In the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon, being called "the Preacher" (1:1), describes the essence and experiences of life. In the quotation above, he accounts an infuriating observation: why do good people suffer and bad people prosper? This observation is without a heavenly perspective. Christians thoughout the centuries have often been confused by the message and method of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Many of the King Solomon's thoughts, like the one above, are clearly negative and faithless in quality. We need to look at the true intent of these inspired words and see that God has a beautiful and comforting message for us in this timeless text.
A major theme in Ecclesiastes is "vanity." We often think of teenagers or the fashion-conscious regarding this term, but this is not what Solomon meant. "Vanity" simply means "hollow." The "Preacher" is describing life without God as hollow (meaningless, empty). When we see wicked people like Ted Turner prospering exceedingly, it definitely tempts us to view life as meaningless. When we see educators controlling schools and filling the minds of children with New Age propaganda, we are lured to view life as hollow. When we see an immoral and unscrupulous man in the White House, we are enticed to despair of life. Life is infuriating, demoralizing, and confusing, but we cannot just say, "all is vanity."
This is obviously another good example of Solomon's method. In this verse, he highlights the futility of life without God. People faithfully invest their whole lives and can lose everything in one day. On the other hand, a person can live irresponsibly for decades and strike it rich in the end by winning the lottery. If one were to totally adopt the "futility" view of life, we would wonder if such a person could muster enough energy to get out of bed in the morning. We don't have to look far to find depressed people in our culture and given the state of things in the world, it is easily understood. Getting to point where we feel that we can't make a difference comes without difficulty. Try to get ahead in life or right a major wrong in your community, and see how long it takes to "feel down."
Wow! There's nothing like being unappreciated. Solomon, as a the wisest of men, saw that not even the strongest human ability would be lauded or recognized. Again, we are reminded about "reality" and disappointment in life.
The "Preacher" brings to our attention the irony of life in this verse. First, he states that the evil he talking about is as bad as when a leader fails (must be pretty bad). We look at our society and see that noble things are viewed with disdain while distasteful things are elevated. Examples: couples starting families are referred to by some as "breeders." A local butcher has graffiti outside his shop stating: "Meat is murder." A single pregnant teenager is criticized for not killing the child inside her because it might not have a "good quality of life." A politician is hounded for getting caught, but not doing wrong. Heroin addiction, pornographic film-making, and strip-dancing are all glorified in recent films. The true nature of our culture is summed up in this quote from a famous musician: "the creative arts are showcases for dysfunction."
Death is the great equalizer. Wise and wealthy people die just like the fools and beggars. King Louis XIV had a spectacular and glorious reign as an absolutely powerful despot. But when the "Sun King" died, the Bishop officiating his funeral said, "Only God is great." Death devalues the greatest of men. Even worse: death devalues man further -- to the level of plants and animals. Though we are not related to pond scum, we sure end up like pond scum. Are not these pleasant thoughts? Solomon has a talent for dissecting life without God. It is nothing but empty.
Here is another depressing example: work hard all your life and a foolish relative squanders all your hard-earned money after your dead. Bill Gates is a good example because he now has an heir. He has nearly forty billion in wealth and has built a multimillion dollar electronic Indian hovel in the woods of Washington State. His kid will never fully appreciate the invention behind the money. The hovel in the woods will only become more ugly than it already is. Life (and death) seem so unfair.
We could call 7:24 the "theme verse for mystics." Mystics from East and West, whether they are Buddhists, Freemasons, or Kabbalists, have some bad news. Solomon is saying that we cannot learn the mysteries of life through our own eyes and minds. Take a quick survey of all the philosophers, shamans, doctors, scientists, and monks who have wrestled with the deep answers to the Cosmos. Notice have none of them have come close answering everything. Yet, every generation and culture has contained those individuals who seek to know the deep things of life. What causes this frustrating and insatiable drive to know the mysteries of the universe? It is God Himself. This is where we pivot from seeing the emptiness of life to seeing fullness of purpose. We do not even have to leave Ecclesiastes. Some scholars cannot see hope in Ecclesiastes... they are either stupid or biased (or little bit of both).
God has ordered our days so that we are forced to think about Him. We would save ourselves a whole lot of grief in life if we constantly remembered that nothing is better than knowing and loving God. But because we are weak in the flesh, we must be brought to crisis points where we are forced to "consider" or reckon our behavior and beliefs. We see this in human experience all the times: many turn to God the first night in jail or pinned down in a foxhole, addicts often don't get help until its really too late, and a lie is exposed only after the whole framework of lies surrounded it is torn down. An essential part of sin is self-sufficiency; God must frustrate our plans and schedules to get our attention. So, think of every trouble as if God is saying, "Hey! You need Me."
We've already seen the theme verse for mystics, now we have the theme verse for capitalists. Capitalism is NOT anti-God. To the contrary, private property is sanctioned by God in the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not steal" (assumes ownership of property). But if you fill yourself with things and wealth, it will eat your insides out like acid. Man is wired to love God. When we love money and possessions, not only is it idolatry, it doesn't satisfy us. Solomon filled his life with women, and servants, and wealth beyond the imagination and it left him cold and empty. Besides, what's left of Solomon? No palaces, temples or stables. Only his words and legacy. Money is not "the root of all evil," but the "LOVE of money" is. Money is a gift from God that we should use joyfully and responsibly. Everything belongs to God.
