Archive for September, 2011

Weep, Laugh; Mourn, Dance

September 27, 2011

…A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance… Ecclesiastes 3:4.

In all of the instructions in Scripture this is one of the most practical for it takes into account the realities of living earthbound.  The Stoics thought emotions a product evil—or at the very least, less than what perfection demanded—and much of that attitude crept into the Christian faith insidiously through the study of Greek philosophy.  To conquer the emotional life meant a certain sense superiority over the passions that drive us to make bad decisions, which then result in unhappiness.  This wasn’t expressed overtly but seemed to be byproduct of the practice.

Those who believe in any extreme of the psyche of the human experience miss out on the other senses which are denied for the sake of the one.  I know those who preach a view of love which excludes boundaries for human behavior in such subjects as sexual preference, raising children and host of other social and spiritual matters.  It’s funny that I, too, struggle to understand where the line is drawn on many of these issues sometimes.

Jesus told us if we were to be like God, we must love even our enemies, but that instruction seems ignore the Scriptures (several in the Psalms) which tell us God hates evil doers.  This is one of those contradictions detractors of the authenticity and accuracy of the Scriptures like to bring up in conversations and a myriad of books on the subject.  The “difference” between the NT and OT god(s), in their opinions, is stark in its contrast.  The god of the OT judged, destroyed and gave no quarter; the god of the NT went out of His way to redeem the sinner.

Unfortunately for those detractors they have their “p’s” mixed up with their “q’s” for in many, many places throughout the OT God pronounces His desire to have mercy not condemnation, redemption instead of punishment.  Ezekiel  has 4 places where God declares,  “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked…” which flies in the face of those who would almost gleefully watch the world burn for their sins.  Psalms 103:8-14 makes it clear that God’s baseline is grace, mercy, forgiveness and a desire to redeem.  It’s almost laughable when people read the Bible without taking the context of it into account.  It’s like there’s something broken in their reading glasses that prevents them from seeing the continuity of God’s involvement with and desire to redeem humanity.  If it weren’t so sad, it might be funny, but I find it devastatingly sickening.

Ok, I get it, spiritual things are spiritually discerned and the carnal man cannot understand them.  In fact they can’t even get a handle on them.  I watch those who begin to buy into the secular academia’s take on biblical history and what it all means drift slowly to the edge of the stream into near wholesale disbelief or agnosticism.  Oh, many of these theologians and “apologists” continue to claim a belief or faith in Jesus, but they undermine the very foundation of the gospels at the same time.  They pick the parts of the message they like claiming this is the “real” Christ, while throwing out the parts they don’t as later additions.

What’s funny to me (meaning I see a black humorous side to this) is that if anyone destroys the authority of the gospel records at one point, they have cast doubt on the whole story.  To claim that over half of the NT writings are later additions by those who didn’t like the freedom of the early church just shows how eager people are to find loopholes in the rules.

What does this say about our subject above?

Simply this:  Emotions are not evil rather it’s what we do with them that determines into which category they fall.

There is a time to mourn; a time to weep.  God has made everything perfect in its time, a place for every action under the sun.  We are the ones who twist and pervert the way these things are expressed, not Him.  The fact that we mourn to excess and use it as a means of checking out of life has nothing to do with healthy sorrow.  The reverse is also true, though, because many times we think that sorrow is a sign of weakness or lack of faith in God’s promise of eternal life.  As if we should not mourn the loss of a child or weep at the sight of injustice.

When my wife left, one of my pastors said,  “Give yourself permission to grieve, Jon.”  I did.  Mom died 5 months before my wife left the first time, on our one year anniversary.  Dad died a year and a half before that.  Approximately a year before Dad passed away my brother’s business tanked and things were in disarray for quite a while.  I took that advice and gave myself two years to mourn the losses.  Mourning isn’t just about weeping, it’s also about honoring the memory of someone who’s died, reassessing one’s choices, processing the losses and making peace with the past.

Two years to the day my wife moved out, November 29, I woke up clear.  I can’t explain what it felt like exactly except to say that I sensed the weight was gone, my inner vision clear and the oppressive nature of the sadness lifted.  Arriving at this state didn’t mean the work of recovery was all done but that the initial pain subsided and I was able to breathe again.

In biblical times mourning was given a set time to be expressed, beyond which was considered excess or simply the depth of a sorrow.  I have a friend, Holly, who lost her husband a couple of years ago and she is still mourning his loss.  They were definitely a team who supported one another’s aspirations and dreams as well as lovers.  I celebrate her state of mourning as right and wish everyone who goes through such traumatic stuff in their lives could do the same.

While weeping is a form of mourning, it is more than just the tears.  Weeping can be for the moment, while mourning is a state of mind which goes beyond tears into an overriding sadness.  I think nervous breakdowns act as a form of mourning.  Tears release the initial sadness, hurt, anger or frustration which might build up over time.  Mom always encourage my brother and me to express our tears, saying,  “A real man cries when it hurts; cowards hold it in!”  I’ve learned the truth of that over the years.  The truth is mourning declares the tragic nature of a loss or circumstance which cannot be resolved by human means.  It also allows us the time to feel the pain, work through the emptiness and deal with whatever has gone wrong instead of living in denial.

