Pete Seeger is probably the most influential man whose name you probably have never heard. A social activist of the 1960s, he wrote songs promoting environmentalism, civil rights, the counterculture, and songs opposing the Vietnam War.
He popularized the song, “We Shall Overcome,” which became the anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, and his song “Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)” became a major hit for the Byrds, and a musical standard for the 1960s.
The song, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” was taken almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes 3 in the King James Bible. The song itself was used as an anthem to call for an end to the Vietnam War, with the final line stating, “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.” Those who listen to the song can find themselves transported to a peaceful state of mind, relaxing and just enjoying the moment.
The irony of “Turn, Turn, Turn” is that Seeger rejected the Bible as scripture. He did not believe the Bible is God’s word, and he thought much of the book was a collection of folk tales and poetry. In an interview with Paul Zollo, which later appeared in the book, Songwriters on Songwriting, Seeger discussed his views on the Bible:
I don’t read the Bible that often. I leaf through it occasionally and I’m amazed by the foolishness at times and the wisdom at other times. I call it the greatest book of folklore ever given. Not that there isn’t a lot of wisdom in it. You can trace the history of people poetically.
Ironically, Seeger’s biggest hit came by setting music to the wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3. The idea came after Seeger’s publisher complained that he was unable to sell the protest songs which he was writing. Seeger, a social activist at heart, put the music to the scripture, hoping that the publisher would hear a Top-40 hit, and that the listeners would hear a call for peace.
Further irony is that a song that became an anthem for peace in the 1960s also proclaimed there was a time for war, a time to kill, a time to hate, and a time to cast away stones. Also, there was a time for peace, a time to heal, a time to love and a time to gather stones together.
The opening lines say it all, “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”
Seeger rejected the Bible as God’s word, and as such rejected the one who could put more power into those lyrics than David Crosby or Roger McGuinn ever could.
Ecclesiastes is a popular book among atheists and agnostics because of its seemingly humanistic approach to life. In many places, the book claims that life is empty, and none of man’s works will last for eternity. Therefore, one should simply enjoy the simple pleasures of life and the fruit of his labor. That approach to Ecclesiastes is extremely dangerous, because it plays right into the error that the writer was warning against.
Taken in its context, words of wisdom from a King who wanted his people to live with the enlightenment of the Lord’s wisdom, Ecclesiastes teaches that life outside of God’s presence is empty. It’s pointless. It is temporary and the struggles of life are futile.
The lesson in all this is that God is in control, and there is nothing we can do to add to, or to take away from, the plan that He is working on this Earth. Therefore, we should be content to live with the blessings God has given us, to learn the purpose of the seasons of life we endure, and to obey and reverence God.
Furthermore, we should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all our labor, for it is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 3:13). While we do that, we should give thanksgiving to God for that gift.
Or as one theologian put it, “Obey God and do as you please.”
Had Seeger understood this concept, he would not only have seen that the wars, conflicts, and times of peace and prosperity served God’s purpose, but he still would have been free to pursue his social agenda of equal rights and preserving God’s creation. Instead, he will be mildly remembered as the man behind a happy little ditty from the 1960s.
God created you with a purpose. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God before ordained that we should walk in them. In giving us that purpose, he gave us passion for that purpose and the talent to pursue it. Do not separate your spiritual/church life from your daily life. The whole of your persona was built in when God formed you in the womb.