I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them. Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12.
Over the years I have made certain passages part of the building material for my spiritual house. The above is one of them.
Watching the world go by as a participant and an observer I noticed talented people who languished in obscurity while those less so thrived, became popular and started whole movements within the culture or the world. The first time I read this book my head was in a different space about its point—the reason for the instruction. Right now, years later, I’m completely convinced Ecclesiastes is a spiritual reality check.
Too often we who attend the Christian gatherings we call “church” get so fixated on the religious or ethical teaching that we believe society should listen to and practice we forget to live. The other thing that happens more naturally is the subculture which begins to squeeze out all others. This latter situation, while a blessing in some ways, tends to make us exclusive, withdrawn from the macro society, and in far too many ways which matter, we stop being involved in it as salt and light. The best way to describe it is: sometimes we live for our future heaven so hard we forget to be alive on earth in the now.
I’ve drawn away from mainstream Christian association over the last several years due to a gradual shift in my understanding of the abundant life taught by Jesus. Most of us read the stories of the New Testament and see not just highlights of Jesus and the apostles’ lives and work but the whole of it. Somehow when we read the Bible we forget the daily stuff such as in washing clothes, bathing the body, eating, sleeping, and the list could go on and on. Too frequently we see these stories as the whole story not just a snapshot of how God works. If we look at the miracles of the Bible and stop to think about how often they happened, we would get sense of how rare these occurrences were. People lived years without anything worthy of an epic story being written. In other words they had to live in the daily routine for long periods before anything even resembling miracles or adventure took place.
One of the recent patterns of my study of Christ has been to attempt to think outside the box of my understanding. Jesus travelled from place to place right? What did He and the disciples do during the hours and days they journeyed?
I don’t know the exact answer to that but I know how life works a bit in the daily grind. I also know we put a veneer of spirituality on everything—for instance praising God. Instead of religious excitement I would love to see more people imitating Jesus in their everyday. They say the highest form of flattery is imitation right? So why do we see cold, hard religious people instead of Jesus people more often? Jesus was kind, gentle, loving, accepting, able to speak to anyone and generally full of wisdom—which means to me He grasped perspective. At the same time He could be tough as nails when it came to God’s reputation.
In Romans 9, as I’ve mentioned before, we read about the subject of predestination. It fascinates me how we have twisted the meaning of this simple idea into something mystical or fairytale-like without being aware of how childish the “reasoning” is. I’ve heard about people who were perfectly healthy and fully mobile praying for a parking spot near the front, as if God thought these people should be preferred over those who really needed it just because they were too lazy to walk. I’ve heard stories of people asking signs from God about natural occurrences—such as a light changing green to red—never stopping to think about God’s teaching on His will.
One thing the key verses above have done for me is removed the fatal out of my thinking. I recognize my cultural and personal instruction permeates the way I reason so I’m pretty sure the cure for it is not realized as yet in me. On the other hand, I’m more aware of how little control I or anyone has over other people’s choices or views. This being the case, I’ve become an observer of the human placement game. Never heard of it? It’s all around us.
Let’s think about an artificial situation in which several people are involved—one which, however, could be a reality for anyone of us. Scenario: I step into the street to go from my parked car to the coffee shop and just as I reach the middle a truck careens around a corner hits me and I’m left in the street with broken bones or dead. Now let’s take this situation apart and think of what could have been the cause of the effect.
First, we must establish that crossing the street is necessary from our point of view. So there’s something on the other side we want to do, see or experience therefore we make a decision to cross. At the same time, a person who is driving under the influence made a decision to put themselves behind the steering wheel and go somewhere which coincides with my exact position. What we have here is two random factors working with other random factors such as street lights, stop lights, crosswalks, businesses being open, etc. Each one of these factors become intrinsic to me getting hit by a car. Only one is at fault. One random decision made by a person whose judgment has been impaired. That one choice decides the outcome of my day.
In the course of these decisions, we have what appears to me to be a clear road, so I step into the street. Just as I reach the far lane the dui in the making careens around the corner hitting me full on, causing me to fly up into the air and on my way down I land square on my head crushing my skull and spine. The reality here begins to get murky, since what happens next depends on trajectory, angle and force of impact. There are three main outcomes of this tragedy in process: 1) I die. 2) I’m paralyzed to one degree or another depending on where the spinal cord is damaged. 3) I walk away with injuries that haunt me the rest of my life but I’m able to function and move on.
Within these three consequences lie a myriad of combinations built on the percentage of each. The precise definition of the accident only becomes apparent when we get past it somewhat. Oddly, God’s will here is exactly what?
At this point most Christians begin to talk of God’s will and what He might want for my life, ignoring, or perhaps being unaware of, the natural occurrences involved. I don’t want to criticize these brothers and sisters but I do want to point out that puppets on a string don’t have any choices to make and cannot be held responsible for their actions or the outcomes; therefore hell or heaven as a punishment or reward hold no meaning. However, if we are free moral agents and our choices are real, albeit spectrum based—i.e. God gives us a number of options to choose from like ingredients for some dish of food, then the “flavor” of the outcome depends not on God’s direct intervention but His created spectrum of combinations. Every single combination has been created by Him just as every equation ever discovered by human beings was already there waiting to be found.
