Banish the Thought, But…

 

Einstein's equation

Einstein’s equation

 

You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10 NIV)

For youth and vigor are meaningless continues the theme Solomon laid out in the beginning. The strength, energy and vision of the youth really hold little significance to the outcome of their choices nor do these “gifts” of nature mean anything to the quality with which they live. Everything we accomplish can be demolished in an instant–with or without thought or prior intent. The overarching purpose the modern psyche obsesses about doesn’t exist within this context except in one form: Live with all your might!

Solomon might sound cynical, jaded and skeptical on life but I beg to differ. All my life, and I dare say this can be said of most people in general, I felt there had to be a purpose to my life. For some reason we believe (and teach) that everyone has a calling in life; that one thing they are or do which will fulfill their hearts and create contentment along the way as well as at the end.

The reality, Solomon argues, is much more broad than that, for in his view we are put on this earth with no special purpose other than to live and even that “purpose” is a mystery only God knows. What makes one person more special than another? Is it their good looks, charm or personality? Is it the inventiveness, talent and industry one brings to the table versus another? Or, could it be the character, love and benefit one blesses the world around them with unselfishly?

Yes.

In reality, the worker earning minimum wage brings to the table something the executive in the office can’t or won’t do. Without the thousands of people working in the factory–whether its their gift or not–the business model so celebrated in the world of finance would sink into obscurity as a failure. The visionary cannot get the “vision” off the ground without someone (or many someones) to finance it and others to implement it. No one sells the product unless buyers (be they brokers or customers) find it useful or attractive. It sounds clever to create a need where there wasn’t one before, but that’s exactly what a snake-oil salesperson does to get us to buy it. That said, a useless “need” will only last so long before people get bored and move onto the next one. Just think of how fast the human race went from wagons to trains to cars; or the change from vinyl to tapes (reel to 8-track to cassette) to CDs to iPods.

At the time of this very paragraph I’m looking at a new year, 2014, the date is January 2, and I’m looking back on 2013 with some sober eyes. I made a few choices which resulted in great successes and others which ended in disaster. 2014 becomes a year of changes for me because the past speaks loud and clear about my failures and results are in: the fails created bigger holes than the successes could fill in and now payment is due.

All my strengths did me no good in the end. As industrious and energetic as I have been people threw curve balls at me and I missed the hit. I also had two people cheat while playing the business game leaving me further in the hole and owing. I worked hard, did my best to be conscientious and honest then still lost. This doesn’t mean anything as to an overarching purpose in my life nor does it speak to my lack of resolve or willingness to change. What it does say about life in general is that if someone doesn’t want to pay, he or she won’t and nothing will make this person be honest.

Again, that said, I’m not trumpeting a method for success because the way is simple: provide for ourselves and the needs of others, work hard, be faithful to our promises and the rest will take care of itself.

Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 NIV)

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 NIV)

Notice Solomon said when God gives someone wealth and possessions not God gives everyone these things. The belief that God is the big Santa in the sky with a list and checking it twice to see who’s naughty or nice is a human twist on the truth. God desires to give us good things but not everyone receives the same commission. The word “submit” uses another form called “submission” which if taken apart is “sub” “mission”–sub- meaning to come under, and mission meaning one’s job, assignment, or purpose. We are to come under the mission of Christ, who had nowhere to lay His head.
It’s always interesting to me to listen to Christians discuss the Scripture. For whatever reason we take out of the message exactly what we most want to hear over what it actually says. Far too often the message of one passage is preferred over another to the hurt of not only the church but those who witness what we believe. In Ecclesiastes Solomon lays out a truth of creation within this paradigm: Life is unpredictable and not everyone wins. Oppression is the name of the game no matter what nation we live in. Freedom really means what is acceptable over what many proclaim as our rights; rights are what the law-makers and power-mongers tell us they are not what we know intrinsically to be true.

No one makes their future happen according to plan. I have watched over and over as people who appeared to be movers and shakers dwindled into obscurity and ineffectiveness because popular interest waned. Depending on a method did them no good; changing their method did them no good.

Youth, idealism, vigor and hard work are meaningless in the grand scheme of things because these principle gifts guarantee nothing to the outcome. Are they good gifts and great strategies for future success? Absolutely! But no gift guarantees the desired desired future.

Riding the ebb and flow of life with industry, careful thinking and a sense of the “market” society creates around itself will serve one better than almost anything else. In combination with youth, vigor and good work ethic the chances of success are greatly increased; but never guaranteed.

The hardest statement to reconcile in my modern mind is of course Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment, for it brings up an uncomfortable dilemma. Actually “conundrum” might be a better word, for what we believe in the modern mindset is that judgment is wrong because God doesn’t judge since love won’t encourage such a thing.

At 53 I realize how foolish this mindset is. Everything we choose in life holds consequences–good or bad. Even when we choose the good the results might be either less spectacular than we hoped or disastrous in the end. Both the former and latter may be the result of poor planning, the influence of social or market conditions outside our control. Or, our choices might have nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome since the rest of the input comes outside of our abilities.
Judgment isn’t a negative but a conclusion of sorts which gets written into our epitaph or eulogy when we’re done. We get no choice in the matter or what is said because we are not the ones who get to do the talking at our own funerals. Quite frankly, besides our husk of a body laying in the coffin or ashes in the urn we won’t be at our own funerals anyway.

For some of us we won’t even have to wait until death to find out what grade we get in life–sometimes life’s “school master” hands out the grade early, and I’m not talking about God. It depends of course on what we involve ourselves in but the reality remains the same: we will be graded on how we lived and what we did with our time here.

If I have learned one truth from Ecclesiastes, it’s the need to think our way through life instead of being thoughtless or careless of the outcome. In my experience every action has a reaction to a greater or lesser degree. I know, I know, E=MC2 works for energy, I just firmly believe the same principle applies to life in general as well.

I live in Portland, Oregon, where trees are taken for granted and rain happens a majority of the days out of the year. On the way to my brother, Tom’s, house the trees give way to high desert or miles and miles of flat grasslands. The wind down the Columbia Gorge is legendary–not to mention the ice during the winter. A good rancher/farmer will build a house surrounded by trees for a wind break. If you see these places, you will notice that the really big oaks, elms, etc. are far enough away from the house so as to avoid damage if they fall. Without those breaks the house would be colder from the windchill, hotter in the summer too. Someone in the past realized the need and planted various kinds of trees in an effort to preserve their living space.

A little forethought prevents great disasters later. That is, it can, provided extraneous factors don’t swoop in to destroy all those carefully laid plans.
Solomon doesn’t teach nor appear to believe wisdom prevents disaster or guarantees success. What he seems to be saying here, as far as I can determine, is wisdom will make the chances of success better while also making the darkest days better. We might not be able to guarantee the outcome but we can choose how we think about ourselves, our family and what we do. In the end this is all we really can guarantee, and though this might not be enough for the world’s judgmental eyes, it is for God, Who alone matters.

 

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