Full Circle

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.

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2 Responses to “Full Circle”

  1. Ula Says:

    Thanks for a thought provoking article Jonny. Lots to think through here. I love your conclusion:

    “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.”

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