Archive for December, 2011

Successful Envy

December 28, 2011

And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor.  This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

The fool folds his hands and ruins himself.  Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.  Ecclesiastes 4:4-6.

 

Often times we read these types of statements without connecting them, as if they were unrelated truths or proverbs just haphazardly thrown into the paragraph.  Yet if we look closely, we can see the relationship between the two ideas.

I looked up the word used for “fool” in our text just for fun and got an education on its various meanings.  The word used here means “self-confident” or someone who is informed on what is right per his/her religious instructions but ignores the wisdom.  In the context above it would take on significance by being stated, “The overly self-confident person folds his hands and ruins himself.”  People like this chase after wealth with the air of someone who feels they know better.  A similar word was used to name David’s nemesis in 1 Samuel 25.

It would be sorta’ like a runner who knew he or she was fast but coasted the last leg of the race because of their over confidence.  They would come in second or third, not because they couldn’t do better with more effort but from pride in their own prowess.

I’m gonna’ take this one step further though.

Both those who fold their hands or who chase after the Joneses are fools for they ignore wisdom.  Solomon concludes that having one handful with tranquility is by far better than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind, not because achievement or toil are bad but due to the motivation inspiring them.  If our goal is to own what others gained, then we will work ourselves into the ground or figure out a way to take it—legally (through loopholes in the law) or illegally.  Envy produces covetousness, which if left to fester, will produce something even worse.

There’s also another spin for this part of the passage which strikes me as lethal.  Some will give up because two handfuls take far too much anxiety, instead they approach their idea of “tranquility” through the lens of one who is afraid to deal with the added stress of striving.  While this is truth even in this context, I don’t think Solomon was making this point, however, since his illustration after this goes the other direction—striving after two handfuls is futility when one will do.

What would it be like if we all forgot about competing to get the best of one another and decided to accomplish great things for the joy of doing them?  What would the world be like if our greatest successes were celebrated with parties instead of jealousy or critique?  What would our own lives be like if we set out to build, create or be something just because our Creator made it possible for us to do so?  What kind of world would we live in if everyone shared the resources and made sure we all had enough—and when someone didn’t have enough, we took from our abundance to make sure they did?  What if the leaders of nations or that local book club (or whatever) were excited when someone in their group succeeded beyond their expectations?  What would our relationships be like if we decided being top dog meant another way to serve?  What if competition really was fun and for the joy of doing it rather than being better than or one-upping (is that even a word?) someone else.

Paul said, Godliness with contentment is great gain.  If we struggle to be content, it has to do with our attitude about life rather than what we do or don’t have.  I’d love to own a flat screen TV, but I can’t afford one, so I’m content with the one I have.  It’s odd that things become more important than our relationships all too often.  For years now I worked to have the attitude to be at peace than striving to get somewhere just like or better than someone else.  This passage is one of my earliest memories, for Ecclesiastes was probably the fourth or fifth book I read after I gave my life to Jesus and this truth stood out for me.  I haven’t always been content or happy with my life, but I gotta’ tell ya, the only time I’ve ever been peaceful has been in this mindset.

The word most misused in the English language has to be “deserve” because people will tell you they deserve things you know they haven’t worked for ever.  It’s pretty sad when we put a price tag on our actions above what they warrant.  To be blunt, we don’t really know what the rewards of any action should be for the simple reason our standard of sin is that murderer, child-molester, career thief or whoever we hold up as worse than ourselves to feel better about the sin we not only tolerate in our own lives but cherish.  The reference of truth for the godly must center on Jesus, the author and completer of our faith.  Our wealth, ideals and whatever else we value grows out of what He considers to be worthy pursuits.  Envy, jealousy, covetousness and the like step outside of His character and thus outside of our scope, if our spiritual eyes are fixed on Him.

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Full Circle

December 21, 2011

I also thought, “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.  Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both:  As one dies, so dies the other.  All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.  Everything is meaningless.  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.  Who knows if the spirit of man goes upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?

So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot.  For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?  Ecclesiastes 3:18-22.

 

What comes next is a bit of a ride for some people, so I need those who read to think outside their own box and accept what I’m saying as speculation rather than conclusion.

Now, with the disclaimer out of the way, here goes.