God, through His word, gives us not only permission to experience these emotions but encouragement to practice them.

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Timing is Everything

September 21, 2011

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and time to uproot, a time to kill and time to heal, a time…  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

 

There are some who believe that a person can justify just about anything they want through the Scriptures.  If that’s true, here’s a great starting place.  At the same time having the Bible spell out what is normal for our lives isn’t a bad thing as far as I’m concerned.  It appears to me that without this list many of us might dismiss certain emotions or realities within our psyche we otherwise could benefit from expressing.  So let’s look at them in a list:

 

A time to…

 

Be born/die

Plant/uproot

Kill/heal

Tear down/build

Weep/laugh

Mourn/dance

Scatter stones/gather them

Embrace/refrain

Search/give up

Keep/throw away

Tear/mend

Silent/speak

Love/hate

War/peace

 

Of course, some of the list is just stuff to which most of us would say “duh!” but think about how Solomon moves from the basic to more complex stuff.  The first two deal with lifespan and sustenance but the third one jumps right into a complicated and debatable issue.  A time to kill and a time to heal…might seem to be excusing or giving permission to bloodthirsty people to have their way in society, but really I don’t think Solomon isn’t even suggesting such a thing.

There are times when killing becomes imperative because the health and safety of many would be compromised if a violent intervention didn’t take place.  Unfortunately, political manipulation uses this very argument to decide to go to war over investment issues.  Yet examples abound where the innocent will suffer if we don’t intervene.  The problem with mankind, in my opinion, one which keeps us from doing things in a timely manner, is that we will do as America and its allies did, attack Iraq to get rid of Sadaam while completely remaining neutral in a place like Sudan where child warriors were committing atrocities we’ve only now begun to see.  It’s oddly surreal that the genocide of that country’s civil war awoke very little desire in the nations to intervene.  Sudan didn’t have anything we wanted so we ignored it hoping it would go away.

Libya does, so the world stepped up.  (Other than oil, they provide a strategic place for the Allies to put their forces if necessary.)  I’m not harping on the political rightness or wrongness of our actions, just the inconsistency.

The time to kill also includes trees, animals and host of other things with life in them—some sentient, some not.  I don’t even pretend to know the right or wrong times for any and every situation, but I know a few of them and there are several statements in Scripture which clarify when it should happen.

 

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.  If you say,  “But we knew nothing about this,”  does not He who weighs the heart perceive it?  Does not He who guards your life know it?  Will He not repay each person according to what he has done?  Proverbs 24:12.

 

Believers who work extra hard to provide for their families, set up a secure environment, preserve moral decorum, and generally live a good life, have often fallen short of this mandate, I believe.  We are so concerned about issues which are outside our control that we fail to get personally involved in the lives around us.  We may not have the power to change the political direction of the country we live in, but we do have influence.  We might be a small pool of light shining in the darkness, but it’s enough for those lost in said darkness to see their way.

The truth is, however, that we don’t need to practice politics to influence the world around us.  If by one loving example a person who otherwise wouldn’t know any different sees one of us practicing generosity, what will their response be—especially if it’s to them?  I don’t know, but the opportunity to show God’s character should never be wasted.  If He rains His goodness down on the righteous and unrighteous alike, we as His children should as well.  If we represent the attitude of heaven, we will consider vying over scraps of human gold or valuables a waste of time.  The whole universe is ours for the exploring and experiencing, so why are scrambling to get a pittance of the American or any other human dream?

Saving those who are being led away to slaughter is just one area in which we shine like stars in a dark cave of madness.  The fact that most of us don’t see this testifies to our need for spiritual shock therapy—which didn’t work in humans but seems to be a favored method of the God we serve.  The best lessons we learn are those in which we have to suffer, because generally we don’t pay attention without pain.  C. S. Lewis claimed,  “Pain is God’s megaphone” since it gets our attention.  The problem with our reaction is we seldom recognize that target of His wake up call, preferring instead to rail against our bad luck, lack of faith or His lack of provision.

Though everyone born is bound over to death, hastening that appointment with the grave by letting the innocent go without even trying to prevent it is so unlike our Master!  No one who ignores the problem will be commended, from what Jesus said.  We are held to a higher standard that, even while knowing we can’t meet it, we must strive to conform to through the renewal of our minds.  The time to be born and die finds its kin in the plant and uproot/kill and heal theme.  We cannot deny these to be related since everything in nature points to such a theme as true.  What we can’t seem to get through our heads (and may be I’m just speaking for myself here) is without God’s direct presence influencing us, our choices in any of these matters will veer off the mark.

Someone might ask, however,  “What about God?  Why hasn’t He intervened in these atrocities?  Where is He when this stuff goes down?”

