We Are Not in Control
“If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie. He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”- Ecclesiastes 11:3–4
If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit that we think we are captains of our fate and masters of our destiny. We do what we can to control our circumstances, sometimes in godly ways and sometimes in an ungodly manner. Often, we go hours or even days without thinking about the fact that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass (WCF 3.1; see Eph. 1:11). When things do not go as we have planned, we might become depressed or angry because we have lost our sense of control.
Of course, our plans are not irrelevant, and the Lord has entrusted us with a measure of control over our lives. However, all of this takes place within the scope of His eternal plan, and this plan includes events that, from our perspective, we accurately predict as well as events that are unpredictable from our vantage point. That reality seems to be what is assumed in today’s passage.
Note the parallels between verses 3 and 4. Rain clouds are in view in verse 3 and in the statement “regards the clouds” found in the agricultural metaphor of verse 4. Such clouds evidence our ability to predict some things with relative accuracy. When we see rain clouds on the horizon, we know it is going to rain, and we can take the appropriate steps to prepare. But verse 3 also talks about a tree that is falling to the ground, and this is parallel to “observes the wind” in verse 4. Here we see the unpredictability of life. As Jesus would note centuries after the Preacher wrote Ecclesiastes, we do not ultimately know where the wind comes from, when it will come, where it will go, and what it will do (John 3:8a). When the wind blows, it can do things we had not expected, like knock over trees that we thought could withstand the mightiest of storms.
In sum, life is both predictable and unpredictable for human beings. We do not know creation exhaustively, and we lack the power to make everything go the way we want. If we were to dwell on only that reality, we would become paralyzed. We would wait for the moment at which we knew our plans would work out perfectly (predictability) but never move because we can never know the perfect time and season (unpredictability). Like the farmer who does not plant until conditions are ideal in every conceivable way, we would not reap (Eccl. 11:4). The only solution is to trust in the providence of God, the One “who makes everything” (v. 5) and works through what we do to fulfill His purposes.
The providence of God is the only foundation upon which we find confidence to act in this unpredictable world. Knowing that the Lord is in control—and that we are not—actually frees us to act, for we know that no failure of ours can derail His plan. That He is in control also gives an eternal significance to what we do, for what we do is incorporated into the all-comprehensive plan of the One who gives meaning to everything.
Passages for Further Study