There are two types of revelation about God and nature: general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is the ability for anyone anywhere to look out at nature, in the face of a newborn baby, at a couple in love, at the Milky Way, and have a deep abiding sense that there must be more to the universe than being born just to die. It is a longing for meaning and order and sense in the world.
Special revelation is direct information from God to humanity to inform us that, yes, there is more to life than what you see. Ecclesiastes, as one reads it, struggles with this concept. Up to this point in history the Israelites did not have much of a concept of an afterlife. In their thinking everyone died and all went to the Realm of the Dead (Sheol)–good, bad, or indifferent. So the writer wrestles with the perceived reality that no matter what kind of person you are and no matter how much or how little you accomplish in life, you still die. Then there is this statement:
I have observed the task that God has given human beings. God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.
This is general revelation–eternity placed in our hearts, longing for more–groping for special revelation and the ability to know what God is doing. In much of the Old Testament, this is the predicament of the people. The reason for this is really simple–God only gives people what they can handle at the time. In God’s wisdom, people were not yet ready for the concept of an afterlife that has a different outcome for the righteous and wicked. Of course the reality is also that until Christ came, heaven was shut to humanity, so in a sense, the Old Testament understanding was true.
The beauty of this passage, though, is that thanks to Jesus Christ we have the special revelation to understand eternity in our hearts. We now have an understanding of eternal life and the answer to the longing of the question is there nothing more? Because of Jesus we know there is a whole lot more and that God has been at work from the beginning to the end to provide the opportunity for us to experience all that there is.
Without the special revelation of Jesus and the special revelation concerning him that the New Testament gives, we would be hopelessly stuck with the writer of Ecclesiastes lamenting the fact that there is a longing in us–eternity in our hearts–but no way to know what it means. Thanks to God’s continued work in the world for our sake, we know what it means and how it is fulfilled. Thanks be to God.