We are nearing the end of Lent, and completing our reflections on Ecclesiastes. It has been an illuminating exercise for me. Understanding has found me in a way it never has before with this text. It is both encouraging and nerve-wracking, showing me how much transformation I have yet to experience.
Through the whole book, the writer showed how attachment to the things in our lives, to ambition for power, to desire for wealth, to pursuit of pleasure as a means to find significance, to dedication to work as a means to acquire value, to the endless search for elevating ourselves or satisfying our need for something greater, all of it is like trying to take hold of the air. It doesn’t work.
Also through the whole book, the writer reminded us of what actually is important. People. Relationships. Making the most of the present moment without trying to dominate or maneuver. Happiness can only be found in those ways. Any subversion of people to power or things can only lead to evil and death.
Yet, we also find that any control we think we have is an illusion. Whatever happens, happens. God is the only one who can tell what is coming with certainty, so even our preparations mean little. Trusting God is the only thing that makes sense.
Death and heartache are in the future for each and every one of us, but now is the time to remember God and do something about it, giving ourselves over to being transformed. Justice will come, and we ought to be mindful of our part in the present, but ultimately, total justice can only be accomplished by God, and the timeline is beyond our grasp, just like the wind.
Read the final portion, Ecclesiastes 11 and 12, and the reflect with me.
Be absurdly generous with what you have; you may even receive something in return. Share with several or many. Who knows what will happen next. You might as well be generous since tomorrow, everything could fall apart. Whatever will happen next will happen, and while events are already set in motion, we can’t read all the signs in advance.
Whatever will happen will happen. If you spend all your time trying to predict what is coming, you won’t ever accomplish anything. There are so many things we can’t know, and what God is planning is one of them. Do your best to be diligent as your means of preparing, but don’t let anxiety consume you.
The sunshine is sweet, and every day of our lives is an opportunity to soak it in. One day, our lives will be over, and that opportunity will be lost. Enjoy your life while you have it, whatever may come. If your life is long, enjoy every day, if you can. Death lasts even longer. Everything after that is beyond our reach.
Enjoy the privileges of youth while you have them. Someday, age and death will come, and the evils in your life will come to collect. Learn how and take action to transcend emotional and physical pain so that you can enjoy life while you can.
While you are still young, before you hardship overcomes you and you despair, turn your mind to the One who made you and sustains you.
A time will come when the sun, the moon, and the stairs all fade to black, a perpetual cloudy day without even the life-giving rain to go with it. On that day, the protectors will fear, and too few people will be left to carry on the work of making food. Windows will be dark and doors shut. The air will be silent except for the mournful call of a lone bird.
Fear will be the primary emotion left, and while nature will continue to bloom and to decay, humanity lays down to die.
Leisure and riches, work and progress will all fail.
The dust of our bodies will return to the earth, and God’s breath of life will return to the Spirit who gave it.
Desperately pointless; everything is like vapor.
One teacher, wise beyond all others, taught the people. He mulled over ideas, teased out their meaning, and laid out many wise sayings. That teacher sought to teach joy and lay out truth. Wise sayings are meant to motivate to action, and coherent teaching is meant to build a solid platform on which to stand. The teacher is our one great Shepard.
There is a lot of teaching out there, and far more writing exists to sift through to find what is actually meaningful. When all is said and done, keep in mind what is true no matter who you are: set your attention on God alone, trusting God and letting all other concerns fall away. Follow God’s wisdom. God is the one who will bring about complete justice in the end, and all the iniquities we struggled to anticipate and overcome will be made right by the only one who can.
Join me in trying to be more generous. Join me in remembering my limitations. Join me in remembering how temporary everything we know and desire really is. Suffering awaits, and not only can we not avoid it, trying to avoid it makes it worse. Join me in setting my gaze solely on God, allowing the sorrow and suffering of life to arise and slip away, like leaves blowing in the wind.
All of this may seem like fatalism, and in a way, it is. We have next to no control over what comes our way in life. Even what we can control is only temporary. Whether pleasure or pain, what life brings is what it brings, whether we like it or not. Yet, despite the terminal prognosis given to each of us, we still have hope. The God who made us, formed us from the stuff of the ground and breathed life into our beings, has not forgotten us. God loves justice and provides a way to teach us wisdom, to train us to find the good in our difficult lives, to transform us to be more like the Divine. Life is better with trust and purpose. Life is better with hope. And an ultimate justice and goodness is yet to come.
Lord, teach us your ways. Train us in wisdom. Conform us to your justice. Give us your peace and joy. May we learn to think, to desire, to love, to live like you. May we learn to let go of the vast ocean of things we cannot control. May we make the most of the few things we can choose. Help us to discern the difference and trust you enough to act on it.