I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. – Ecclesiastes 3:10-11
Something that fascinates me, puzzles me a little, and often informs my writing life is the way apparently disparate ideas, sources, philosophies, and constructs sometimes conspire together to help shape my thinking.
Wednesday, for example, I spend quite a bit of time in and around the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. That evening we talked about it in my men’s Bible study group. Then, when you might have expected me to be humming The Byrds’ version of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, turn, turn,” instead I can’t get Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” out of my head.
In Ecclesiastes “The Preacher” talks about the sometimes overwhelming stream of life that seems to flow over us as mortal beings: life, death, planting, uprooting, silence, noise, love, hate, killing, healing, building, tearing down, weeping, mourning, laughing, dancing, searching, gathering, war, peace… so many things we can do little to impact or change. Yet there is a foundational truth that stands under – and over, beyond and all around – everything, because our Creator has “set eternity in the hearts of people.”
At the same time, I hear the voice of Bob Marley singing that – despite imprisonment and slavery and what he calls “the bottomless pit” – his hand has been made strong by the hand of the Almighty, and that his generation moves forward triumphantly…
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the Almighty
We forward in this generation
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
So I think about this juxtaposition of deep, heartfelt poetry separated by almost three millennia, understanding the fact that in spite of his cynicism the writer of Ecclesiastes insists that God has “made everything beautiful in its own time,” and hearing Marley insist that in spite of everything, stronger than his people’s history and his generation’s disillusionment, all he ever really has to sing are Redemption songs.
I don’t know about you but that is a prophetic word that strikes to the core of what I need to hear today.
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds…How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look? Ooh…Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
So how do we help to sing these songs of freedom? How do we free ourselves from the shackles of hate and division? How do we stand up and speak as prophets instead of standing aside and looking? How do we claim God’s gift of beauty and sing songs of freedom without giving in to cynicism?
The Preacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has set eternity not just in our hearts but in the hearts of all people, and that even the haters want to sing songs of freedom too. But – and this is both the hope and the responsibility – those songs of freedom are, first, Redemption Songs.
Redemption Songs. Songs we really can’t sing without Jesus. Songs the world is hungry for. Songs we must learn to sing together.