Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Seeker

Whether King Solomon or some other Hebrew sage, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes is a realist. Despite his lofty position, he doesn't insulate himself from the suffering and injustice of the society around him. He's an artist, philosopher, and investigative journalist. He constantly reminds the reader that he has intently looked into everything under the sun. With apologies to The Who -- he's been looking under chairs and tables, trying to find the key to fifty million fables. He's the seeker -- a really desperate man.

I see two themes running throughout Ecclesiastes. The fear of God and joy. First, the confident belief that the one who fears God will come out alright in the end despite what the evidence shows. Second, that it's good to find joy in the everyday mundane blessings of life...even in the face of suffering and injustice. Have you noticed how people living in terrible circumstances are able to find profound happiness in the smallest blessings? Meanwhile, those of us surrounded by affluence and safety often struggle with depression and boredom. Why is that? The Preacher of Israel would call it another example of the vanity (from a Hebrew word meaning "breath" or "vapor") of human existence.

The two themes I mentioned recur throughout Ecclesiastes, but can be seen clearly in these verses from chapter 8.

11 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. 12 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. 13 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.

Writing centuries before Christ, the Preacher commends a life of faith and joy that looks toward a hope beyond earthly existence. "I won't get to get what I'm after till the day I die!" In this life, the wicked may prosper and the rightous may suffer, but some day there will be a reckoning. The slowness of divine justice tempts men to greater evil, but the Preacher admonishes against both lawlessness and despair. He goes on:

14 There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. 15 And I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

I love the theme of joy throughout Ecclesiastes because it's hard-won. This kind of joy is the opposite of contemporary conceptions of happiness. C.S. Lewis wrote that "joy is the serious business of Heaven." Joy is serious business? you may ask. Yes it is, if it's Christian joy you're talking about. The Apostle Paul strikes the same note in 2 Corinthians 6: "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything."

Fear God. Enjoy life. Be like the seeker.

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