Saturday, March 28, 2020

Time and Chance (29)

Much of Ecclesiastes is observational rather than directly instructive. The Preacher tells us the things he did, the things he has seen, and what he thinks about it all ... then leaves the reader to decide how he ought to behave in light of the information shared with him. The first six chapters of Ecclesiastes contain only three “do” or “do not”-type commands.

These next few verses of chapter 7 are a little more pointed.

Ecclesiastes 7:9 — Giving Anger a Home
“Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the heart of fools.”
The Preacher assumes the choice to permit anger to grow and manifest lies in the reader’s own hands. Even a genetic predisposition to volatility is no excuse for nursing or indulging emotions we know are unwise and unhelpful. Managing anger is not beyond us: God does not command us to do things which he has made impossible. They may be quite difficult, or inconvenient, or against our fallen nature, but they are not impossible.

In Hebrew, the word “lodges” is nuwach, the same word used to describe God’s seventh-day rest in Genesis. The sense, I believe, is that the foolish man gives anger a convenient place to sit down and stay awhile. Anger is comfortably at home in the hearts of brutes, slanderers and blabbermouths. Their characteristic failure to control any aspect of their lives makes rage a natural fit. Wise men don’t offer fury a place in their hearts to put its feet up: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

Ecclesiastes 7:10 — An Unfortunate Question
“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”
It’s not impossible the former days actually were better than today. Some times and places are definitely preferable to others. If you were born into the Western world in the post-WWII years, you probably haven’t done too badly. We Boomers have lived lives of comparative ease. Those who were born in the last fifteen to twenty years may look back at the age of fifty or sixty and be very tempted to say something just like this. In their case it may turn out to be true.

Why is it unwise to complain about something that appears to us to be factually accurate? For one thing, we have a horribly limited perspective. The generation that benefited financially from the post-war boom is the same generation that dropped out, smoked up and gave us rampant infidelity, divorce, abortion, unprecedented debt and a host of other ills. So were those former days really “better” in any sense that really matters? Not for those who lived through them, apparently, whatever they may tell us today. They may have been comparatively affluent, but they were in many respects spiritually impoverished.

Thus, how we assess any particular period of time in human history depends very much on which characteristic features of that time period we are fixated on and which have escaped our attention. God does not share our limited field of vision. He sees all generations spread out before him, their good and bad features equally apparent to him.

Secondly, it’s unwise to complain about the situation we find ourselves in today because complaining changes precisely nothing. No amount of grumbling will alter our conditions. It will only rob us of the ability to enjoy the things we do have.

Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 — Better Wisdom Than Money
“Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
an advantage to those who see the sun.
For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
and the advantage of knowledge is that
wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.”
To be one of “those who see the sun” is simply the Preacher’s poetic way of saying one is alive. That is clear from 6:5, where the stillborn child has “not seen the sun or known anything”.

Translators are split on whether he is saying that having wisdom and money together is advantageous (this is obviously the case), or, more likely, that receiving wisdom is to be valued in the same way one values an inheritance. The Christian Standard Bible says, “Wisdom is as good as an inheritance.”

In fact, wisdom gives one an even greater advantage, as the next verse tells us, in that it preserves the life of the person who possesses it. As useful as money may be, it can always be taken from you by force. Those who have it can certainly afford to pay others to protect them, but history shows us that you never know if or when your protector will decide to help himself to everything and cut you right out of the picture. There’s not a lot of security in that.

On the other hand, the prudent person avoids putting himself in such a situation in the first place.

1 comment :

  1. Worth exploring? What's going on here? How is one to interprete God's love for mankind in view of all this?