I’d like to propose an argument: “Life sucks and then you die.”
Any thoughts? Counter arguments?
The Message of the Teacher
Welcome to Ecclesiastes. Two voices in Ecclesiastes. This is the voice/message of the Teacher:
- Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 — Work is pointless striving
“What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.” — Ecclesiastes 2:22-23
He uses the term ‘vanity’ or ‘meaningless’ 42 times. The word points to something you can see but can't grab hold of, like a vapor or smoke.
Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 — The race does not go to the swift.
“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, more riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.” — Ecclesiastes 9:11-12
Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 — Don’t be too wise but don’t be too dumb. Don’t be too good but don’t be too bad. Those who fear God are in both camps.
“In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.” — Ecclesiastes 7:15-18
Even the famous Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, "there is a time for everything". He says enjoy the normality of life. God has made everything beautiful in its time, there is a beautiful plan…but God has not let us in on the plan so what’s the point!
The Message of Ecclesiastes (the second voice)
Ecclesiastes 12:9-12 — The Teacher is right. If this is all there is, he is right.
“Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
Proverbs offers us the invitation of Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly, invitations for relationship and allegiance to God or something else.
Job showed us someone who struggled through that choice, amidst suffering. 42 chapters of back and forth, Job wrestling with whether he would choose Wisdom or choose Foolishness and how, in the end, with some help, he chose God/Wisdom instead of his own foolishness.
Ecclesiastes gives us a full view of the world we are really making for ourselves when we chose the lie, chose foolishness. He is showing us the world of Woman Folly, the world that Job’s friends lived in.
The Great Lie
Homework from two weeks ago: Where do you want more wisdom?
Question: What’s the lie that stops us from getting wisdom?
Genesis 3 tells us that the root of the lie is: “There is no way this Story and its Hero are that good…you’d better figure out a way to do this on your own…”
If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you understand this part. We hear this and we think: “I get it, I can’t write an awesome story by myself, that’s not how God made the world to work.” But then we wake up on a Wednesday morning with 17 emails from a client or 3 missed calls and 5 texts from family members or friends who are “in crisis” or we walk out to find the kids screaming because one hit the other, the dogs pooped on the carpet again, and our spouse is rushing back in because the car has a flat. All before 9 am. And suddenly the lie comes rushing back in, but it’s much subtler than a talking snake.
“Man, looks like a crazy day. Now, I know that you can’t write your story without God…but look at everything going on. Do you think God really cares about these things? Seems to me you need to write this part yourself…”
The snare we often fall into is we substitute knowledge for wisdom and think that information will be sufficient to cultivate goodness and wholeness. If I can just get the directions, that will be enough to make pancakes. Wisdom gets whittled down to our choices (doing good things) and our desires/affections (being a good person).
“I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness.” — Ecclesiastes 7:25
We think that our desires and choices are what shape our story, so if we can get enough wisdom to get those right, we can shape an awesome story for ourselves and those we care about. We believe that as long as God fits into the story we are writing, we are fine!
“Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.” – Ecclesiastes 8:12-13
What Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes tell us the third level of wisdom, the one that reveals and directs our allegiances, is the most important. Because it defines the reality we live under.
We think desires and choices are the most important pieces of our story but who we think gets to write the story changes our desires and choices within that story.
“The gods we worship write their names on our faces, be sure of that. And we will worship something–have no doubt of that either. We may think that our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of the heart – but it will out. That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts will determine our life and character. Therefore it behooves us to be careful what we are worshipping, for what we are worshipping we are becoming."
– Gates of Prayer, a Jewish book of prayer (pg. 240)
Who we are actually worshiping with our desires and choices, whether they are wise or foolish, moral or immoral, makes all the difference when it comes to the trajectory of our lives.
Not Easy, So How?
This is our daily struggle: choosing between the two invitations, choosing what world – what story – we are going to live in. We must make a decision, who will we dine with? Who will we give allegiance to?
Growing in Wisdom and the Fear of the Lord is not easy. This is Proverbs says to search after wisdom more than you would gold. Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes give us three gifts, three things that help us grow in Wisdom that Worships God.