Good question and it can only be answered by pointing out the Scripture we just quoted above from Proverbs 24:12.  The finite beings must show a desire to save life in reflection of their Master’s character before He will act….

Whew!  I didn’t mean to get sidetracked by this subject but I need to finish this thought…

…We humans act like God should step in every single time there’s a war or a killing spree or some other disaster of nature or of human origin.  The nature ones I can understand a little, the human caused disasters, I don’t.  Humanity declares itself the penultimate of intelligence, thus taking on the status of gods, then rails at the Supreme Being for not intervening in their self-caused atrocities and disastrous choices.  Sorta’ like saying to society,  “So what if I drink and drive?!?  It’s not my responsibility to be safe, you have to watch out for me!”  Does that sound logical at all?

We don’t want God to perform the necessary character changes in us which would prevent all those bad choices from even getting off the ground, but we sure want Him to prevent the consequences.  Sin is the wildcard in the mix of the human poker game with God, since it brings to the deck a Joker with all he entails.  The problem is we want to be able to keep this “freedom” to do as we like but at the same time demand God intervene on our behalf when it brings death or destruction.

When I was a kid I remember riding on the back of my grandpa’s station wagon and getting sick as a dog—headache, nauseous, etc.  I didn’t know what caused it until I began to recognize that every time I had this reaction it was because of a vehicle’s exhaust.  Another issue dawned on me that took years for me to recognize the source, fairly debilitating headaches bordering on migraines.  When I was 19 a back specialist from Loma Linda instructed a group of us on sitting and standing posture and I eliminated most of my problem.  Denying that exhaust is harmful to humans is living in denial.  Denying that our posture—i.e. sitting all day or standing wrong—doesn’t affect our wellbeing is simply out of touch with reality.

Yet we do this all the time with sin.

The problem humanity faces isn’t all that hard to recognize once we admit there is evil rampant in our world.  It also stands to reason that we aren’t going to eliminate all the evil there because sometimes it’s downright impossible to distinguish the righteous from the unrighteous.  The concept of a time to kill and a time to heal offends most of us peace-mongers because we hate the idea of bloodshed, as we should.  But the reality in a world maddened by sin is we can’t escape the need for violence when the violent will not be reasoned with at all.

It isn’t that we don’t get instruction from God about all of these truths, it’s that we don’t recognize the them when He shines them in our face.  It isn’t the systems, it’s sinful people trying to control the world.

The Truth About Anxiety

September 15, 2011

What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?  All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest.  This too is meaningless.

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.  This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment.  Ecclesiastes 2:22-24.

 

Jesus said,  “Don’t worry…” for a reason—it’s chasing the wind.  When we worry about what hasn’t happened or what might happen, our perspective becomes constricted and obsessed with the problem, which makes seeing the solution a lot harder.  Jesus’ teaching on worry might not have been taken directly out of this text but the relationship between the two cannot be ignored.

Oddly enough Solomon spells out the problem with way humans think by asking the question, What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?  All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest.  Thus he defines Jesus’ point for Him by expounding on the nature of those who worry about useless stuff.

It’s a poignant question:  What does a man gain from all the toil and anxious striving?

My first answer is heart disease and mental breakdown.

The second answer is much more complicated because this lifestyle demands certain things of us which have nothing to do with happiness or finding enjoyment.  I’ve known plenty of people who work like there’s no tomorrow yet find no sense of fun in their efforts.  The intensity with which they push for their goals is almost admirable except that they hate their lives pretty much.  I’ve known so many workaholics who condemn anyone who isn’t as miserable and driven as they are.  At the end of the day, there has to be some sense of satisfaction with our work or what’s the point?

Now while I agree with a good work ethic and healthy pursuit of our dreams or goals, those who worry about things that can’t be controlled by anybody are simply chasing the wind.  It says something about a society when the prevalent social norm is telling people you can accomplish anything you set out to do no matter what, when the reality is no where near that simple.  We all know this conundrum to be true but most people rarely think it through.

For instance, say a woman builds her business up to where it’s successful by anyone’s standard.  One day her warehouse is robbed and the next her store is burned to the ground.  The cost of rebuilding is prohibitive even with insurance, so she’s ruined and now not able to rebuild her business back to where it was because it will take nearly two years to get the financing and inventory up enough just to open the doors, not to mention to the place she was before the disaster struck.  All of her work and striving came to nothing due to situations completely outside her control.  Yet who thinks about this type of stuff?  Worriers, that’s who!  On the same note, however, if the woman had inventory she hadn’t paid for because she was waiting for sales to take care of the credit card, she’s not only lost her means to pay but become a liability to the credit company through no fault of her own.  The vicious cycle of losing is as unpredictable as the winner’s circle.

I believe both Solomon and Jesus argued for the purpose of mankind in a subtle way.  The fact that the basics of our existence seems to be a theme both emphasized should give us a clue about our own purpose.  If we are to find enjoyment in our work, then working at anything but that which fulfills us must also be outside God’s plan for us.  In other words, those who go into a career just for the money do so outside of God’s design for their lives because a life is more than our possessions or means.  On the other hand, if our career path leads us into greater and greater income, I don’t think that’s outside of God’s “plan” necessarily, it’s just a perk of the path we’re on.

