Where’s the Profit?

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.

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4 Responses to “Where’s the Profit?”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    “Our success or failure depends on the community we align ourselves with or were born into.”

    I like this statement. It shows that while some things in my life can’t be changed, the community I was born into, I can determine my success or failure on the community I align myself with.

    I recently read about a famous actor who is taking a break from acting for a bit. People were mortified as she seems to be at the top of her game. The comment she made was if you looked at her body of work, she’s nearly 40, she has been steadily working since she was in high school. There are no periods of time where she has taken a break. Between commercials, broadway, television and movies she has steadily worked over 20 years to get her measure of success.

    The point for me was at what cost? At what cost are we willing to go for our dream? Are we willing to sleep in our car, live on the sofas of others, practice our craft beyond what the average person would do? Are we willing to work 20 years without a break? What did this actor give up to get her where she is and what did she align herself with?

    We can’t imagine what God has done for us. He has given us opportunity to take a look up from our toil and determine whether our community sustains us or holds us back. He has given us free will to spend our time where it is most effective or squander it. Solomon is a great testimony of one who started out well and finished poorly. He didn’t realize when he began to align with the wrong community what a mistake it would be.

    • jonnysoundsketch2 Says:

      There is no success without sacrifice. We just need to make sure we weigh the cost and be careful about who has to pay for it…and just because we sacrifice doesn’t mean success will automatically be our final outcome. Take the world of your actress you mentioned. Out of probably millions of people pursuing an acting career she made it to the top of her field. Many remain in obscurity even though they are just as talented. Will Farrel related a discussion he had with his dad once, who said, “Will, you won the lottery. It isn’t your incredible talent, winning personality or good looks, but the luck of the draw. There are plenty of people you know who can act your socks off, make people laugh just as well and are better at everything than you. Be grateful for your success…” Will claimed he felt humbled by it and grateful for it.

      That’s my idea of a great attitude…

  2. Ula Says:

    Thanks for a great article, Jonny. Solomon often refers to life “under the sun” in the book of Ecclesiastes and from the point of view of under the sun, life can seem like an endless cycle without meaning. But it is only when we look to the One who is not under the sun, but above it, that life can have deeper meaning. I wholeheartedly agree with you about the successes some people achieve and I think Will Farrel’s dad summed it up neatly there. All good gifts come down from the Father of the heavenly lights.

    Not everyone is destined to reach the top of their game. Some people just start out in business and are immediately successful; others work just as hard but never quite make it to the top. I think contentment comes once we learn that God has given each of us a path and then to make peace with His plan for us and to give our very best for His glory, day by day. Whether we are the guy with the one talent or the five – giving it our best means we are faithful to His calling. 🙂

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