It’s used in folk-rock music and at weddings and funerals, and it’s the most well-known passage in Ecclesiastes — “a season for everything.”
Many people can recite it by heart, or almost: A time to be born and a time to die, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
And then, at the very end, comes the zinger verse, summarizing it all so succinctly yet poignantly. He, God, “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 3:11, NIV).
Indeed, God has done this — made everything beautiful in its time.
But what does that mean exactly? How does God make everything beautiful in its own time?
What Does the Bible Mean by ‘Beautiful’?
The word “beautiful” has many different meanings depending on its context. In the biblical sense, the original word in Hebrew is yapeh or yapheh, which Strong’s Concordance translates as “fair” or “beautiful.” Other definitions include “appropriate” or “fitting.”
Yapheh is the same word used to describe the lovely Rachel, beloved of Jacob in Genesis 29:17, as well as Joseph, their son, whose brothers were so jealous of him they sold him into slavery.
God, Master of the Universe, the Almighty and All-Knowing and All-Perfect, is the creator of all. And as the master architect and artist of the universe, everything He designs is magnificent, perfect — beautiful.
We also know from Scripture that God never lies. In fact, Hebrews 6:18 tells us it’s “impossible” for God to lie.
When God says He makes everything beautiful — lovely, fair, fitting, appropriate, suitable — in its time, that is a truth we can tuck with hope deep in our souls.
What Does the Bible Mean by ‘In its Own Time’?
The original Hebrew is be-it-tow, or more properly, eth, which means time, or appropriate time. Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon further define it in its context as “proper, suitable time,” such as the rainy season referred to in Deuteronomy 11:14 or the harvest time in Jeremiah 5:24.
It’s that “just right” time, God’s time, which is tied into His plan for the world. God has a vision and an order for the universe that He is, in His own perfect time, revealing. Like an intricately folded piece of paper, He is unfolding it piece by piece until the full glorious masterpiece is shown.
How Does God Make Everything Beautiful in its Own Time?
We know all of God’s creation is beautiful because it is designed by Him. Everything means everything, from the happy, blissful moments to the tears, grief, and mourning.
From God’s divine perspective, the nascent buds on a tree in springtime or the full-blown blossom of a flower are as beautiful and suitable and fitting as the dried-out, broken, weathered-by-the-storm twig in the depths of winter.
There is no ugliness to this, in God’s eyes. It’s all right and good and glorious.
As humans, we don’t always see this. Sometimes our pain and grief make us short-sighted. We forget that it’s all part of a circle of life, and we focus on our feelings instead of our faith and our hope.
God looks past all this and sees the soul, the spiritual things, as most important. In 1 Peter 3:3-4, it reminds us that God’s idea of beauty isn’t outside adornment like gold jewelry or fine clothes but rather the “inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
We also know God created people in His own image. As God is perfect, we can trust He doesn’t make mistakes. His great design for us, whether sickness or disability, whether our youth or our old age, is by design. It’s all beautiful to Him, all appropriate.
Are There Examples of This in the Bible?
The Bible repeatedly tells us to wait on the Lord.
But we are human, and we often don’t do this — or cannot.
In John 11, Mary and Martha were devastated when Jesus did not come and heal their brother Lazarus before Lazarus died. “If you had been here,” they both said to Jesus, “he wouldn’t have died.”
We know from Scripture that Jesus intentionally delayed his trip so he would arrive after Lazarus died‚ not because he didn’t care or because he didn’t love Lazarus.
He did this so he could perform a mightier miracle than they imagined: He raised Lazarus from the dead. And in doing so, He revealed even more beauty.
It’s hard to see how the events of the world can ever be made “beautiful.” But God has perfect timing. And Romans 8:28 promises that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Eventually, if we wait and are patient, we will see the beauty of God’s plan unfold.
How Can I Recognize This Beauty in My Human State?
Romans 8 takes this concept further, telling us that those who live by the flesh set their minds set on what the flesh craves, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have a different perspective, of life and peace (Romans 8:5-6).
“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you,” we’re reminded in Romans 8:9.
The second part of Ecclesiastes 3:11 reminds us God “has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Because we are made in God’s image, we have an inherent sense of the divine. But that is limited in our earthly bodies. Humans are sinful. We are not God. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but one day in heaven, “we shall see face to face.”
Until then, we are to try our best to set our minds as best as we can on God’s view of the world, understanding we are not capable of doing this completely as God is, but trying our hardest nonetheless.
It doesn’t mean we won’t feel sad in times of pain — the war, hate, dying, tearing down, or uprooting all mentioned in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. But we can trust that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
The Apostle Peter, the very one upon whom God built His church, urged the early Christians to remember God’s timing.
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9).
We can trust that God makes everything beautiful in its time.
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.