I’m a musician, so my bent is artistic and rather impractical by most people’s standards since there’s no guaranteed income.  Yet, if people like me didn’t exist, the music we all listen to on our iPods and whatnot wouldn’t exist either.  It takes these “impractical” boneheaded people who don’t adhere to the business minded world to create that which entertains us.  The fact that some end up being mega hits and others don’t is simply the luck of the draw, or from specific interference from on high (or below depending on the influence).  I don’t believe every success story out there was directly promoted or influenced by God.  He set in motion certain rules of conduct and nature which, if adhered to loosely or even strictly, usually equal some form of return.  This doesn’t mean we will see a guaranteed return on all our investments, but we will see something.

So worry, anxiety and toil without finding enjoyment or satisfaction are not God’s plan for us.  Telling, isn’t it, that some of the most driven dissatisfied people I know are followers of the Way.  For some reason we’ve come to believe that our happiness doesn’t matter to God at all just because it’s not His number one priority.  This book of wisdom debunks that notion by telling us that a man can do no more than fall in line with how God created the world to operate.  Anyone who gives in to the anxiety of toil has set themselves up as a little god on earth, for only a belief that I control my destiny by my own power over all circumstances and people keeps me on such a path.  The lie of this belief is so obvious none of us admit to believing it in a discussion of the facts.  Our daily routine and attitude tell a different tale altogether, however.

To find peace, harmony and a sense of satisfaction and happiness we must let go of trying to be gods and let God be in charge.  Our attitudes and routine must align with the reality He made or we can kiss contentment goodbye.

The Best of the Uselss Choices

September 12, 2011

I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.  The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.  Ecclesiastes 2:13, 14.

 

Remember Solomon is speaking from a point of no eternal hope.  He has no knowledge of Jesus or any real understanding of redemption as we know it because that revelation had not been born or even clarified until Isaiah’s time.  I’ve heard critiques of his POV and wondered how anyone would think to dismiss the truth in his words just because he lacked the knowledge of salvation in its revelation through Christ.  I know that in past discussions on this blog I’ve called the Jewish leaders on the carpet for rejecting Jesus, but they were different in some respects to Solomon for they watched a revelation unfold in front of their eyes and still chose to crucify Him.  Their POV held more value to them than the God they claimed to serve.

Solomon’s wisdom guided him to experiment with life, sure, and he failed God badly, but in the end this book declares the simple profound truth of what he discovered about our bottom line as humans.  In this declaration he left nothing to doubt but openly stated God should be our number one priority.  By this statement of loyalty, I see a sliver of hope for redemption for this wayward king.  I know the story, but I think this book opens a window into this man’s soul, jaded, bitter and remorseful as it was.  I believe, though, had he met Jesus, wisdom would’ve won him over to follow Him.  It might seem to be an assumption on my part, yet look at the evidence written here in the book and you’ll see this man was guided by wisdom.  The only wisdom which exists comes from God and even those who don’t acknowledge ours as Lord of the universe cannot attain any platform of wisdom without tapping into His mind directly or indirectly.

The difference wisdom brings to a life over one of foolishness is being able to see versus being left in the dark.  Clarity brings a certain satisfaction to it that ignorance can never attain.  The old sarcastic saying, “Ignorance is bliss,” communicates the stark line between reality and fantasy.  The wise at least are able to enjoy all that life has to offer without being ruled by anything.  In other words, though the wise understand the futility of chasing the temporary pleasures of life on earth, they also know that these pleasures are supplied by God for mankind to enjoy.  They were never meant to be lasting things, so trying to capture them is chasing the wind.

 

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me.  All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.  And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?  Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun.  This too is meaningless.  2:17-19.

 

The wise man dies and leaves all he worked so hard for to someone else—not knowing whether his successor will treat it wisely or squander it foolishly.  There’s something to this which is best understood in verse 22-24:

 

What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?  All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest.  This too is meaningless.

            A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.  This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment.

 

The problem with those given over to death is that our Designer never intended us for sin, which in turn means we weren’t designed to die.  Our accomplishments were meant to be enjoyed forever as we grew into more and more able projects.  The heart which sins dies; and any heart which is born under our sun is subject to sin therefore subject to death, which brings futility with it.

But do you see how smoothly Solomon brought God into the picture?  He makes it abundantly clear that a man cannot find satisfaction or enjoyment without Him.  This is what convinces me that Solomon repented at the end of his life because he writes this truth down for his posterity to ponder.  He’d spent his life searching out what was good for man to do under heaven and finally comes to this conclusion, which is quite telling coming from such a wealthy and accomplished man.  Yet he adds a promise to his statement above that takes us one step further into God’s mind, verse 26:

 

To the man who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner He gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over the one who pleases God.  This to is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

 

How this works out for those who follow God is not clarified in Solomon’s statement of God’s intent.  As a follower of Christ I know how the promise works itself out in the end.  Solomon saw a bare glimpse of the fact in his day from a limited perspective of the works of God.  Jesus revealed the true meaning behind these words by showing us the wealth of God grew in our spirits—those who worship Him will do so in spirit and in truth.  What we possess or own is of little consequence to God, rather the truest form of wealth is in who we are in Christ; that pearl of great price, the treasure we would sacrifice all we have to obtain.