I can hear some people objecting to Solomon’s conclusion of comparing humans with animals, but to my way of thinking they are ignoring the pure physicality of his argument.  In almost every physical way we are like animals for we breathe oxygen, absorb water, eat food and have organs such as the skin, heart, lungs, etc.  Our DNA might be slightly different but through scientific research we’re discovering it’s not by much.  So, he’s completely accurate about certain aspects of human biology.

Where we probably differ is in the spiritual realm.  This can’t be proven since no one can definitively deny any animal’s cognition beyond a shadow of doubt.  We don’t know if the spirit of an animal is the same type of spirit as that of a human, though some have concluded they don’t have souls.  I don’t know one way or another, and I think those who argue for either/or/and don’t know either.  We can’t conclude anything until we enter the mind of an animal and see, hear, touch and experience what they do.  In other words, if the animals have emotions, then how cognizant or self-aware they are will dictate how we view them.

But Solomon’s argument isn’t about self-awareness for it focuses on the mortality of all over the science of cognition.  His premise is that both have the same breath, which is quite true, if we agree that most animals need oxygen to live.  Both turn to dust when they have died after a time in the soil.  The only thing left of anyone is the bones, amazingly enough, but eventually even these petrify and become something other.  When we die the same thing happens to each species; no one has any advantage in death.

Where Solomon does differentiate a bit is in the spirit.  His question Who knows if the spirit of man goes upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth? takes on an issue of the day, argued into the ground because a conclusion could not be reached by facts alone.  Man’s cutoff state from the spiritual dimension leaves us blind to its realities and therefore left to our own devices rejection/denial or speculation/assumption are all that’s left to us.  We don’t have the facts to support any conclusion about death.

Like most Christians I’ve heard the stories of those who die on the operating table then come back to life.  The tales of meeting Jesus, angels or loved ones in the afterlife abound but cannot be proven.  I’m not objecting to these stories being true, but I’m saying who knows whether at death we hallucinate or see true?  I’m willing to buy that our spiritual eyes are opened just before we die but the human psyche is so complicated and obscured to most of us (if not all) that any conclusion or acceptance on face value is dangerous if not outright foolish.

Progressive revelation would probably conclude that Solomon’s pre-messianic viewpoint was accurate to the level of revelation of his era.  Post-messianic understanding places the children of God smack-dab in the bosom of Abraham or, if you’re catholic, in Purgatory awaiting the resurrection or someone to buy us out.  The Scripture doesn’t support either view with any clear statements.  I grew up Seventh-day Adventist so was brought up believing in soul sleep, for which there are allusions but no concrete evidence.  At this point in my walk I am an afterlife agnostic—meaning, of course, I just don’t know, and frankly, don’t care.  What happens to the dead is God’s responsibility not mine; hellfire, rewards, punishments, purgatory, heaven, turning into angels, and whatever other Christian myths or conclusions there are out there all leave me baffled because I don’t see these firmly supported by Scripture.  I continue to study and open my mind up to what God does reveal clearly in His word.

And what does God reveal as important for us to believe and follow?

The clearest thing is to revel in His presence within our hearts, let Him change us, live for today without worry about tomorrow or regret for yesterday and generally let our light so shine that men may see our good works and give Him glory.  What happens when we die only matters if we aren’t with God through Christ Jesus.  The arguments for hellfire or soul sleep make little difference to the reality of God.  He is just, merciful, gracious, long-suffering (patient), kind, loving, angry at sin, yet not willing that any should perish but that all come to repentance.  What He does with the wicked is His business.  How He chooses to reward the righteous is His business and none of mine.  My business is to remain faithful to Him not solve all His mysteries.

That said, I don’t see anything wrong with people believing or teaching a theory based on prophetic books or one of the more obscure statements in Scripture.  Just as long as we hold these opinions loosely, it’s all the same to me.  I recognize my ignorance about spiritual matters so I don’t mind not knowing…although my curiosity is definitely aroused.

All this to say, I take Solomon’s question to heart and have concluded we’re given one major mandate by Christ:  Love each other as He loved us.  Everything else is good for learning but this one thing demands something of an attitude change in us.  Our exclusivity, club-orientation and sense of superiority get dashed upon the Rock Christ Jesus through the need to love one another more than we love ourselves or our own opinions. In this way we fulfill Solomon’s conclusion that there’s nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work while he lives.

