Mankind’s Burden

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.

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2 Responses to “Mankind’s Burden”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    Leadership can be burdensome. The older I get the less I know and the more I’m expected to understand. That’s why you have to love teenagers who know EVERYTHING! Sometimes I shake my head trying to figure out what someone else was thinking.

    Then we come to the word and there are simply things I don’t get. I’m sure I will be a pain in the butt in heaven. I am full of questions.

    Then there’s the flipside. The older I get the more things don’t really matter. Spending hours curling my hair no longer holds my interest, having children who have perfect table manners doesn’t quite seem so important. Advancing the career ladder doesn’t hold the same appeal.

    Priorities changed for Solomon in his old age. I think it was wise or maybe I’m just excusing myself through him.

  2. jonnysoundsketch2 Says:

    🙂 I think he learned that relationships mattered more than accomplishments or looking good to our neighbors

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