“My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Tremper Longman, the old testament scholar we mentioned last week, explains that the phrases from the second voice point to parts of Scripture. People understood these phrases to mean certain parts of the Hebrew Scriptures: Fear God (Writings), Obey His Commandments (Law), Live in the light of the future judgment (Prophets).
So this second voice is saying: "Read Scripture, where God tells you the meaning of life."
Question: Why do we read the Bible? What is the Bible supposed to do?
“If we have not entered this text as participants we aren’t going to understand what is going on. This text cannot be understood by watching it from the bleachers—or even expensive box seats. We are in on it.” — Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book (p. 69)
Why we don’t read the Bible:
- We forget. (Ya, but do you forget to eat?)
- We don’t know how.
- We don’t think it will work.
Ecclesiastes – and Eugene Peterson – is saying that the Bible doesn’t ‘work’ if we are trying to find the pieces to writing our own story. The Bible leads us to God and into His Story.
We come to the Bible asking it how we can connect our everyday life to God. How we can connect our story to God’s story.
“The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” – Proverbs 8:22-31
Wisdom, which leads us into God’s Story, is built into the fabric of reality. It is part of everything. The question is not, “Does this or can this part of my life fit into God’s story?” but “How is this part of my life already part of God’s story?” That doesn’t mean we don’t have to deal with brokenness and pain, but even that will one day be taken care of.
Scripture redirects our imagination, how we make sense of everything around us and reminds us that we don’t snatch the Story from God or passively wait for the Story to happen to us. And yes, it’s weird and hard, but that is why we have the second gift: Community.
Article from the Atlantic: Power Causes Brain Damage.
Power, which creates the illusion of control, shuts of our mirror neurons.
After studies spanning two decades, “Subjects under the influence of power, […] acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.”
Power is not a position but a mental state. It is about a sense of control.
“Less able to make out people’s individuating traits, they rely more heavily on stereotype. And the less they’re able to see, other research suggests, the more they rely on personal ‘vision’ for navigation.”
Wholeness and Goodness comes from outside of us. We are participants in life WITH God but never in such a way that we can begin to live FROM God. We are always receiving and from that receiving responding. This is precisely why we need other Christians. We need one another to offer Jesus to us.
“Recount a time you did not feel powerful, […] and your brain can commune with reality.”
This is what Job's friend, Elihu, did for him. His other friends said the world was a+b=c. Elihu, the fourth friend, lead Job to awe and wonder of God (Mystery) and Worship. Job got a full view of God that reminded him that he wasn't in control, which lead to repentance and allegiance to God.
We need others to help us realize we are disconnected from reality, trying to catch smoke.
Tradition, like Scripture and Community, helps us worship.
“Worship, in the biblical sources and in liturgical history, is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we feel anything about it at all. Experience develops out of worship." – Eugene Peterson, Five Smooth Stones, pg. 183
We think we control our desires and choices, when in reality most of our desires and choices are already responding to things we believe about who God is or who we are that we aren’t paying attention to.
Paradoxically, when we are purposeful about our choices in light of the world we are called into, those choices can shape our desires which shape our allegiance.
Scripture is great but it is often really weird and confusing. Community is awesome, but sometimes we drive each other nuts. So we draw from the long history of our faith family to help us see how they dealt with things. Tradition gives us the depth of longevity to draw from as we figure out how to grow in Worshipful Wisdom.
Wisdom is the skill of living into God’s Story. Worshipful wisdom has 3 levels: Practical (Choices), Ethical (Desires/Affections), Theological (Allegiance)
1. Allegiance: What do you want to recognize about God? What about God do you want to see as real?
2. Affections/Desires: What do you want/need to value?
3. Choices: What do you want/need to do?
Then tell your DNA group or your whole Gospel Community.
M: So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27
C: God is our Creator. We are his creatures. He made us for a life of wholeness and goodness with Him.
M: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:1-2
C: God is our Rescuer. In Jesus, we are redeemed and saved in His presence, not by our works but by His grace.
M: The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. – Romans 8:15-17
C: God is our Father. We are his beloved children. His Spirit leads and cares for us in our everyday lives.
M: Church family, receive the body and blood of Christ, remembering what Jesus did, what Jesus is doing, and what Jesus will do, because He is Good and His story is Good.