Monday, November 28, 2016

An Unhappy Business

12I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.  13And I committed my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom regarding all that which is done under the heavens; the grievous business [which] God has given to the sons of man to be busied with.  14I have seen all the works which are done under the sun, and behold, all was vanity and a grasping of wind.  15[What is] bent is not able to be made straight, and [what is] lacking is not able to be counted. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-15)

The Preacher, the king of Israel (again, likely Solomon) has undertaken the task of exploring all that is done on earth.  He seems to have come away disappointed, for as he studies the world, and a person’s place and purpose in it, he reaches the conclusion that one’s lot is a grievous, or ‘unhappy’, business.  Life continues to give the impression of emptiness; as vain an effort as “grasping the wind”. 

The Preacher determines that God’s ways are outside of a person’s ability to grasp (something he will come back to in chapter 3) just as what is crooked or bent cannot be straightened or something invisible cannot be counted or accounted for.  Thus, to pursue meaning in life is a vain exercise leaving one in doubt or despair.

God does not show us the answers to all of life’s questions.  In this fallen world, there will always be mysteries; the unexplained and the unanswered.  It isn’t that God does not desire us to know, but rather that He desires us to come to Him in faith precisely because we do not know. 

The blessing for the Christian is that we have the completed canon of written Scripture, as well as the witness of the Holy Spirit, whereas the Preacher was more limited in the level of revelation God had given to that point.  However, just because we have this fuller revelation does not mean we have, or need, any less faith.  In fact, knowing more, we can perceive more deeply and more clearly the pain and tragedy of a fallen world—although we are no closer to answering the mysteries.  We continue to bear the ‘unhappy business’; the burden of not knowing.  And we continue to be frustrated at not being able to straighten the crooked or count the invisible.  We must trust God that all is, in the end, not vanity.        

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Do People Matter?

There is no memorial of those from days past, nor shall there be of those to come; no there will be no memorial by those who come later.   (Ecclesiastes 1:11)

The world reveals an endless cycle of ‘vanity’—a repetitive cycle with leads the Preacher to pose the question of pointlessness (see 1:3).  Surely the very fact of human existence gives some sense of purpose or meaning to the world.  But does it?  The opening salvo of the book ends with the opposite conclusion: most people—the vast majority—live and die in complete obscurity.  No one truly remembers those from the past; no one in the future will remember these present days and they also will be forgotten in their turn.
We remember Napoleon, but what of the millions of soldiers and civilians whose lives were impacted and destroyed because of him?  Do we know their names?  Are they in the history books?  We remember Ghandi, but what of all those who marched with him; protested, resisted and suffered along with him for his cause?  Are they remembered?  Not to mention the countless years, in which none of these world shaking figures lived or were active, when people beyond number lived, toiled and died—without leaving any record or impact, except perhaps to those close with them who also passed off the scene.  We know so very little about the ages past, just as 
future generations will know so little about us.

One must conclude, from the Preacher’s perspective that humankind does not matter.  So take what you can get while you live; try to leave some kind of legacy or impact before you fall into total obscurity. 

As a Christian I know differently.  While the masses may not matter to the elite and the powerful, nor to the historian, every person who has ever been born matters to God.  Christ died for all, that all may live and find their value.  He calls a people to Himself and knows them intimately.  Each one matters to God, and that is what gives life its infinite value.   

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Has Life Gone Stale?

Ecclesiastes- 'The Pursuit of Meaning: Doubt, Despair and Discovery'.  

4A generation passes away and [another] generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  5The sun rises, and the sun sets, and quickly returns to the place from where it rises.  6Whirling to the south and turning toward the north, the wind turns and turns and whirls continually, and through its circles the wind returns.  7All rivers run to the sea, but the sea is never full; to the place from where the rivers [first] run, there they return to run again.  8All things are tiresome; man is unable to speak [of it]; the eye is not satisfied [with what it] sees, nor the ear filled with [what it] hears.  9That which has been is that which will be [again], and that which has been done is that which will be done [again]; and there is nothing at all new under the sun.  10Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is a new thing’?  It has been already from days past which have come before us. (Ecclesiastes 1:4-10)* 

The Preacher began with the statement of his perspective that everything was as a vapor or mist (hebel).  As he seeks to discover the point of life, he looks to the natural world; but finds no answers there.  Nature seems locked in an endless loop.  People are born, live and die, only to be replaced by a new generation.  The sun rises, crosses the sky and sets, only to begin the same pattern again the next morning.  The wind blows, the water flows—on and on and on it goes.  We may hear the author sigh as he says, “all things are tiresome.” (1:8) 

Life itself has become, or seems to have become, stale.  That which seems new, is in fact old—it’s been done before.  There are no new people; just replacements for the dead.  No new sunrise; just the same sun on an endless loop.  No new rain; just recycled water which has fallen before.  “Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is a new thing?’ (1:10) For the Preacher the answer is 'no'.  On and on it goes.  What is now is what has already been and will be again in days to come when our future 'replacements' walk the earth.  Indeed "there is nothing at all new under the sun."

Is the Preacher correct?  Is life tired and stale?  And if it is, is this what God intended?  From the author’s perspective it may have seemed so—that life was an endless cycle of birth and death; that the creative spark had gone out of the universe.  As a Christian, with the benefit of the perspective of the New Testament, I can recognize that the created order is “subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20 ESV) until the revealing of God’s Elect at the end of days (see Romans 8:19-21).  Until then life perhaps does seem stale, and the pursuit of meaning destined to end in despair and futility.  But for those with hope, the ‘firstfruits of the Spirit’ (see Romans 8:23), we can see the beauty of a world on the edge of something wonderful.

*Because I will be posting larger sections of Scripture, and to avoid copyright infringement, the text will be my own basic translation, similar to, but distinct from other common translations.  Words in [brackets] are supplied to give better flow to the text. These words are generally implied, but not directly given in the Hebrew text.