Still, even in the temporary wealth we gain on earth, the promise of wisdom, knowledge and happiness proves a sure thing.  Yet we need to clarify at this point just who the sinner is in contrast to the man who pleases God.  Through Christ we know a righteousness based on faith and not works —for without faith it is impossible to please Him.  Therefore this promise is for those who walk by faith in Christ for they alone please God.  We are all sinners, for sure, but those found to have a righteousness not of their own but through Jesus move from death to life—the greatest treasure of all.

What More Indeed

September 10, 2011

Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly.  What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?  Ecclesiastes 2:12.

 

Solomon begs the question most people ask:  what more is there? Or, “is this all?”

We’re in a conundrum, really, with life itself.  There’s only so much one can do with it before it begins to repeat.  The cynicism of age or experience (not exactly tied to each other, by the way) takes on a bitter edge when a person pursues one thing to excess.  It happens as well when we focus on a few things to the exclusion of others.  Humans were designed for a well rounded lifestyle—work, family, friends, community, play, fun and vacations.  The fact that many of us choose to do one or two out of the mix and deny the others testifies to the imbalance in our outlook which demonstrates itself in the systems we create.

I’ve heard so many people complain about the “system” as if it’s completely autonomous and independent of human direction or input.  Then when the blame game gets going full steam, they refuse to take responsibility for the monster they’ve created and blame the monster for their troubles.  No system or organization operates outside human intervention—it’s just not possible.  Any set of operating procedures are developed by people for the sheer purpose of handling life with other humans.  What’s perverse about our logic in this matter is that whenever someone comes to complain about how they’re being treated, those in charge refuse the blame for enforcing said procedures and place the blame on the “system” or operation manual.  Personal responsibility gets sidestepped by conveniently using a set of inanimate words from a page to justify bad procedures.

Everything developed now has in been in some form in the past.  Oh it might not have had the exact society we work with today, but we can be sure there was someone practicing said social or technical developments somewhere in history.  For instance, if mankind had never seen a bird or animal fly, they would never have considered the possibility of trying it themselves.  Even if one only believes in the Origin of Species or Darwinism, they would have to look in the sky to grasp both possibility and probability.

Yet some of Solomon’s observations lack imagination.  Like his question, What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?  It totally depends on the previous king, though I think he’s suggesting himself as the one who’s done it all.  On the other hand, inventing machines and gadgets doesn’t mean progress in human needs or wants.  In other words, food, walking, hands, sex, etc. all have a repetitive function and though the technology might change, the use of these things do not.  That said, it isn’t fair to assume everything’s been done unless someone has the resources or means to do everything available to human desires.

Solomon certainly got everything a person could wish for, if we subtract technology from the equation.  What is a computer but a mechanical object used to calculate and communicate human equations or thoughts for some purpose pertaining to their goals of sustenance or pleasure?  It’s simply a tool as the means to an end we established long ago.  Seen in this way, his perspective rings true.

Yet it’s hard not to critique his limited scope, for much of what he assumes is based on what he already knows exists.

As I said in another post, no human, let alone Solomon, could ever have imagined the God of the universe sending His Son to die as a way of beating the enemy.  It would never cross my mind to send my son as a sacrifice to win the war.  In the course of fighting, may be my son might die and through his efforts win a victory which turned the tide of the war, but his death itself wouldn’t be the source of it, but considered collateral damage.

Sin built a box based on what God already created and all of us are stuck in the repetitive nature we thought to own and command for ourselves.  We can’t seem to get it through our heads we control nothing—even while I’m typing this I know there are definitely areas of my life where I don’t believe I’m not in control, though intellectually I do.  It’s an odd disconnect between our wishful thinking, emotional or delusional mental state with sin at the helm and the logical side of the brain screaming to us to stop the madness.

No, the successor can’t do anything more than the previous king did because our pursuits remain the same, the basic methods we choose to get there unchanged except for location or source and generally what we value repeats as well.

Look at the youth of today who get caught up in partying or careers.  Watch as they repeat the mistakes of the parents and think they’re doing something original through their rebellion or conformity.  Nothing changes.  The more we change the décor, the more we forget that window dressing doesn’t change the structure of the room.

The Pleasure Principle

September 7, 2011

I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.”  But that also proved to be meaningless.  “Laughter,” I said,  “is foolish.  And what does pleasure accomplish?”  Ecclesiastes 2: 1, 2.

 

Laughter is healing.

