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8. God’s Sovereignty Over an Evil World


A difficult aspect of this study has been establishing the perspective with which to read the book. If we interpret the book through the eyes of an unbeliever, we would end in despondency. Specifically, if we took a look at the immediate passage (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22), we would be overwhelmed by the following fact. God is in control of all the seasons in life and has given man an inner desire to understand eternity yet with an inability to do so. An unbeliever might find the conclusion, to simply enjoy the present life, empty. As well, the fear of God for an unbeliever would more likely be that of terror, not awe. Understandably, an unbeliever would look with doom towards the end of their and future judgement. This understanding may very well preclude them from enjoying their present life in any manner, as well dread their future life.

While Solomon at times seems to present life through the eyes of an unbeliever, (This does not imply that Solomon was an unbeliever, but merely implies that he views life at times through the eyes of one who does not believe.) believers don’t view life in the same way. Solomon likely shared the believers view point at times, even though at times it is difficult to see. Believers understand that the world would be a hopeless place separate from God. They as well understand that Solomon clearly articulates what the world would look like without the hope of God, but believers possess the hope found in God. It is difficult for someone who has a relationship with God through Christ to see the world as a hopeless place.

Understanding that there are two potential types of listeners (believers and non-believers) will allow us to understand two types of responses to Solomon’s message. One response will be characterized by the hope found only in Christ, and the other response will be characteristic of those who find no hope in this world and are separate from Christ.



Stands in terror of God.

Stands in awe of God.

Eternity scares him.

Eternity excites him.

Present joy seems weak or temporary.

Present joy is common.

Work is empty.

Work is viewed through the lens of its’ eternal value.

Inevitable judgment destroys the ability to enjoy the present.

Inevitable judgment is not a concern due to his relationship with Christ.

He demands present justice, often taking it into his own hands.

He waits for God’s future justice.


Often in a study of this kind, a discussion will arise that considers evil and the omnipotence and benevolence of God. Explanations abound that attempt to explain the seeming struggle between a just, all mighty God and the clear presence of evil in this world. Simply put, how can a just and loving God allow evil? This study has been called theodicy.

Some potential (some faulty) syllogisms …

Syllogism # 1

  • God is all powerful.
  • Evil and injustice exists.
  • Therefore God must not be good or loving.

Syllogism # 2

  • God is good.
  • But evil and injustice exist.
  • Therefore God must not be all powerful.

Syllogism # 3

  • God is good and all powerful.
  • Therefore evil and injustice don’t really exist (evil and pain are figments of the imagination).

Syllogism # 4

  • God’s goodness is displayed in his creation of free agents.
  • The decisions of a free agent are indeterminable (even their evil actions).
  • Therefore God is not omniscient or sovereign.

Syllogism # 5

  • God is sovereign, righteous, omnipotent, omniscient and loving.
  • Evil exist.
  • Therefore, evil’s existence is compatible with God’s sovereign, righteous, and loving plan.

Ecclesiastes 3:16 might lead one to wonder how a sovereign God would allow injustice and evil to pervade the arena of justice and righteousness …


The World is an Evil Place.

3:16 I saw something else on earth: In the place of justice, there was wickedness, and in the place of fairness, there was wickedness.

View of the Unbeliever

View of the Believer

I expect that the places of justice disperse only justice. If they do not, I will demand present vindication.

Although I desire the paces of justice to be just and honorable, I don’t expect that to be the case. When justice is not dispersed, I lean on the promises of God and realize that He is the only true judge and He will vindicate in His time.

While it is clear that the world is full of evil, injustice and wickedness, this verse points to an even deeper problem. Wickedness has been found where justice ought to reign. We might have in mind the modern courtroom or governmental assemblies or even churches … What might be some examples of such a catastrophe?

Isa 5:20 Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter.

While in no way do we endorse or justify the evil actions of this world, the wickedness of the world is a reality that we must accept and live with. They are going to pollute that which is good. Life will not be “fair.” Injustice will often reign and seem unbridled.

Ecc 5:8 If you see the extortion of the poor, or the perversion of justice and fairness in the government, do not be astonished by the matter. For the high official is watched by a higher official, and there are higher ones over them!

It is here that the question of God’s benevolence comes into play. If we must live with the reality that the world is evil and unjust and will continue to be so, why should we trust a God who is supposedly sovereign but allows that kind of evil?

God Will One Day Judge the Evil World.

3:17 I thought to myself, “God will judge both the righteous and the wicked; for there is an appropriate time for every activity, and there is a time of judgment for every deed.

View of the Unbeliever

View of the Believer

Maybe it is inevitable that God will judge all men, but He doesn’t seem to want to do it in this present world. My concern is this present world, and I doubt my existence following that.