It might sound simplistic, but it’s a lot harder in practice than theory.  The test, I believe, is whether we’ll be sidetracked by the foolish arguments and subjects that we lack enough concrete Scripture to put down or if we will choose to follow after love and the rewards the life through Jesus and Him crucified provides.  The former are led by human tendencies without God; the latter demand God be at the helm.

Circling the Block

December 12, 2011

Whatever has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past into account.

And I saw something else under the sun:  In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

I thought in my heart, “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed.”  Ecclesiastes 3:15-17.

Let’s digest this together for a bit, what ya’ say?

Before we go on I need to declare my belief and faith in this book as intrinsically factual and true.  This is an important statement because what comes next flies in the face of convention.

When we say we need to take an account of some part of our lives, business (social, economic or religious practices) or possessions/wealth, it’s the same as saying “take stock of…” in another context.  To check the accounts of financial records simply means adding and subtracting the ebb and flow of it in order to see if they balance out on the side of profit or loss.  It’s not that deep of a concept, really.  The phrase “take stock of” just needs to be dissected minimally to see from where it originates:  The stock house or room.  To check the stock means (I’m really not trying to insult your intelligence here, just focusing on why we use these phrases) to count what’s available or lacking.

Ok, why was that word study important to our take on the judgment?

God will take the past into account, meaning weigh up the good with the bad, right?  So if this is true, then what has to happen for the “financial” (in the spiritual sense, of course) to be in the black or at least even?  I can answer this from two perspectives, I think, with ease, but first let’s work with Solomon’s question from his worldview.

Habits are behaviors or attitudes which come back around on either a regular basis or when a stimulus of some sort pushes a specific habit button.  What has been will be again.  Though Solomon is probably speaking about inventions, conventions and human relationships or accomplishments, his words can also apply to our deeds.  Why else would he include the subject of the judgment in a discussion of things going around in a circle (or cycling back around) to reinvention?  But what caught my attention was how he looked at the judgment, so let’s dwell on that, since we’ve already discussed the repetition of history.

In the Jewish economy the law provided forgiveness through sacrifice, yet it required restitution through either paying four times the amount stolen, a payment of some type to those wronged by rape, accidental death or debt, and, finally, death in extreme cases where premeditated murder or violent theft occurred.  But in every case, repentance did bring mercy from God; the debt to Him could be paid through sacrifice.  I don’t know what happened in Solomon’s case since we aren’t given anything past this book and the accounts of Kings and Chronicles, but the book seems to suggest something happened at the end of his life to turn him back to his God.  Oddly enough this works for me, given the copious examples in Scripture of some real scoundrels receiving mercy.  A man who lived most of his life in pursuit of pleasure and wealth found it all to be meaningless at the end of a race he won by all accounts and standards.

From the perspective of one whose life is now hidden with Christ in God, it seems to me to be easier to find grace in the sludge of human relationships—at least from the One who counts.  In this case we know a grace Solomon could only hope for but had no chance to see.  If I stand on my own in the judgment, my life is weighed by how my deeds balance out.  The bad thing is:  If I sinned even once in my life, the sin outweighs everything else good I did by God’s accounting, so I’m lost anyway; so one tiny sin or an excessive amount matters little when coming to the judgment.

Yet here’s where it really gets good:  if I’m like the thief on the cross, about to die for a life of crime and violence, and repent with a sincere heart, the blood of Jesus covers me like a white wedding garment and all my stinkiness is erased.   In other words, His good outweighs the world’s bad by the infinite power of the death and resurrection of Christ.  His good is weighed on the scales of the nature of His being, the Son of God; which makes Him God as well (see John 10:31-38).  The infinite nature of God outweighs by infinity the rebellion it takes to deny Him, which is the essence of all sin.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord prevails in the accounting.  Like a good friend of mine, Jerome says constantly, “When someone asks me how I made it into the kingdom, I’m gonna’ say,  ‘I don’t know.  I’m with Him!’”  then he’d point over his right shoulder to signify Jesus.  That’s all we get in the judgment; it’s the all or nothing clause; it’s a winner (Jesus) take all (anyone who submits to Him and all creation) situation.  Nothing can be added to Him and certainly nothing taken away.

