QUESTION: Is it the translation that makes this verse so difficult? Seems that translators haven’t been able to write an understandable version: “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past” (Ecclesiastes 3:15).
COMMENT: First let’s go to the New Revised Standard Version, a more contemporary translation: “That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.”
This is a little clearer, but still foggy. And indeed translators have struggled for centuries with this passage, especially the final phrase. A literal reading would be “God seeks out that which is pursued.”
If we step back from a focus on the literal meaning of the specific words, the energy of intention becomes clearer. It reminds me of Jesus’ comment, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Biblical writers often use language in which actions are expressed in specific periods of time—past, present, future—to describe a spiritual domain in which there is no time. Eternity is not endless time; it is an absence of time. In spiritual truth we are in that eternal moment now and always.
The author of Ecclesiastes, known as the Preacher or Teacher, is concerned about our mortal sense of constant struggle. We always seem to be trying to accomplish or obtain something. This chapter opens with the well-known sets of opposites (e.g., “A time to be born, and a time to die”) and expresses the spiritual truth that there is no need to struggle, because all is provided in the Divine Mind. The past, present and future are all one in spiritual truth. Nothing has been lost in the past, and nothing is being withheld until some future time. Everything exists at this moment in the Allness that is God. It awaits our faith and creative choices to bring it into expression. How much anxiety would be dissolved in the world if we chose to live in that certainty!