It’s difficult to admit, but sometimes you open up the pages of the good book and close it feeling worse than you did when you opened it. It’s not intentional, I’m sure. The Bible is an honest book. There is only one perfect person in all of it’s pages (Enoch is a close second, but whatever), and the list of remarkably imperfect, flawed, dysfunctional people is astounding. Shouldn’t that give me hope? Shouldn’t it give us all hope? Yeah, that’s all well and good, but there are some stories and reflections in the text that, honestly, tend to make me feel miserable.
Recently, as my twitter feed will confirm, I heard a sermon on Ecclesiastes 9. Before I begin, I should warn you that Ecclesiastes is a difficult book for me. It has my favorite chapter (Ecc. 12) in the entire Bible, and is, at the same time, one of the most depressing things you might ever read. At any rate, I was feeling pretty low when the sermon started, and I felt no better by sermon’s end. Let’s look at a couple of things.
Ecc. 9:1b – Anything can happen to any of us, and so we never know if life will be good or bad.
That’s pretty straightforward, right? And not too terrible. Basically Solomon says that you never really know for sure what life will bring you.
Ecc. 9:3a – It’s terribly unfair for the same thing to happen to each of us.
Ain’t it the truth? Solomon talks here about how unfair it is that, ultimately, you live an a life of the unknown and whether you’re a “good” person or “bad” person, you still wind up in the grave. But then…
Ecc. 9:11 – Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
TIME AND CHANCE?!?!?!? Holy Schnikes! So what Solomon wants me to walk away with is that I might be the fastest, or the strongest, or the wisest, or the most intelligent; I might be the right person for that job, or the person most deserving of that promotion; I might be exactly right in every argument BUT…
There’s every chance I’m going to come out the loser.
And why is that? Well, according to Solomon, just because.
You see, Solomon in this chapter (and, indeed, in much of Ecclesiastes) was focusing on death. He says here to us that good things will happen to you and bad things will happen to you, but, whatever… you’re gonna die anyway.
And he’s right. Sort of…
You see, Solomon didn’t have these words of comfort:
I Corinthians 15:54c-55 – “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Sometimes, when we read or hear the Bible we lose sight of a greater context. Why did God allow/inspire Solomon to write these words and then why did He allow them to be included in the canon of Scripture? I dare not speak for God, but, remembering proper greater context, I am reassured the Solomon easily the wisest (and dumbest) king to ever live felt bad, really bad, from time to time, just like I do. Yes, it’s true that time and chance happens to everyone. Yes it’s true that I’m going to be mistreated and overlooked; that the investment of time that I make is going to prove to be a complete waste; that the person who is least deserving is the one who will be praised etc. I could go on.
But Solomon’s focus on the grave is important. We must remember:
- This world is temporary
- This world is not our home
- Our vindication, our redemption, our justification will never be found in anything we achieve (or don’t) here on earth.
Finally, when we take all that into consideration, read these words:
Ecc. 9:7-10a – Be happy and enjoy eating and drinking! God decided long ago that this is what you should do. Dress up, comb your hair, and look your best. Life is short, and you love your wife, so enjoy being with her. This is what you are supposed to do as you struggle through life on this earth. Work hard at whatever you do.
God gives the OK to:
- Eat, drink and enjoy it! Be a foodie, there’s nothing wrong with that.
- Dress nicely, and do whatever you like to fel “pretty.” There’s nothing wrong with that.
- Look at your spouse. God gives you a super clear OK to enjoy all the benefits of being married.
- Whatever you do for work. Work hard at it. That’s a good thing.
Finally, remember that the Bible is chock-full of people just like you and me: messed up, sometimes confused, depressed, frustrated, angry, tired, fed up, bitter, hurt, dejected, and lonely. But here, on the other side of the empty tomb, we’re able to see things that remind us of the hope. So, when the Bible disappoints – as it sometimes will – just keep turning the pages. The story is bigger than the moment you’re in.