But there is one final addendum to this subject I’ve just begun to understand.  The issue of the reward for the righteous never really made it on my radar until a few years ago when I read it again in the book of Revelation.  I’m not going to go into this in depth right now, but what came out of it and every other text which speaks of this subject is that our salvation is guaranteed by the blood of Christ.  The crown and rewards in the kingdom however are based on the trend of our life in His service.  If the good outweighs the bad, we receive a reward; if not, we squeak through the fire of His judgment saved, but with the sludge of sin burned away and all that remains of our entire lives is the foundation of Christ and the apostles (refer to 1 Corinthians 3 for Paul’s illustration).

I’m good with that, how about you?

The Only Eternal One

December 9, 2011

I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.  God does it so that men will revere Him.  Ecclesiastes 3:14.

 

There is another verse which immediately came to mind when I read our key text above this morning.  It’s Paul glorifying God in a benediction, God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.  To Him be honor and might forever.  Amen.  1 Timothy 6:15b, 16.  Humanity has been working on eternity sans-God for a long time and, though we’ve extended our lifespan somewhat in the last hundred or so years, we have yet to even scratch the surface of it.  Why God’s work lasts forever is because He lasts forever.  He alone is immortal for He alone is the source of all life.

The greatest lie Satan ever perpetrated on humankind is the one to convince us we have immortal souls outside of God; as if somehow God created us and we could not be destroyed or cease to be.  We are mortal.  The term mortal means subject to death. Our interpretation of that word lends itself to a variety of meanings of course, but the end result is everything we are ceases to matter once we die.  I have no idea where the dead go, whether we go straight to heaven or the holding tank of purgatory or just lie dormant in the mind of God as a blueprint till the resurrection.  What I do know is that we are not immortal in any part of us except the breath of God which He gives us for a time.  When it goes back to Him we cease to be relevant in the land of the living.

This debunks the idea of ghosts and séances where people can contact the dead.  In fact, one of the prophets, Isaiah, rebuked Israel for this very crime against their Creator and Father, When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?  Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.  Isaiah 8:19, 20.  For obvious reasons (or not so obvious, I guess, if you don’t know them), consulting the dead or trying to contact them is unwise.  The human race has cut themselves off from the spiritual world by eating the fruit; now they are left with a guessing game when it comes to the future or rock solid truth.  The word of God gives us all we ever need to know about how to live, but we want to circumnavigate this to include insider information.  Not having any real knowledge of the spiritual world we are like children going into a lumber mill unaware of the dangers playing with those matches or saws could cause.  Sure, some come out alive to either laugh or tell the tale, but many do not escape such foolishness unscathed.

The moment we rely on anything but God’s written or spoken word, we demonstrate a lack of faith in it.  And when I say “spoken” word, I mean anything that conforms to the nature of the already written word of God.  Any revelation of a spiritual nature which contradicts Scripture is spurious at best and downright blasphemous at worst.  God will never step outside of the truth He’s already established in His revelation to us through the Holy Spirit.  More than likely it will be the written word of God that will lead us to the place the Spirit wants us to go.

If God alone is immortal, then by simple word math we are not.  The word “alone” singles Him out as the only one, which subtracts all others and everything else.  This means the earth is not eternal without God’s direct intervention.  Entropy becomes our norm the moment we unplug from the only eternal source and we begin to die.

God put eternity in the hearts of humanity at creation, intending, of course, that we never die but continue throughout the whole span of it.  I have a theory that the galaxy we know as the Milky Way was to be our home as we multiplied.  The planets in our solar system and others throughout the galaxy would serve as expansions of what He began here.  I can’t prove this by Genesis but the evidence suggests it’s possible.  Of course, the evidence could suggest a lot of things none of us have ever thought of as well.  Yet it makes sense that humans living for eternity would “beget” lots of offspring so would need migration room.  In our world today we’re worried about overpopulation using up all the resources, which means not enough to go around; which means starvation and, in terms of human nature, war for those limited resources.

The purpose of creation is clearly stated in our key text:  God has done all this so that humanity will revere Him; although it hasn’t worked so far.  Instead of praising Him for such a miraculous universe we denied His existence and have done everything in our power of late to subtract Him from our basic consciousness.  Oh, a few of us still remember and believe, but even we struggle with the weighty questions often times, since the evidence can be skewed so many different ways.

For us who believe, however, the evidence should give us a sense of awe.  We should be dumbstruck by the sheer magnitude of God’s inventiveness and genius (does that word work for Him since He’s the source all intelligence?).  Everyday I’m so impressed by the reality of creation and human nature.  Oh, sure, I point out our flaws and foibles but only to trim our over enthusiastic concept of how wonderful we are not to be negative.  My conclusion?  Without God the universe becomes devoid of meaning and without purpose.  Where there is a will, there is a reason.