Solomon also collected the sayings in Proverbs, so we know he wasn’t knocking laughter completely.  The only fault he found with it was when it was simply sought for its own sake.  Laughter that grows naturally out of friendship and a sense of happiness is one thing, but remember he’s testing himself with pleasure to find out what is good.

 

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.  Proverbs 17:22.

 

Studies have been done on which cancer patients respond the best to treatment, pretty much across the board the ones who survived the most often were those who kept a positive attitude.  Now this doesn’t suggest they laughed all the time, but it does mean they continued to be happy, cheerful and find laughter in things despite the circumstances.

I get Solomon’s not so subtle warning, though, those who seek laughter through foolishness (“fool” in this context is one devoid of a moral compass) in the end find emptiness for no one can sustain such a state without solid life behind them to back it up.  In other words, foolish living brings on destruction of the body and mind to the point that there is no substance to the person’s cheer.  Without a reason to be cheerful, people eventually devolve into bitterness (or apathy), which then turns into a form of humor derived from cynicism and a dark view of everything.

Remember, Solomon is exploring what is worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.  His purpose is to discover what works and what doesn’t in order to find a reason to continue accomplishing “great” things.  As he parties like it’s 1999, he comes to the conclusion that a party without a reason to celebrate is chasing after the winds of happiness and meaning without any solid reason to inspire them.  Pleasure seekers eventually kill themselves with pleasure because every pleasure over indulged plateaus at the level sustained to become the norm.  Once they reach this plateau, to feel something more they must indulge the source of their pleasure in greater quantities or measures in order to notice any difference.

In the case of alcohol or drugs, it doesn’t take a scientist to see the trend in those who party all the time.  A guy who smokes pot once a day will eventually have to either increase his daily hit or make it twice a day; but once he does this his body will begin to metabolize at the twice a day and that will not feel different anymore.  Soon he has to increase it more and more just to feel anything.

But this doesn’t just happen with drugs or alcohol.

I heard a story about J. Paul Getty which has stuck with me over the years.  I don’t know if it’s urban myth or fact, but parable of it is certainly true.  On his deathbed, Getty was asked how much money was enough.  He replied,  “One dollar more…”

I have a hard time calling greed an addiction.  I have a hard time with calling most things an addiction, to be honest, because addiction can mean a certain suspension of responsibility for the individual.  We generally excuse a person who’s addicted because they can’t help the craving their body demands.  It’s hard to condemn someone who has become, for all intents and purposes, tied to a certain behavior through desperate need.  Yet these individuals for the most part didn’t get to this state by being addicted.  They began it by getting high, stoned or whatever term they liked to call their altered state.  At first they would only do it on weekends or at parties; then it became a way to tweak the noses of those in authority—like in school, where smoking in the bathroom seemed daring.  Eventually, however, one person grows up and realizes this lifestyle can’t be sustained forever.  It’s nice to do it once in a while, but to do it all the time becomes boring.  The other person decides they want (or deserve) to be high and feel good all the time, so they seek nothing but pleasure—or the next high.

I have family members who have killed themselves for drug highs.  I have a nephew somewhere now who can’t have sex except with extreme twists in it.  I’ve watched as some of my friends ended up on the street desperate for the next hit, fix or liaison.  What turns into an addiction for the body began as an obsession of the mind.  If we believe “really living” is about the pleasures, then all we will do is strive for those highs.  If we believe life is about stuff, then all we will do is strive for stuff.  If we believe life is about beating the competition, then all we will do is work to beat our competitors and worry ourselves into an early grave about losing.

Pleasure without a reason to support it dissolves into a chasing after the wind—running in circles in pursuit of the fickle impossibilities.

Solomon didn’t stop with wine or sex in his pursuit of happiness or pleasure.  No, he undertook the pleasures of wealth by building gardens and palaces, owning slaves, wealth itself and generally having more of everything.  When he got more than anyone else, he looked around and realized it was empty because “more” didn’t equal quality nor did it give him a sense of lasting purpose or meaning.  He wasn’t lazy about his pleasure seeking either, but industrious and determined, yet it all came down to nothing because there wasn’t any purpose to it but the thing itself.  The thing itself held no meaning except in acquiring it and once that was done, the high was over.

Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pleasure.  We have taste buds, a sense of smell, the joy of touch, see color and experience emotions for a reason.  God created the orgasm, which means He wanted to communicate something more than mere pleasure.  We are made in His image, so the orgasm itself speaks to an attribute of God and to understand what it’s saying we must get to know Him.  I’m not talking religious piety in the sense of monastic discovery of these truths, rather I believe that in practicing them we find something true about God’s nature.  Knowing who He is deepens our appreciation of the pleasure we experience.

Look at our bodies’ diverse function for a minute to get what I mean about understanding God’s nature.

Our mouths taste the food we intake to sustain our bodies, which in turn gives us energy and ability to do a host other things with it.  The digestive process produces waste which we eliminate out of two orifices designed for this function.  The waste is said by farmers to be the best fertilizer on earth for the food we consume.  We call it “waste” but really what it is, by God’s design, is the means to feeding ourselves again.  Our bodies break it down into a form the plants can use to feed themselves and produce food for us to do it all over again and thus a cycle of blessing occurs.

