In this fourth week of Lent, the author of Ecclesiastes continues to speak to me. I have begun to believe this may be my favorite book of the Bible. Despite the uselessness of any teaching I have ever had on it before (including in my college and seminary classes on it), it has so much to offer.
I’m realizing that while it needs the context of the rest of the Bible to help illuminate exactly what it’s talking about, these 12 chapters contain the core of everything the whole Bible has to offer. It lacks the narrative of God’s people and Christ’s gospel, but the fundamental wisdom contained in both are here.
As we come closer to Holy Week and Easter, let’s reflect on who we are. Can we say we have integrity? Do our beliefs line up with our choices? Do our thoughts line up with our actions? Can we say we allow God to form our values and then form our lives to align with them? In everything? EVERYTHING?
As you read, once again, my reflection of what the text is saying, ask yourself these questions and more.
Here is the original text of Ecclesiastes 7 and 8, if you want to go straight to the source.
A personality that speaks volumes is better than being known for surface level adornments. Mourning and death are deeper in the soul than enjoyment and pleasure. One is the permanent destination of all, and one is fleeting like vapor.
Dishonest gain rends a person in pieces, scattering what wisdom may have been present. Be patient for the slow profit of honest gain, not insisting you deserve your desires now.
You reveal your lack of understanding when you claim things used to be better in the old days.
Wisdom is more valuable than wealth for improving one’s life and protecting it. Look to God, whose works can never be undone.
“In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity, consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man cannot discover anything that will come after him” (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
One never knows what is to come, and good fortune or evil may come at any moment, and we have nothing to do with it far more than we like to think.
A good thing ceases being good when removed from reality and reason. And even ignorance becomes evil when taken to extreme.
Yet, wisdom has its benefits and influences events in our favor. And no one exists who always chooses well.
Be careful; if you seek to learn, you just might find out.
All these ideas I used wisdom to determine. Then I decided to follow all of them, but I couldn’t live up to it. So, I decided to focus on understanding as much as I could and remembering to avoid evil behavior and stupid thinking.
A fate worse than death is falling into the trap of putting one’s faith in your intimate partner, your lover. It’s too complicated a relationship. Perhaps you may find a friend to rely on for all things, but you will break your heart if you rely wholly on your romantic partner to fulfill your life. Following God completely would make people perfect, but everyone follows their own plans.
There is no other way to attain what wisdom brings. Wisdom brings joy and a soft heart.
Obey authorities, and be faithful to God even more. Be careful about authorities because they have power, and you can only question so far. If you obey an authority, you’re less likely to stimulate them to harm you. Yet wisdom knows good timing and the right way to go about things, even when life is messed up. Even wisdom, though, is limited. No one knows what will happen before it happens. Wisdom is essential especially in times when some people have power to harm others.
At times like that, those who disregard justice, even when they are praised for it, and they get away with it time and again, God will eventually serve justice. Never forget it.
Another thing as meaningful as trying to grab vapor with your bare hands: Good people experience bad things, and bad people experience good. So, don’t stress yourself overmuch. Enjoy what you have to your fullest ability, and it will help you endure the work to which you are called.
After trying as hard as I could to find out and understand everything there is, I determined it isn’t possible to do. There is far too much to discover. Anyone who claims to understand with no room to learn more is wrong, even when time and energy has gone into the search. Even the wisest among us can’t possibly say there is not more for them to learn.
Remember to be true to God and true to yourself. If you have to be different people in different places to get ahead, you’ve taken a wrong turn. Remember the important things in life are relationships, not things. We chase things because we feel afraid without them, but whether we choose well or choose poorly, we won’t be able to control what happens. Influence, yes, but control? Never.
Lord, give us the ability and desire to trust you wholeheartedly. You showed us the way to live wisely and with love. You showed us how to choose what really counts. You showed us that terrible things happen to even the best people, but it’s worth it anyway.
Help us to be whole, to allow all the parts of ourselves and our lives to integrate and work in harmony. Help us never to give up on trying to learn, to grow, to understand, never to decide we’ve arrived and don’t need any more help.
Remind us to live the best we can but to take care of ourselves and enjoy life in the process. Remind us we won’t ever be perfect and that trying to force perfection is just as bad is embracing evil. Either way leads us away from you and into trying to control our own destiny in a way that can never work.
Give us true loyal trust, a hope that is grounded in allegiance to you and your ways, to you and your promises.