The Eternal Heart of Humanity

December 7, 2011

He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.  Ecclesiastes 3:11b-13.

 

God created man eternal.  Man’s sin brought death.  Man’s rebellion against God also brought misconceptions through a degraded connection with Him.  When we don’t communicate regularly with those in our sphere of influence we end up with assumptions, suppositions and finally myths based on legends handed down.  None of them accurately portray the truth, though most are based on some portion of truth.

God has made everything beautiful in its time.

How that relates to eternity baffles me.

And that’s the lesson I take away from Solomon’s point.  We don’t get the timing of things anymore than we get what God has done from the beginning to now—and we certainly don’t grasp the end of all things.  For example:  I grew up in a denomination which emphasized knowing the signs of the time of the end so much so that they had pretty elaborate timelines for everything.  Some people went so far as to detail what it would probably look like.  The problem, of course, is that the entire theology supporting their conclusions was based on 19th century signs and events.  In every decade someone saw the catastrophic in the world events as signs of the end.  But what did Jesus tell us about earthquakes, disasters, wars and rumors of wars?  These are just the beginning of the birth pains so we aren’t to get our panties in a wad over them.

Yet people keep attempting the impossible.  It is quite impossible to understand prophetic pronouncements without making sure we get a handle on the source of the prophecy.  It’s also quite ludicrous to believe we are anymore intelligent or right in our conclusions than those in the era of Christ.  Their theology of God could be split into four basic groups of thought:  Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes and Zealots.  The Sadducees (mostly Priests) believed God as proclaimed in the books of Moses but everything else beyond that was subject to suspicion.  They didn’t believe in a resurrection, did believe in free will and rejected both angels and demons.  The Pharisees are the source most of our own beliefs for they believed in a literal hell as illustrated in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which Jesus used to make a point.  They were the piously religious, believing our good deeds would bring blessing on us and our bad deeds curses.  (Sound familiar?)  The Essenes were the ultra conservatives who basically lived in fear of breaking every commandment written and unwritten.  The Zealots thought they could change the fate of Israel through war and wanted to bring about the independence of their nation isolationist thinking.

Nothing’s changed, from my observation of human nature.  We can still split the religious community into these basic four perspectives, though there might be variations and/or combinations of them as declensions.

Unfortunately, they were all wrong about the prophecies concerning the Messiah.  When Jesus finally came as the fulfillment of prophecy, they rejected Him because He didn’t fit into their theology—or more likely, they didn’t like the changes He required of them.

We are no different.  Humanity separated itself from God and in so doing lost that direct connection to the answers.  Supposition, jumping to conclusions, assumptions, myths and a host of other imaginary answers grew out of our ignorance; all containing anywhere from a kernel to a bucketful of truth, but every single one flawed.

All this isn’t to say I don’t agree with people drawing conclusions from the evidence they are presented.  However, recently, I remember listening to a scientist on NPR declare there was no reason to suppose there would be life on other planets just because there happened to be life on ours.  Just today (Wednesday December 7, 2011) I saw an article which proclaimed the discovery of a planet which could possibly support life not too far away from us—relatively in light years, that is.  Our grasp of what is possible doesn’t always equal reality.  I’ve mentioned it in a recent post that almost every invention in the 20th century started as an impossibility in the minds of everyone but the inventor.

Everything is beautiful in its time.  For everything there is a season.  Our challenge is we only live plus or minus 70 years on average so our perspective is skewed by our temporary lifespan.  For those over 30, looking at a teen or twenty-something who confidently states a POV that is both exclusive and inaccurate, we can be amused, offended by their ignorance or remember that we were there with the same basic issue of enthusiasm without a more complete picture.  I find it amusing when adults say, “Well, when we were young, people *did things* this way,” because that memory has been dressed up and stylized to the point of being inaccurate as well.

I have a friend who wonders out loud on Facebook why the music of the 70s is so much better than anything which comes out now.  I just laugh at such a conclusion because I remember my brothers (who, all but one were all a lot older than me), parents, school teachers and pastors all saying the same thing when I was young about their own era.  It’s utterly silly reasoning and quite sad because every generation has something beautiful to offer if we are open to it.