While I must tolerate the injustice of this present world, it is inevitable that the day will come when the just and sovereign God will judge all men. This judgment will immediately follow their death.

It is true that the world is an evil place and that wickedness will reign in the places of justice and righteousness, but it is also true that the righteous God will one day judge. Do we not often, like the psalmist, desire that justice now?

Psalms 94:1 O Lord, the God who avenges! O God who avenges, reveal your splendor! 94:2 Rise up, O judge of the earth! Pay back the proud! 94:3 O Lord, how long will the wicked, how long will the wicked celebrate? 94:4 They spew out threats and speak defiantly; all the evildoers boast. 94:5 O Lord, they crush your people; they oppress the nation that belongs to you. 94:6 They kill the widow and the one residing outside his native land, and they murder the fatherless. 94:7 Then they say, “The Lord does not see this; the God of Jacob does not take notice of it.”

While it is appropriate at times to ask the questions that seem to allude us, we ought to be careful in not demanding an answer that fits our expectations, or at times, even demanding an answer. We desire a world in which justice is quickly dispersed. We watch television that often satisfies our own expectations of justice. We have become accustomed to immediate retribution in our fantasy worlds of television. While this might satisfy our human desires, rarely does God play a part in this type of justice.

It is inevitable that God will judge.

(Deuteronomy 32:35-43)

Rom 12:19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

Heb 10:30 For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 10:31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

It is inevitable that God will judge all men.

Rom 2:6 He will reward each one according to his works: 2:7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, 2:8 but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness. 2:9 There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil, on the Jew first and also the Greek, 2:10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and also the Greek.

2 Thess 1:6 For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 1:7 and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. 1:8 With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

It is inevitable that God will judge all men in the future.

Matt 16:27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.

Death Will Come to All Men.

Ecc 3:18 I also thought to myself, “It is for the sake of people, so God can clearly show them that they are like animals. 3:19 For the fate of humans and the fate of animals are the same: As one dies, so dies the other; both have the same breath. There is no advantage for humans over animals, for both are fleeting. 3:20 Both go to the same place, both come from the dust, and to dust both return. 3:21 Who really knows if the human spirit ascends upward, and the animal’s spirit descends into the earth?

View of the unbeliever

View of the Believer

Man will die and cease to exist just like the beast

Man will die just like the beast in the sense that he will turn to dust, but will be raised for eternal death or life.

No one can know if man will ascend upward.

Man will ascend upward for judgment.

The fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same in that they both die and their bodies go to the dust. That is where the similarities cease. The verse says that man has no advantage over the beast. In the context, man has no advantage over the beast in death. Both are going to die. Neither of them can avoid that inevitability. But, just because they both die and return to the dust, does not mean that they both have the same end.

Many evangelical scholars think that the Hebrew text in verse 21 seems to be a statement rather than a question. While this may be possible and definitely more conducive to what one might want this verse to mean, Solomon seems to continue writing in the same pessimistic manner that has characterized him to this point. While there is no question in a believer’s mind that man ascends to heaven (both believers and unbelievers for judgment), most people ‘under the sun’ view life as pointless and finite. It appears that Solomon is stating the common sentiment of man, “Who can know what happens after life?”

Other wisdom literature compares man to beasts …

Psalm 49:12 but, despite their wealth, people do not last, they are like animals that perish.

While the debate may continue as to whether or not Solomon questioned an afterlife (I don’t believe he did, as much as knew most people do), the rest of scripture does not leave that question unanswered. There are many verses that have already been stated, but consider the following as well.

Heb 9:27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment

Present Happiness is Possible in This Evil World.

Ecc 3:22 So I perceived there is nothing better than for people to enjoy their work, because that is their reward; for who can show them what the future holds?

View of the Unbeliever

View of the Believer

Since I know that I am going to die and don’t know what will happen afterwards, I might as well attempt to enjoy present pleasures.

Since I know that I am going to die and will face a just God that has forgiven my sins in the person of Christ, I will enjoy the present with an awareness of a just God.

Whether or not you come to the conclusion that Solomon has a fatalistic view of life in this chapter; it appears that, either way, he encourages man to enjoy the present life he is living.

While there may be some present joy in sin, the fact that God has placed eternity in the hearts of man seems to leave man incapable of enjoying life without Him. If a man realizes (even suspects) that he is going to be eternally judged for his actions, little joy can be found in wickedness. There would always be the question, “Am I going to be held accountable for what I am doing?”

The believer, on the other hand, can come to the conclusion that while the world is messed up, he can trust God to deal with evil in His way and in His time. In the meantime, he can enjoy life with the ability to be victorious over sin. If you have settled your fear of judgment in the work of Christ, you are then freed to enjoy life without the dread of despair.

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