So what can we say about God’s will?
First, we must admit that He warned us to stay away from sin—which means to aim at a target and miss it. The target in this definition is becoming like God, making sin the antithesis of that goal. The moment sin enters our combination of options the unpredictable (for us that is) nature of His creation takes on a sinister meaning.
Second, choices matter. God created options for each one of us which also applies to every other human being. Each choice affects the outcome. If the above driver wasn’t drunk, his choice would affect the outcome differently. If I hadn’t crossed the street at that particular time or ever, a completely different set of options and outcomes would have resulted.
Third, the word “predestination” taken apart is “pre” meaning already created or existing before, and “destination” which is a place or condition or goal. If we stick with its obvious meaning (as in the reasoning I’m using), then we don’t have a preordained destination but merely one which exists before my choice.
I need to discuss this a bit more, even though I know I’ve written about it before (that rhymed).
For illustration purposes let’s look at the options as a house with several rooms and doors. Each door is a choice; each room is a destination. When one enters a room, they can be said to be “predestined” to enter it if they use its door. In this logic we are not forced to enter the room nor use the door, but if we choose to enter the room through that door, we will be “forced” to enter by dent of its location and existence. The choice was not forced but the destination is preset as a choice.
How here’s a more complex example: Picture a staircase. Now off each step we see two alternative steps to the right and left. Each of the three represents a choice. Say at step nine I choose to take the right step to the second floor landing, the result will be that I won’t reach the second floor in exactly the same spot the main staircase does. My experience of climbing the stairs will be different to a degree. The similarities remain such as there are stairs to be climbed or gone down, each step can be taken or I can skip one or several depending on the reach of my legs, and there is a bottom to the them as well as a top. What will be different is where the landing is. The alternative stairs also have a myriad of choices off them as well giving us opportunities to go three directions again. Do you see how complicated our choices are at any given moment? I’m sure you’ve seen movies such as Spider-man where Aunt May cries, “If only I had stopped your Uncle Ben from going after you, he would be alive today!” And that is probably the truth. The story took him down one branch of stairs which led to him confronting a thief who chose to shoot him, which then resulted in his death.
Jesus gives us two doors to enter by which we find salvation or death: the narrow gate, leading to life; and the wide gate, leading to death. Depending on which we choose each one is a preexisting (already created beforehand) established destination determining our eternal outcome. No one is forced to choose one door or the other but whichever of the two we choose our choice determines the results. We cannot choose to enter the narrow gate of life and be given death instead, nor enter the wide gate of death and be given life as a reward. The choices are as final as the destinations.
Back to the text.
The rewards of life don’t always go to the people most deserving of them. There are plenty of examples throughout history of talented, wise, educated and proactive humans who languished in obscurity and poverty. We don’t have to go too far back to notice some of the most celebrated painters of our current era died ignored, penniless and troubled. Van Gogh could hardly sell his paintings for enough to buy a drink let alone a mansion. Yet his paintings sell for millions in today’s auctions. He receives accolades posthumously, doing him no good whatsoever but somehow it makes us feel as if we are honoring him. It’s not enough.
The world is unfair, capricious and given to the erratic whims of the fallen nature—even our own. It is said the only way to solve a problem or begin helping ourselves out of a condition is to identify the problem. Here we have discovered the one thing that haunts, destroys and ultimately misaligns humanity from a life well lived or rewarded. We build religious institutions, social organizations or political think tanks to try to anesthetize ourselves from the real issue as religions and the secular world scrambles about attempting to control the erratic results of it. Sin—the one ingredient in the food causing it to taste bad and go rotten, without which the improvisational universe would become a place of glory for all.
If we feel we have received a bum deal, let’s recognize our lives are not affected by merely our choices but anywhere from one to a billion-plus choices of other people. Oppressed people can have the best work ethic alive and remain repressed, impoverished and full of unrealized potential. The most powerful humans will still face death and lose everything their work ethic and privilege of birth or hard work and opportunities afforded them. All we have to do is think back to leaders who were fools and wise men who were geniuses to realize life is not a gamble but an intricate dance among the opportunities. Those of us in what we call The Free World have more opportunities than say an Untouchable in India but we are all subject to time and chance. What’s more God made it that way on purpose—His purpose—in order to surprise our journey with the unpredictable joy awaiting. Sin and death have robbed us of the ability to look forward to the outcome without worry or fear of what might await us in the dark. Jesus came to restore God’s design, and in that alone we find hope.
Tags: anxiety, being like God, being like Jesus, choices, Ecclesiastes, fate, following Jesus, God's purpose, God's will, grace, Jesus, predestination, salvation, spiritual growth, trust in God, trust in Jesus, understanding God, wisdom, worry