Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. (Ecclesiastes 11:1, 2 NIV)
Every investment will show results–eventually. I often worry about spreading myself too thin from over commitment, which can be a problem, but the advice here is to invest. So, I do.
Yet, may be Solomon isn’t telling us to be so over-committed work related projects that we have no time for the rest of our lives. May be what he’s suggesting is we take advantage of every opportunity which comes our way within the parameters of good planning. In other words we are to invest in things for which we have the means and time without destroying the home crop, food for the winter or next year’s seed. These other pieces to our human psyche puzzle need attention as a form of wealth as well–metaphorically speaking. Every area of our lives takes an investment and exacts a price.
A healthy person recognizes he or she is made of many parts which all need to be maintained for that health to continue. An unhealthy person however makes great strides in one or a few areas and the rest suffers from either neglect or minimal time given. It’s easy to perceive the personae these highly “successful” people as the best means to everything we desire, but the dark underbelly of hyper-focus shows up after a while and we see the rest of their world begin to unravel. Whereas the healthy person invests in a wholeness approach–considering every aspect of themselves as important.
Solomon’s entire message here follows the theme of the rest of his book, namely laziness is foolishness and industry makes life interesting and fun. The repeated phrases in this small book (e.g. work with gladness of heart, enjoy time with your spouse, food, and friendships) add to our conclusion and when ignored or subtracted change our understanding of the message. Since time and chance happen to all, sitting on the sidelines watching or checking out through working long hours or partying just makes it worse. I’m sure most people can’t imagine how an ongoing feast could be bad but anything which takes without replacing eventually needs to restock. So if those in the party aren’t providing the food and fun, someone has to.
And right there is where oppression asserts itself into the situation. Those in power who are too lazy to do the work to supply their party take from those who already have to fund their fun. This continues until those who do the work are left with nothing at all for themselves, which angers the fools in charge. Of course their anger is unwarranted and selfish but they don’t care. What’s sad is these same leaders will tax their people into poverty then blame them for being destitute, all the while missing the irony.
Yet Solomon doesn’t let us off the hook just because we experience oppression or loss. Everything he’s said about life before this in Ecclesiastes comes into play at this point: Yes, life is unpredictable and the golden ticket doesn’t always go to those who seem to deserve it; yes, good people suffer when bad times happen and bad people often thrive; yes, oppressive kings exist and those who should be in power languish in obscurity; yes, everything we do might seem futile because death takes us all and we leave all we worked so hard for to someone who might squander it. BUT invest in life anyway since there is nothing guaranteed because one never knows what the outcome or rewards will be.
I don’t think Solomon is arguing for a sunny, always positive outlook on life. I do think he’s telling us reality sucks for some and not for others in unpredictable, wholly subject to time and chance ways except where God directly intervenes. His perspective seems to focus on what we can do about our reality rather than what we can’t. In other words when life gives you lemons make pie or lemonade and sell your product to whomever is buying. Don’t speak against those in power unless you have the power to do something about it, and if you do, be aware of the risk that you will be found out. It’s also a waste of time to rail against those in power when there’s absolutely nothing we can do about their abuses–outside of leading an insurrection that is.
But here’s a reality too: investment pays off one way or another. No one ever earns any profit off their product by storing it in barns; it takes risking the market to get the rewards. Sure we might fail, that’s what risk means, but it also means we might win. If we couple our risk with wisdom and follow the proven methods of others who have succeeded before us, we can at least be sure of putting the odds in our favor.
Here’s another reality: Some pay offs won’t be seen by us in our lifetime. In fact, I’d say much of what we do will only be seen by the next generation to appreciate as profit or learn from as a lesson of what to avoid.
As a follower of Jesus I believe in His word which says, “What a man sows, he will reap…” One way or another the “profit” of our investment will come back to us. If we sow grain(s) (both real and figuratively speaking), we most likely will see a harvest to be proud of–that is if the weather, war, illness, death or pests don’t take it out first. Knowing we did the best we could within the parameters we have at hand limits the negative outcomes but doesn’t subtract them completely. To paraphrase a discussion earlier in this book we are just one ingredient in life’s bread. The outcome depends on choices of others and unpredictable nature those choices as well as nature’s inherent input.
Railing against it, complaining, becoming bitter, holding onto anger or anything else which the powerless express in times of great calamity won’t solve it. Though it feels good to express our frustration, anger or hurt, remaining in that state of mind doesn’t move us forward.