Into the Unknowable

No one knows what is coming—who can tell him what will happen after him?  Ecclesiastes 10:14b


…Yet we can kind of predict what might happen in the future by what we know to be true in the present.  For instance, the next verse says, A fool’s work wearies him; he does not know the way to town.  We know that last phrase reflects a more contemporary saying like he’s so stupid he can’t find the light switch or she’s so dumb she can’t find her way out of the shower.  It’s a general comment on someone’s ability to navigate life, which, once we know them, we can predict whether disaster or success will follow their choices.  I don’t know anyone who can forecast the details—and as the saying goes “The devil’s in the details.”  I like to watch people so I see many who look like they are on the road to the success crash and burn because they made a few “minor” mistakes.  Habits, whether small or large, often dictate the outcomes for us, since they become the building blocks of our routines.

Solomon follows up his declaration about the future and fools with this gem:  Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning.  Blessed are you, O land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness.  Ecclesiastes 10:16, 17.  It appears to be a random statement thrown in but the Teacher has a purpose.  While we can’t predict the future or know what is to be after us, we can see trends which predict a general outcome.  Rulers who don’t take care of business or average people who fixate on foolish living both have poverty and decay on the horizon.  No may be able to predict for certain what will happen in the immediate future but we can  see plenty of examples for the outcomes of both to get a pretty good idea.

The fact that we can see trends in a person’s life doesn’t necessarily give us a crystal ball into the future.  So many different *ingredients* go into situations and circumstances (as we’ve discussed before) that it’s hard to predict with any accuracy what will be.  Far too often fools gain wealth or power only to begin to selling it their method as a brand to other people.  The equation for success should look like this:


Skill + Hard work = Success


In reality it looks more like:


Skill + Hard work + Clever Marketing + Time & Chance = Success


The first two are negotiable as far as the outcome is concerned.  I’ve seen people with minimal skills work just hard enough to get promoted because they were very good at marketing themselves and their successes.  Then we meet the type of people who don’t mind lying to get the job or golden ticket and who claim other people’s success as their own.  There are plenty of examples of people who made it in a business they were never that knowledgeable about, good at or even qualified for.  We all know of actors, for example, who really can’t act their way out of a paper bag but remain popular the world over.  And don’t get me started on the French voting Michael Stipe (lead singer of the rock band REM) as best male vocalist of the year in the 80s…

All this rhetoric works into the main point Solomon is touting as a reality in our world.  Yet all is not lost necessarily, merely unpredictable.  A man who gains wisdom, hones his skill set and works hard to increase not only his holdings but his contacts for life in general should find success in one form or another.  A person who takes care to do what is honest, right and wise has a much better chance of finding lasting success than one who cheats to get there.  Cheaters target the honest hard-working individual, which sets in motion bad results to varying degrees, depending on the level of fraud.  A wise person learns from these mistakes and uses these lessons to read prospective clientele or partners better.

Still, success in any of its forms can never be guaranteed.  Remember Solomon’s assertion 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 9:11c, 12.  Unless and until we can extricate ourselves from the world we remain subject to the choices of others who may or may not live wisely.  And even if someone does their level best to live a well ordered life with wisdom and love, there’s no guarantee they won’t come in contact with disaster in one form or another that makes them the first of many dominoes to fall.

I’m not saying that there is nothing we can predict but that even if we do have all our ducks in a row, the outcome remains uncertain until the curtain call.  Take some time to meditate on the more predictable outcomes and you’ll see what I mean.

Now a little blurb on success.

I am not a big fan of motivational speakers because, quite frankly, what they really sell us is themselves.  Where these people make their big money is often the ticket sales to their events and convincing us they have the answers to our success and happiness.  So literally they create their success off of selling how to be successful.  They go into great detail about how successful people make it to the top and what they do to stay there, almost as if it’s some kind of mystery (and it may be to some since they refuse to improve themselves).

Here’s the reality:  The most wildly successful (financially) people are fairly single minded, ambitious, often times relentless in their pursuit and work 80+ hours a week.  Many of them sacrifice relationships with their families, friends and their own hearts to grasp the golden ticket.  At the end of the day most of them have health problems, divorce (one or several) and generally aren’t satisfied with what they achieve.  Eventually, the habit of long hours and “self” denial becomes the only thing that feeds them.  Rarely have I met anyone who experiences great success financially who isn’t on the brink of a personal collapse somewhere. At the same time several books in the Bible outline the formula to success and happiness in God’s view—which includes wealth in the form of money and possessions.

Sound like a negative take on wealth?  It’s not, merely a realistic take on what I see around me.  Success in its purest form is being able to live comfortably within the bounds of healthy relationships.  It also requires a certain big dose of knowing how to be content with what cannot be changed.  On the other hand, I know plenty of people who live within their means, work hard, continue to invest in family, friends and hobbies who are doing well financially.  So there isn’t a set-in-stone rule about it either, merely I believe we think the financial part to be the best evidence and I disagree.

I want to end this section with the very realistic Serenity Prayer:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.  Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.  Amen.


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