As I said before, we are designed and created for eternity.  However, we are not self-existent or self-sustaining.  In other words, if there is a literal hell, God will have to continue to give life to those burning in the fire for the rest of eternity, because life is not on automation for Him.  I believe strongly that if He ever decided to stop thinking of something or someone, that thing or person would just cease to exist and all memory of them would drop out of our collective consciousness.  “For in Him we live and move and have our being…”  Acts 17:28.  Nothing exists outside His direct involvement, thus neither is anything sustained outside of it.  He is outside time, therefore not subject to it and completely in control of it—for He is the Creator.  Yet the laws surrounding time either allow us the freedom to measure it by days and nights or, when death came into the picture, by hours and minutes.

No, our grasp of the reality of creation is quite limited and we should grow humbled by not only our ignorance but whatever knowledge that leads us to the truths we do discover.  And here is one truth Solomon shares from his many:  despite the burden laid on humanity as whole (death, drudgery, loss and hard work with often times little reward, etc), everything is beautiful in its time and we can do nothing better than to be happy and do good while we live.  God has given us the cycle of eating, drinking, and finding satisfaction in our toil so that we will revere Him; and as Paul said later, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him; though He is not far from each one of us.”  Acts 17:27.

I like that conclusion:  He is not far from each one of us, for it makes it clear who moved.

Where’s the Profit?

December 2, 2011

What does a worker gain from his toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.  I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.  God does it so that men will revere Him.  Ecclesiastes 3:9-14.

 

So what do we workers gain from the daily grind?  The moment we earn our food, the money is spent or saved depending on how much we got, then we have to go out and do it all over again.  Round and round it goes, where it stops…well we do know when it stops—after we get too old to do it anymore or we die.

Solomon’s take on life comes before eternity meant life everlasting with God in charge, so it’s understandable that he wouldn’t include the hope we now have in Christ.  In the theological circles they call this type of grasp of Scripture “progressive revelation” I believe.  The basic idea being truth is revealed in stages not poured out in one big prophetic declaration.  I see no problem with this thinking, though some people’s slant on it gives me pause.

In the last thirty odd years of ministry I’ve heard at least two interpretations of Ecclesiastes that stood out as negative.  One came from a young youth minister who took a hard line approach to predestination; the other was from a pastor who discredited the book based on the outcome of Solomon’s life.  In both cases I challenged these people with one thing:  If this book isn’t full of God own truth, it must be removed from the canon.  Neither of them would go this far since their only alternatives were to accept the book as God inspired or stand against nearly two-thousand-plus years of historical validation.

I like this book because it asks the hard questions which many are afraid to voice.  What does the worker gain for all his/her efforts?  What’s the point of life when we work to eat, eat to work and never enjoy anything?  What does it profit anyone to amass wealth just to give it to someone who might misuse it once we die?

The burden on men is the futility of their lives without Him.  Humans are eternal creatures.  Our minds do not deal with death as a natural occurrence, if it was, we wouldn’t fight it tooth and nail, avoid it for as long as possible and finally do everything in the world to defeat its effective erosion of our bodies.  Solomon’s assertion that God set eternity in the hearts of men while they cannot fathom what He has done from beginning to end persuades me that our psyche wasn’t created for it at all.  Death is an aberration on nature; an anomaly which destroys everyone’s potential with our last breath.  The passions we pursued, the accomplishments, the people we created community with and the things we made all die with us eventually.  We are eternal beings denied eternity and our very nature kicks at this darkness in despair.

The outcome of one piece of fruit, which declared our disloyalty to God, is death.  Humankind has spent eons discussing the fairness of this problem, inventing religions and philosophies with no conclusive argument against it, in my opinion.  We chose self-actualization over God’s creation of our person.  We chose self-sustainability over the very energy He supplies.