This is a verse for the Unibomber, because it shows the folly of progress. Again, nothing is wrong with improving your life or society unless it is done as a replacement of God. To educators, learning is a god. To computer professionals, technology is a god. To athletes, the body is a god. To environmentalists, Earth is a god. We should make progress, but not for false loves that leave us worse off in the end. The Unibomber is right to a certain extent -- progress is making people less happy.
Let's get to the answer that God has to the seeming hollow quality of life. The following section is based on an article written by Dr. Michael P. V. Barrett ("Theology for Life," Biblical Viewpoint 31, No. 2 (Nov. '97): 11-18), a Professor at Bob Jones University. In fact, this article owes much to the thoughts and ideas found in the most recent issue of Biblical Viewpoint.
God Is the Powerful Creator
First, He made everything.
A correct view of God begins with this truth. Notice the words "all" and "every thing" in the verses above. Take into account the wonder of the world we live in, and this truth should hit pretty hard. National Geographic and the Discovery Channel spend much energy focused on the creation and how incredible it is. Yet, little time is spent on the Creator. The Wise and Loving God made everything for His glory and pleasure. Thus, we have stumbled onto the meaning of the Universe. We don't have to live in the "fog bank;" we can know why we're here and what everything is about. The idea that the universe and the world we live in is the product of chance and nature robs man of all his purpose, meaning, and dignity. The depression and uneasiness of our era is the direct consequence of rejecting God as Creator. The Age of Despair began with Darwin.
Second, He made man.
Now, the word "upright" has nothing to do with man walking on two legs. Rather, Eccles. 7:29 is saying that God made man righteous. The Heavenly Father gave us all the tools we needed to worship and serve Him. Plus, we are made in His image. God's perfect plan for man was for him to stay perfect. Yet, mankind "sought out many inventions" -- attempted to believe in a fiction and left God's plan. The mind of man is a myth factory. We don't have to look far to see all the baseless concepts of life and the universe. Let us be reminded that we are responsible to Him because He fitted us to celebrate and follow Him. The comfort is that we know what to do and why we do it.
Third, He made me.
Notice the word "thy;" replace it with "my." God created me. We all need to stop this nonsense of feeling ugly, untalented, and unwanted. God made each one of us with a task in mind. How can the clay complain to the potter (Isa. 64:8)? The comfort comes in constantly being in the mind set that God did a good job when He made us.
God Is the Wise Sovereign
God Is the Wise Sovereign
The idea of God's Providence is easy: God is in control and He takes care of us. Notice in verse 9:1 that the believer and the believer's actions are in the "hand of God." If you know Christ, you never leave the Father's hand (John 8:28-29).
First, God determines my times.
Here is an explicit condemnation of longer for "the good ol' days." God put us in this time and we shouldn't question His judgment. The Twentieth Century has been a bloody and God-hating century, but we are living in the best time for us. It is the best time for us because God chose this for us. It's a custom fit.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 teaches us that God has determined all the experiences of life and their times. We shouldn't ever feel unfortunate or unlucky. He brings us times of laughter and times of weeping. He brings these to us for specific reasons. Again, how can the clay question the potter? Think of this, also: If He determines what we will go through in life, cannot we assume that He will prepare us for these event? The Lord knows what He is doing.
Second, He determines my circumstances.
Here we are reminded to enjoy what God has given to us. Some of us are given families. We should be content and delight in these relationships. The same applies to the unmarried or childless. We should praise God for the relationships we have with others.
We also told to enjoy our work and to work hard. Our Lord has put us on the Earth to labor for Him. The temporal rewards for hard work are eating and sleeping. We should not waste our life doing everything to the minimum. The motto of one college fraternity is "Work hard and play harder." While we shouldn't play like frat members, we should work hard and then enjoy our rest. This is God's plan for us.
Third, He determines everything for my good.
Depending on where we are in our walk with God, He always brings the appropriate circumstance at the appropriate time. If we need to be encouraged, He will do it. If we need humbling, He will certainly do it.
If we have the slightest sense of justice, getting angry and discouraged comes easily. The feeling isn't new -- the prophets complained that God used heathen nations to judge Israel. When I see a base criminal come away from a trial with little or no punishment, my faith is tested. The comfort we can all have is that God is a Perfect Judge and a Judgment is coming where no crime will escape notice. Right now, God gazes every sin and misdeed with His penetrating eyes (Eccles. 12:14, Heb. 4:13).
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
The sole duty and purpose our all our lives is to fear God to the point where we'll obey His commands.
First, fearing God is the secret to trusting Him concerning all the uncertainties of life.
We cannot lose our faith every time something goes wrong. Solomon has illustrated how perplexing life can be. We will always have unanswered questions and hard decisions. The purpose of these enigmas, as spelled out in the two verses above, is to drive us into the arms of God. If you want meaning and purpose in life, it will cost you. You must surrender.
Second, fearing God is the defense for the judgment.
Though the wicked seem to prevail and we live many years toiling with great energy for God, what happens in Eternity is the important thing. "It shall be well with them that fear God." To truly fear God, we need to know Him and about Him. True spiritual knowledge of the Heavenly Father is spelled out by Christ Jesus in John 17:3. We need to believe in and have a relationship with Christ, who is the fullest revelation of the Father. The closer we grow to the Savior, the more assurance we'll have that everything will work out.
A wise family member said something to me that has always stuck, "Life isn't always fair and doesn't always make sense." This is truly the wisest thing a natural man can say. We are in good shape because God has revealed a much better answer to life. If we latch onto God's answers, we will find life enjoyable, peaceful, and full of wonder.
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