So, the mouth tastes and chews and we swallow.  In this process several things happen at once:  The joy of taste in whatever variety the dish, fruit and vegetable or meat supplies. Next, we begin the digestive process by grinding the food to pulp and combining it with saliva in order to swallow it.  Unfortunately, some of us eat our food so fast we barely taste it before it’s swallowed.  The whole effort is there to make the provision of nutrient fuel an enjoyable experience.  The impatient (hey, I’m learning to eat slower) are anxious to get to the next bite for that burst of flavor without savoring the experience and all the tastes available.

This is just one example of what God created for our pleasure.  Yet we know it has been twisted to the point of producing what we call “gluttony” and those who practice it to excess grow obese.  In America, we call obesity a disease, but in reality it is a condition brought on by over indulgence of one of our senses.  Alcoholism is called a disease, but it isn’t technically such because it is a condition produced by excess intake of an alcoholic substance.  A disease is produced by a parasite or organism not chemicals.  A disease produces sickness without our help or interference.  Addictions such as drugs or alcohol only become so when we over indulge them.

Solomon explored every pleasure available in his era and found all of them devoid of meaning or purpose.  This doesn’t mean what God made is meaningless, just that pursuing them without Him at the helm of their purpose produces futility.  For those who over indulge a thing—or many things—repetition becomes hateful and dissolves into the death of pleasure.  For those who take everything in its time, the joy remains.  The gain of the latter is preserving the enjoyment and pleasure promised; the bitterness of the latter is the insatiable state of their appetites.

Taking Out the Kinks

September 5, 2011

What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.  Ecclesiastes 1:15.

 

I couldn’t go on without addressing this statement a bit.

Solomon is speaking from a purely human perspective without including a miraculous God in the mix.  In construction I find the truth of this standpoint fairly regularly.  The moment you put a twist in copper pipe, for instance, the kink remains even if the twist is mostly straightened out.  No matter how one works on the bent pipe, it never comes right.  Because of what copper does (as well as most other metals) once it’s kinked the crease tends to leak eventually.  I’ve stuck rods down in the hole of the pipe trying to pry the kink up but nothing worked.  Eventually I just have to replace the kinked section.

Yet God isn’t limited by our deficiency.  What we lack in spiritual or miraculous power cannot be measured or counted for sure.  Yet God is infinite, we are so very finite.  Our imaginations can take in the possibility of life outside our physical world, but we can’t seem to design or create creatures that reflect these actual beings.  My point is:  our reality only includes the five senses or what we can “see”/know through equipments we conduct to detect that which is beyond our ability.

A person looking at creation through the eyes of a god-less perspective will be limited in their ability to see it.  No matter what the Bible describes as the whole picture, anyone who limits their scope to a purely physical reality will miss the greater spiritual truths waiting for those who connect with it.  The only way the greater picture is open to our viewpoint is through the crucified and risen Savior.  Jesus becomes a filter for our calloused spiritual eyes.  Solomon could only look forward to such a possibility, though he doesn’t mention it in this book, because such a truth had not occurred to anyone until Jesus came in the flesh.  We understand who Jesus is now because we can look back to His revelation but up to the time of His resurrection, no one would have considered such a possibility.

What is lacking cannot be counted

Though Solomon may not be making this point, the Spirit is through his words, I believe.  All Scripture is God breathed, which points us to something God would have us understand.  What Solomon’s despairing viewpoint educates us to is the hopeless redundancy of mankind’s life cycle without the atmosphere of Eden.  Nothing changes, even though we make progress in knowledge or technology, the character of mankind remains the same throughout these advances.  It’s no wonder the world fails to see Jesus as anything but spiritual teacher, guru or great example of human conduct, for they lack the spiritual insight to grasp Him in any other way.

Without God’s intervention, what is broken cannot be fixed; what is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking will never be known let alone counted.  For us to be whole beings, we must be directly connected to Him.

Mankind’s Burden

September 4, 2011

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.  I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven.  What a heavy burden God has laid on men!  I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.  Ecclesiastes 1:12-15.

 

Solomon’s assumption that God laid this burden on mankind is rather inaccurate, though true.  We rejected God, after which He stopped revealing Himself to us personally.  The burden is simply a byproduct of our choice, but, since all things come from His hand ultimately anyway, Solomon is technically right.

It sounds crazy when we read Solomon’s view that pursuing wisdom and knowledge is like chasing the fickle wind, but the more one grows in knowledge and experience, the more one understands.  Pinning down truth takes a lot of energy because where sin reigns hand in hand with righteousness, the lie is attached to the truth, which makes it kind of hard to disentangle where one stops and the other one begins.  In a world ruled by both righteous and sinful spirits, the solutions become fragmented, the conclusions elusive and generally things get more murky.