Oddly enough, in our efforts to be little gods, we also demand that He take away the consequences of our choice(s) and let us live how we want while He continues to destroy disease and prevent the wars our progressively degraded natures cause.  The divisions, conditions and whatever else we see as natural to our world now must be dealt with by Him but with no interference in a direct commanding way.  In other words, God must supply peace in a world filled with war; He must keep us alive though we commit murder; He must continue to make the world livable, though we are destroying every resource our hands touch.  We require Him to keep us from the results of evil without defining it clearly (as in rules of conduct and boundaries to our pleasures).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but most of our desires circle around sex and money.  We want wealth even at the expense of others, which goes against the nature of God in us, which we pointedly ignore to the hurt of others.  Then we develop complicated philosophies to deal with the pain we’ve caused—does anyone remember survival of the fittest or the ancient royals declaring themselves favored while the poor masses they exploited and abused were cursed?  We want sex anytime, anywhere, at our convenience without pregnancy or disease or hurt feelings from our partners—even though it destroys the very community God established in the beginning.  What’s sick about this reasoning is we blame Him for the outcomes while barely acknowledging our part in it.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  The argument that we should be autonomous from God is so ludicrous if He’s the one who made and sustains us that it’s basically suicidal to choose against Him.  Yet we chose it and now suffer the consequences of it.  Becoming our own gods through self-determination left us to our own devices without God at the helm.  Our world as it stands now is the result.

God made the rules for all living things, therefore the outcome of sin was a rule made when He began creation.  Sin is, at its core, not the wrong we do but more like the disease that causes all those bad things.  Rejecting God as our sovereign is the essence of sin; the evil deeds of humanity result from this, which then produces all the negative outcomes we experience within the world today.

Let’s look at a current example to see how this works out.

It’s now 2011 going on 2012 (I’m writing this sentence on Dec. 1, 2011), and almost four years ago the markets nearly crashed, the housing bubble burst and Wall St. has been on a rollercoaster ride.  God didn’t do this to us, we set the flimsy foundation for such a mess ourselves.  I’m not going into all the reasons nor am I gonna’ join the ranks of either side, for or against.  My point is that God set up rules for human existence and when we follow them—barring natural disasters—we profit.

Notice I said “we” in that last sentence.  Our success or failure depends on the community we align ourselves with or were born into.  If we think like some self-help gurus, we will deceive ourselves into believing we can be anything we want with resulting success.  While the first statement is certainly true, the latter is definitely not.  Those who tout a profitable outcome for tithe payers set them up for disappointment.  Certainly God will supply and see to the needs of His people, but wealth is not promised to the NT follower—at all.  In fact, the Scriptures record Jesus as warning us we will meet up with persecution and loss for His sake.

God designed us to profit and thrive in the presence of a community.  When we attempt to do so outside of this setting, we might win anyway, but the odds are against it.  A man or woman who starts a business must sell their product to someone, which means they must have a community of people who care about their product enough to buy it.  If they don’t have anyone buying the product, they won’t be in business very long.  The same could be said of our dreams, aspirations and desires.  Some things are meant to be autonomously accomplished, sure, but most macro-based successes come from acceptance of a community.

It’s lie straight from the enemy to think we are individual to the point where we don’t need others to support or sustain us.  Successful actors didn’t get where they are based on talent alone, otherwise there would be more superstars than there are now, since I know plenty of local talent that could put some of the big names to shame.  No, they did so because they had that something either in the moment of their big break or a constant appeal to a large amount of people—their “community” at large if you will.  It took ticket sales to win them their lottery of success, but it took people buying those tickets first.  Contrary to some of their arrogant statements about their success, such as—“I did it my way,” or, “Just believe in yourself,” or (my personal favorite), “You can do anything you want if you want it bad enough”—no one is a success monetarily or any other way without the help and support of others.  A great author isn’t born successful; in fact, most wallow in obscurity for years before they are “discovered” and probably firmly middle aged by that time.

In Solomon’s era the world was a different place and the age of mankind younger than we know.  I don’t know how old the earth is because the Bible never says; for it isn’t concerned with age but events.  The events of David’s era and those to follow depended on the power of one’s army mostly.  Those who could beat up the other guys ruled absolutely until someone else came along to beat them.  It was a hard life and those who weren’t in with the powerful at the time of their success paid the price of being the backs on which the burden was placed to carry the load of it.  Though Solomon was part of the powerful community who basically ruled over the others as absolute monarch, the Jewish economy even at that time wouldn’t allow him to make slaves of his own people.  Yet he did abuse his power and testifies to the results here by recognizing the laborer and lower classes as having value because they belong to God as well.  Later he declares that success is not based on ability or talent but the luck of the draw—which is not luck at all but simply chance.  In other words, Solomon saw his own success as not a result of his ability but God’s blessing.  Yet he asserts that those who are successful without God at the helm of their lives or nations do so in a game of chance.  It is not always because God rewarded them.

Whatever our POV we have to admit that Solomon hit the nail on the head.