All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 8:9, 10.
Probably one of the harshest truths an individual faces is how insignificant any effort for personal glory becomes once he or she fades from public view. The energy expended on gaining an immediate advantage over others by any means possible ends up self-destructive in the long run, though it isn’t perceived as such in the moment.
Probably the best lesson I take away from Scripture really emphasizes no one’s value can be determined by the gains or losses of the moment. It’s the continuous growth over the long haul which matters the most.
Meaningless…without meaning; lacking purpose or reason..
Almost every time I read the words “evil” “wicked” “sinful” they usually describe a person either partially or completely devoid of a moral compass. The righteous, of course, search for moral certitude in one form or another. The dichotomy (or oxymoron, if you will) in how either is “rewarded” for their efforts towards the bad or good of life presents a dilemma philosophers have been wrestling with for eons. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do evil people seem to prosper while the good languish and struggle in either poverty or loss?
While there is certainly more to the puzzle than I’m going to mention right now, I believe one of the most significant “pieces” is this: The wicked prosper precisely due to the fact they don’t care who they hurt, what they have to do, or where the moral boundaries for their actions or desires lay. Unless we grasp the full implications of this fact, we will live in a state of uncertainty, frustration and, most of all, hopelessness. If you’ve ever heard someone say he will get his one way or another, you know someone devoid of the consequences for others. Now granted this person might not mean assassination or theft or embezzlement, but it does indicate someone who will not lose when the moral road forks.
Solomon observes the wicked receiving what he believes the righteous deserve and visa versa. It might be hard to fathom why he claims these seemingly unjust outcomes are meaningless, but follow me while I attempt to explain what I take from it.
Meaning implies purpose and reason; a sense that one’s actions and motives serve an end of some sort; in financial terms we would consider it profit from an investment. The outcome of a wicked person’s life, while profitable in the short 70 +/- years we all live on the earth, has no lasting significance. What they create or destroy is forgotten once they die—and often before they even set foot on death’s downhill ride. In that era, however, money (or possession) was just one of the many things which gave a person wealth. One’s reputation and standing in the community often held more importance than holdings. A wicked person’s standing in the community would be devoid of profit since all they produced or possessed came from oppression, swindling or bribery.
I don’t know that Solomon would come to the same conclusion I have, since he seemed to believe this life was sum of man’s existence, though he does mention something to the contrary.
Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before Him. Ecclesiastes 8:12.
So, in this one sentence Solomon believes there is something to rectify the injustice of the righteous’ suffering during their few years here—something to solve the contradiction of just desserts is meted out after death. Who do the wicked take from? Others like themselves? Not usually, instead they target those who practice a solid work ethic, remain careful with their wealth and live a life based on good results. Outside of any natural disasters which could occur, the wicked borrow and do not repay, or force laws which are unjust to be written. They also use the inventive, creative or entrepreneurial people of the world to build an empire in which these same innovators have no share or profit. A person who profits from the hard work of others is not necessarily “wicked” except when the person making it refuses to share with those who helped create his or her wealth. The inventor or innovator should be considered an equal partner not just a slave or servant—no matter what his or her station is in life.
Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow. Ecclesiastes 8:13.
For Solomon to conclude such a thing after just stating that sometimes the wicked live a long profitable life, suggests to me he was alluding to eternity. There is no reason to think he didn’t believe in some form of afterlife, even though the Messiah was merely a hope in his day and not really understood clearly anyway. Something about God’s eternal being and just nature spoke to him of an ultimate outcome where the efforts of the righteous received due recognition. Yet while we remain on a planet riddled with selfish ambition, injustice continues to prevail, and that simple fact robs much of life of its eternal significance, meaning or lasting purpose. Still, believers in gods of all stripes and origins continue to spout empty “wisdom” of spiritual comfort which imply that God or their god has a purpose in allowing all this evil to take place. Solomon claims evil deprives the reward principle of its meaning, since the wrong people seem to receive the rewards.
For instance: the Columbine massacre, where many people were either injured or killed, remains a good example of people looking an explanation and/or a spiritual or cosmic overtone. The spiritually minded say things like, “God’s will…” or “God has a reason for letting these things happen…” and, in a way, they are right, but the reason is not as subtle as many of us wish to think it is. God’s will is spelled out clearly in His Word the natural consequences for our choices. Those who choose against God’s definition of life choose death; those who choose His definition of death find life. The recent killing spree in a school brought out a certain radical Christian subset of people to public venues where their comments ran something along the lines of, “This school is being punished for supporting gay marriage…” and other such rants. Trying to interpret today’s disasters by stories of God’s actions in the past is dangerous, bordering on the ridiculous, for everyone is now subject to the Day of Judgment when God renews all things. What we are experiencing currently is the natural consequences of our actions not God’s divine interference. I’m sure He does step in at times, but I don’t think most of us have the spiritual depth to discern when and where anymore. Even in Scripture, if you look at the times God stepped in to do something miraculous in context, you will notice sometimes centuries passing before He acted.
The world is an example of oxymoronic thinking. What the two young men did at Columbine and the latest shooter did with Newtown’s school were not for any deeper reasons than damaged psyche (I consider mental illness to be a result of sin’s degrading effects). God did not purpose those children be killed in order to inspire a spiritual awakening or for any other reason. How do I know? He makes it pretty clear through the prophet Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked…” Ezekiel 33:11. We remain so superstitious and manipulated by those whose minds are fixed on the temporary we have lost the eternal perspective. It’s easy to do.
God’s “reason” for letting these things happen is that we made a choice eons ago through our ultimate parents to develop our own sovereignty. The consequences for us have such long reaching effects that we often don’t recognize our state of being today as such. But it is. For example: The very fact that we have new strains of “defeated” diseases returning after nearly fifty years of absence should inform us of how far our sovereignty really goes. But it doesn’t. With all our advances human nature hasn’t really changed—we continue to take sides and scorn any other viewpoint as ludicrous. The people that amuse (I don’t find them funny) me the most are those who claim to be open minded and tolerant. To see just how true their claims are put them into a room of people they consider “intolerant” and watch the sparks fly.
The world’s reasoning is based on humanity’s sovereignty but it was founded on God’s. We have a conflict of interest here to which history and our current state of being testify. What we see around us is the result.