I’m always amazed at my Christian counterparts who believe the gospel is unquestionably true.  Like somehow God left nothing to doubt so having faith was simply a no-brainer rather than the work it is.  I don’t think fundamentalist Christians are pretending necessarily to believe so strongly, but I do suspect they have to ignore or explain away much they don’t understand in order to draw some of the conclusions they come to.

What’s wrong with admitting we don’t know?  For that matter, what’s wrong with not knowing the answer to certain vital questions?  If the walk in Christ is by faith, it means we suspend our disbelief for the sake of the One who called us.  What it doesn’t mean is that we put our minds to sleep or numb rational thought.

Job questioned God and demanded an answer.  God gave him one in person by coming in His overwhelming presence and power to show him how ignorant of the questions he really was—let alone the answers.  I may be alone in this, but I find I don’t know as much as I thought I did years ago.  The answers just bring up more questions I can’t answer; the questions give me headaches sometimes just trying to come to grips with the “what ifs”.  Yet if Solomon is correct, then what God is trying to do for us is get us to trust Him with the fate of the world and our own futures.

Jesus taught we didn’t have to worry about our sustenance because God takes care of His creation right?  Those who worry ultimately tell God through their efforts to control their own security or happiness He can’t be trusted with them and they won’t depend on Him for something so vital.

Truth is a man named Jesus, not an entity unto itself or simply a principle we live by but someone we imitate.  Knowing “truth” doesn’t set us free from the traps sin sets for all life, knowing the Truth is what delivers us.  I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating:  truth is a double edged sword for reality sends both positive and negative forces into our lives, of which both are true.  So, child abuse is true because sin is a truth; embezzlement is true because sin is a truth.  Yet loving a child and doing things which build them up is also true because righteousness is truth.  Being honest at business to the extent we would rather lose profit instead of cheat is true because righteous people exist.  And we could go on and on.  None of these “truths” sets us free, in fact, they enslave us, if anything.

So finding “truth” isn’t as cool as it sounds.  Solomon found sorrow and grief at the end of his search; partly because of the path he took to get there, partly because no real wisdom comes to us without someone’s painful experience.  The path to wisdom is pockmarked with obstacles and loss.  Trying to understand what is true takes patience and many dark times where the answers elude us.

The truth about wisdom, madness and folly is that they are all as elusive as the predicting the wind.  The reasons they exist can be easily seen, but what constitutes their foundations sometimes baffles our intellect.  It always surprises me now when people put stock in popular opinions or theories having nothing but conjecture and circumstantial evidence to prove their “truth,” which doesn’t necessarily mean these theories or opinions aren’t true, just not provable.  If something is true beyond all doubt, it will be irrefutable by the evidence presented.  The problem is that very few things we believe can be that solid.

We are in a conundrum as followers of Jesus because we can’t prove this god we devote ourselves to so staunchly.  Being fully convinced of the truth of Jesus’ mission and His character doesn’t make Him God or even a god.  Believe all we want but it won’t make Jesus the savior of the world unless He definitely is.  Our faith might hold us up in the face of opposition but it isn’t beyond doubt nor can we ever claim with the facts to back us up it is beyond question.  To believe otherwise is the path to a madness we’ve seen in action before in the Crusades and Inquisition.

Being possibly the wisest man alive, Solomon understood the emptiness of that title.  His wisdom did him no good except to help him in the daily grind of living on earth.  He understood the emptiness of being the best at something because once he reached the plateau of human greatness, there was nowhere else to go.  By his own human effort he could only accomplish so much—and even that was subject to the winds of chance.

My brother, Tracy, likes to tell people he and I struck the lottery with being born into the family we were raised in.  Mom was loving, supportive, firm in her boundaries and forgiving of failings.  In short, she was a jewel and we just happened (by design or chance) to be born under her care.  Nothing either of us ever did before or since earned us the right to be born as her children over the thousands of other children in the world neglected, abused or going hungry every night.  In fact, many times he and I wished we could have shared our wealth with the world at large—she was that good.  But this is the point I’m trying to make:  No one chooses their lot in life initially, it’s chosen for them; and even when they get old enough to choose something different, the times they are born in, the circumstances and opportunities they have may rule what they can accomplish and become.

Contrary to popular self-help gurus and celebrities who’ve struck it rich on our dime, not everyone succeeds when they utilize every opportunity that comes their way.  The burden of man is that his lifetime of accomplishments amount to nothing when he dies unless someone else champions them.  Even then the accolades do him no good except put his name in some history or another.  He won’t be able to pursue his discoveries or goals to their final outcome nor will he ever be able to see how they are used.  If a person’s legacy doesn’t endure, then everything they did in their lifetime seems meaningless.  All their work, input, wisdom and creations are forgotten just a few generations after them which begs the question:  What’s it all for?

Ecclesiastes builds up the question without giving the answer for nearly the whole thing.  Its purpose is to make the answer more poignant once we reach it.  But Solomon gives us a hint by saying the twisted cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.  These two things are beyond the control of mankind and part of their burden.  We must be taught that with all our accomplishments and knowledge we cannot fix what is broken.  Only One can do that.