Question: Please explain Ecclesiastes 3:11. One statement in this verse, “Also he hath set the world in their heart,” certainly seems to contradict and conflict with some passages in the New Testament; viz: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” I John. 2:15. Also, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” James 4:4. Also, in John 15:19, Jesus said, “…because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” I cannot see how God’s Word could make such strong statements as this regarding the world and then “set the world in men’s hearts.”
Answer: Yes, there seems to be a strong contradiction here, I agree. But actually there is not. There is no part of God’s Word which contradicts any other part of it when properly understood. Now God’s attitude toward the world is forever the same and there has never been any more friendship between God and the world than there is now. But, you may say, “God so loved the world,” etc. Yes, He did. But in this case, it was the world of mankind (humanity) and not this physical, material world with its fashion, elements, and way of life. God makes it clear in I John 2:16 what the world was, against which He laid such a strong indictment in the above texts when He said, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” But the question still hangs, “What did God mean when He said, ‘He set the world in their heart’?”
I will here insert the full text of Ecclesiastes 3:11. “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.”
Adam Clarke says the word from which “world” is translated here applies to the “Hidden time,” the period beyond the present Eternity. He further says the proper translation here would be, “Also that eternity hath He placed in their heart; without which man could not find out the work which God hath made from the commencement to the end.” The Amplified Bible translates this text thus: “…He also has planted eternity in man’s heart and mind (a divinely implanted sense of purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun, but only God, can satisfy).”
Let us consider how God made man to have dominion over the material creation of earth. He then commanded him to subdue it with all of its vast resources. He put deep in man’s heart and nature the intellect, power, ingenuity; also the urge, outreach and curiosity to delve into, to explore, to experiment and to probe the elements of the natural creation to discover and appropriate these things to human needs for the betterment of the race. We would certainly marvel if God made man a spiritual being and didn’t put this same thing deep in his inner being to reach out for, explore, and discover the spiritual and eternal things of God. God certainly has not overlooked this, but has deeply rooted the idea of eternity in every human heart. Psalm 42:7 says, “Deep calleth unto deep…” Deep down in the inner being of all mankind is a deep yearning and crying for the deep things of God and the spiritual and eternal things.
Marjorie Holmes said in the introduction to her book, “How can I find You, God?”, “People are hungry for God. We are searching for Him. Sex trips, drug trips, mind trips, the whole sensitivity bag are manifestations.” This is possibly true. All these things and more are just the devices of Satan to throw people off course in their quest for satisfying the hunger of their souls. Only Christ can fulfill this desire, and all these things are miserable substitutes pawned off on humanity by the devil himself. The same is true of all other substitutes for Christ wealth, fame, honor, pleasure, self, fleshly indulgences and the like. All too many people are buying them and trying vainly to satisfy the spiritual hunger of the inner man with these things.
Marjorie Holmes continues, “The hunger is innate. Man is born with an insatiable curiosity about the source of his own being.” What this means in other words is that this hunger is inherent, exists in us at birth, that it is unquenchable, and cannot be satisfied outside of the One who put it there. Someone made the comment long ago, “My soul was made for thee, O God, and will not rest until it rests in Thee.” Marjorie Holmes says further, “Often the greater the material and intellectual achievements, the more we are haunted by this sense of vacancy; this need for spiritual fulfillment.” This is certainly true. It is the natural reaction of the inner being to frustration and disappointment. When one has reached and obtained what they trusted in for satisfaction and fulfillment, still the hunger is there and the vacancy exists; the void is more pronounced than ever. In Haggai 2:7 we read, “…And the desire of all nations shall come:…” This “Desire of all nations” (every individual of the human race) is Christ Himself. All this is focusing right down on the text we are discussing, “He hath set the world in their heart.”
In the natural, material world there are individuals and teams of individuals who are constantly engaged in medical research and experimentation and scientific research and experimentation to discover new cures for diseases and to discover ways and means to add to and improve standards of living for the race. In Ecclesiastes 7:29 Solomon said, “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” This is certainly evident in this time in which we are living and it is also evident that many of man’s inventions have only led him farther away from God and more off course. There are important prizes given each year for outstanding accomplishments and contributions in each field of research and endeavor.
If all humankind would give vent to the God-given, deep-rooted instinct and urge for the spiritual and eternal things of God, and not allow the less important things of time and sense to dominate their thinking and occupy their time, there would certainly be a worldwide race on for the discovery of deeper, richer, more marvelous and more glorious truths and graces which would add to the spiritual betterment of the race.
In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul said, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Again, in Acts 20:23-24, Paul said, “Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” And again, in II Corinthians 4:17-18, this same man said, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” These are all graphic expressions from a man who had the eternal world in his heart and a good, clear vision of the spiritual things of God. Finally, when his time had come to depart out of this life via martyrdom for Christ, his vision expanded and broke forth in a blaze of glory giving this classic expression of his fully redeemed soul in II Timothy 4:6-8, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”