As we observe the second week of Lent, reflecting on the words of Ecclesiastes, I find myself thinking about the prominent people in our world as I read chapters 3 and 4. I also find reminders for myself. The work I do is important for my clients, and the money I earn is important for my family. The classes I take are important for our future. But if I spend so much time meeting my responsibilities and lose my relationships or let opportunities pass me by, I’m a fool.
At the same time, there is a season for everything. Wisdom never provides an easy answer or simple solution. I will have to meditate and pray and maintain my meaningful relationships to consult with God, my family, and my friends and make my own answers. You will too.
And a constantly needed reminder is that evil is found in the places we value as good and right, in the people we respect and agree with. We can never forget that any more than we forget it is in the places we expect it to be.
Finally, join me in discerning meaning in chapter 4, verses 13-16, because I don’t know what to make of them. Perhaps you will have some insight as they speak to your spirit.
You may read the whole original text of Ecclesiastes 3 and 4 here, and as before, the following words are my reflection and summary of what the chapters spoke to me as I read.
“1 There is an occasion for everything,
and a time for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to give birth and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to uproot;
3 a time to kill and a time to heal;
a time to tear down and a time to build;
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing;
6 a time to search and a time to count as lost;
a time to keep and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear and a time to sew;
a time to be silent and a time to speak;
8 a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 HCSB)
Everything people do is an opportunity from God. God made everything appropriate for its own time. We long for eternity, but we can’t begin to understand everything God does. Every small enjoyment, every need met, is a gift from God. Even what we think we earned for ourselves is given only by God’s generosity. Everything God does will last forever.
“Whatever is, has already been, and whatever will be, already is. God repeats what has passed” (Ecclesiastes 3:15 HCSB).
What else is meaningless? That in the places we expect there to be evil, there is evil to be found. And the places where we see only good? There is evil there too. God will tell the difference and know good and evil for what they are. Everything resolves in due time. And what is the point of worrying about it? Humans die and decay, just like the animals, just like beasts. We know ourselves to be no better than beasts when we fall for evil as if we knew no better. Maybe there is no difference after all. Maybe we don’t have a special connection with God. Maybe we should just enjoy what we can because we can’t possibly know what happens after we die beyond the decay of these bodies.
More and more and more. Injustice and oppression. Oppressed peoples weep because no one sees their pain. They have no power, just silence to keep them company. Death would be better than this evil.
Yet, better than living under oppression and misery and better than dying to escape is never being born at all.
All the hard work supposedly to earn a good life and build a legacy is really just a way to show up your friends. We’re jealous of other people’s success or happiness. It’s pointless, like trying to catch the wind in our hands.
It’s idiotic to work so hard we ruin our bodies. It’s better not to have as much and be able to rest and enjoy it than to have twice as much but strive ever for more, to chase that wind.
When we work so hard, the pursuit destroys our relationships, consumes all our time so that we never have time to spend with family or friends, it’s pointless, yet we find ourselves trying to hold onto more stuff, more money, more success. What’s the point? It’s meaningless and miserable.
Instead, keep friendships intact. Competing with each other and distancing ourselves do us no good. In fact, we set ourselves up for failure since a small hurdle can turn into a plummet if we have no one to give us a hand. We are stronger together and accomplish more in unity and cooperation.
“13 Better is a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer pays attention to warnings. 14 For he came from prison to be king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom. 15 I saw all the living, who move about under the sun, follow a second youth who succeeds him. 16 There is no limit to all the people who were before them, yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 HCSB).
The writer moves from calling out the pointlessness of working too hard and pursuing money and even pursuing the so-called wisdom offered by the respected figures of the day to really digging into why people do these things and the real detrimental effects they have.
I do it, and you do it; we all tend to think, Well, that’s just them and it won’t happen to me. I won’t get caught up in work and lose sight of my family. I won’t forget the poor and the marginalized in my efforts to maintain my life and reach my goals. It’ll just be for a season, and I’ll snap right back.
If that’s as far is we go, we’re wrong, and we will lose more than success. We’ll lose the people we care about and the things about ourselves we care about. It takes more than wishful thinking to maintain positive growth and not to let the system remake us in its image.
Lord, Jesus. Give us the wisdom to let go of the things that will just spit us out and pursue meaningful relationships. Give us your goodness in valuing justice for the poor and oppressed. May we never ignore the words of the writer when he asserted it would be better not to be born than to be doomed to oppression and misery. May we see to it to ensure that does not happen where we have any means to stop it.
May we remember that we will have the means to stop it if our highest priority is not hoarding meaningless wealth for ourselves.
People are the real treasure, your people whom you love. May we learn to see the times and seasons for each thing in our lives and forgive and let go of the things which have had their time and passed. May we pay attention to your warnings and always rejoice in you, being remade in your image and not the image of the world around us.