewing together both useful and frustratingly temporary. Silence and speaking should send us to James to see the warnings about the use of the tongue and the power of words (James 1:19, 26; 3:2, 6; 4:11)
  8. Would both love and hate—verse 8—be present in an unfallen world? It is sure that love would, for all would be in constant display of the two great commandments that constitute the whole of the Law: Love God with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves. Probably hate would be implicit, as we would gradually attain a knowledge of both good and evil by way of learning about the fall of Satan and his angels, and we would hate the very idea that a created being could resist the glory of the infinitely glorious Triune God. A holy being can manifest a hate that is not sinful (Psalm 97:10; 101:3, 4; 119:104, 113, 163; Proverbs 6:16; Revelation 2:6) Hatred manifests itself only in light of the knowledge of evil, which should be hated, but it is not necessary that the world be fallen for creatures to attain a knowledge of good and evil. It could have been isolated to the company of Satan and his angels and not have been a subjection to vanity that came upon the entire world. Thus the implicit affection of hatred would not be a destructive emotion but only a mature and healthy manifestation of supreme love for God that abhors any idea that something could interrupt or seek to diminish the fullest display of his glory and the full execution of his will.


B. Thus, we see that human sinfulness calls for engagement in many strategic activities that sort out the difficulties that have to be dealt with in light of the destructive relations of people and nations with each other. War is an interminable occupation and peace is a fleeting and fragile pursuit.

  1. Political systems are given to govern fallen people, to restrain destruction and evil. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Systems of law arise from several sources and are enforced, ostensibly, for the good of an entire society even if it is to the detriment of certain segments of a society. Many laws appear onerous but are given necessity by the dynamics of human evil. Some sources of law.
  • One source is the law written on the heart that approves or disapproves of certain actions – Romans 2:14, 15
  • Another is the revealed law that has become a part of the consciousness and conscience of a society; i.e. the impact of the second table of the Ten Commandments on the laws of most Western nations, now slowly eroding.
  • The self-protective propensities of all people in wanting legal deterrents from the intrusion of those that covet the positions and possessions of others (Romans 2:1-3).
  • Christians must use wisdom in their relations and act not only in accordance with the laws of a land, but in accord with the new writing of the Law on the heart by the Spirit of God. Compare Galatians 5:16-26 w/ Ephesians 4:20-31; Colossians 3:5-11; 4:5, 6; 1 John 2:7-11
  1. Times of War and times of peace call for negotiations of self-interest and/or justice that would not be necessary in an unfallen world. – 8b


II. The Writer focuses the Attention of his Reader on the difference between the certainty, eternity and immutability of all that God does compared to the uncertainty, temporality, and constantly shifting nature of human activity. – 3:9-22

A. Though man has an indwelling consciousness of eternity, God requires man to live with constant change in order to redeem the present for the sake of eternity – 9-13

  1. In verses 9-11a, Solomon points out that those who toil in this life must learn to recognize the beauty and worth of a thing for its own moment and find it beautiful for the time and place that God has given it. Light is for day, darkness is for night; the sun is magnificent by day, the stars and moon enchanting by night. Happiness crowns wonderful accomplishments and positive milestones in life; weeping shows that we live on the cusp of loss at any moment. Praise is for all times for God is to be praised in all things and in every situation. Prosperity sometimes gives days of personal advantage and the ability to be a material blessing to others; want comes like a whirlwind and points us to God as our source of all that we need in life. None of the things for which we labor have eternal value in themselves, but they are invested with a significance that will affect our eternity for the way we view them during this lifetime.
  2. We instinctively know that God has made us for Himself. Our sinfulness drives us to temporality, but the image of God keeps the conscience always aware of the reality of eternity. The nature of God’s purpose, the occupation of eternity is hidden from us and is a matter of divine revelation (11b).
  3. We should see the ability to work and provide for things that give pleasure and temporary satisfaction as part of God’s plan for his creatures. This is a gift of God and should train us to find delight only in the plan of God and ultimately all desires will be fully satisfied when we engage him in the eternity which he inhabits in his ineffable goodness (12, 13).

B. God’s Decrees determine temporal events – 14, 15

  1. Verse 14 – That which God does as his own proper action has eternal significance and lasts forever. None can alter His plans or change his intended outcome. Ephesians 1:11 confirms this in saying that “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will..” This should provoke awe, wonder, and worship from the creature.
  2. Verse 15 – Things that have come to pass in time, have existed in the mind of God from eternity; Things that will yet come into being, have been in the mind of God from eternity. God has all things, even those events apparently most furtive, under his omnisapient gaze.

C. God is the final judge of all things – 16-22

  1. Verse 16 – Among men, even the best situations are fouled with our polluted hearts. Where justice should prevail, wickedness inserts itself; and where righteousness should reign, even there, wickedness spreads its foulness.
  2. Verse 17 – God sees all of this and knows how evil penetrates even our best efforts. He will give visibility to all in the day of judgment and show the perfection of his decree prevailing even in the midst of human sin.
  3. Verses 18-21 – God shows us our creatureliness and the ultimate temporality of all our actions. Beasts live to the capacity of their enjoyment. In that sense we are not different from the beasts. God shows us that we are created, have nothing independent of what he has given us, and we are sustained, as the very beasts are, by the sovereign provision of God. Beasts die, and humans die. Beasts breathe and then stop breathing, and humans breathe and then stop breathing. The oxygen that keeps them alive keeps us alive. When one looks at the form of each after death it is impossible to discern if a human has a spirit that has returned to God or if it ceases to exist with its body. We leave them together on the ground or excavate their grave later and we find the same dust. Wherein then lies the final advantage of a man? We know that the writer understands by divine revelation that the human spirit returns to God (12:7), but at this point he is reinforcing the point that if we live in open disregard of God’s holy presence and his sovereign governing and judging of the world and all peoples, we live as if we had nothing distinctly moral and spiritual about us that bears responsibility before this righteous and eternal judge.
  4. Verse 22 – Persons, therefore, should find joy in their work, see it as their personal stewardship, something that has been given them for their present joy before God. “That is his lot,” meaning it is the portion of life to which God has assigned him and he must approach it as a steward before God. After him no one can tell him what will become of his work, so he is responsible for it in the present.



Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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