After being in a legalistic cult for several years, I found my well-worn Bible to be an irritant for years. Every time I opened it, I could see and hear preachers of my past explaining a non-authentic view of Christianity. My side notes, the dog-eared chapter tabs, and underlined passages all reminded me of wrong teachings, things that pulled me away from God.
I used another Bible for awhile, one with no tell-tale memories, but then I discovered The Message translation by Eugene H. Peterson which uses contemporary language. It renewed the life and energy of the many messages in the Bible for me. Nowadays, I can pick up any Bible, including my old, heavily used one and it doesn’t matter, but The Message still has a warm place in my heart.
I recently picked it up again to read Ecclesiastes. Most people have heard this passage from that chapter of the Bible. Here first is the New International Version’s translation:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
The Byrds used similar words in their song Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season).
I had to laugh when I went to get the YouTube link for this song. One of the comments came from “… I don’t completely understand the song but I like it anyway.” The words sum up how I thought about this passage most of my life, too.
Here’s The Message version:
There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:
A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.
These few words — no matter if you sing them or rephrase them — speak so eloquently to the changeability of time, chance, and life. They also reveal the value of wisdom from a lifetime of experience, from having “been there; done that,” from having seen the robust nature of humanity in all its facets.
It’s taken me almost 50 years to figure this passage out. I learned because I’ve “waged war” when it was time for peace – and vice versa; I’ve sat counting my losses when my time would have been better searching – and vice versa; and I’ve tried to reap from a field I did not adequately plant — and vice versa. I learned by doing and by making mistakes. That is what much of life is all about, yes?
I plan to write a few posts about the wisdom of Ecclesiastes in future posts, with a special emphasis on the contemporary language used in The Message translation.
Until then, I would ask:
What do you think of these words about the changing seasons and times of life?
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Photo credit: speech path girl
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