Sunday, September 20, 2020

Time and Chance: The Post-Game Show

The heavens declare the glory of God and God’s invisible attributes have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made; our Old and New Testaments are in absolute agreement on this. Even if the Creator had never uttered a word to his creatures, men would be without excuse.

We would also be hopelessly confused, frustrated, and conflicted, grasping for an explanation of meaning and purpose that forever eludes us, feeling the pull of eternity in bodies destined only for the grave.

When we began this series 54 Saturdays ago, I suggested that Ecclesiastes is in our Bibles primarily to show us how badly mankind needs God to speak, and to speak unequivocally. Humanity is fallen. Its members often behave more like the god of this world than the One who made us in his own image. Creation is fallen. Despite giving us indisputable evidence of a Creator, it sends us mixed messages. Neither looking at ourselves nor looking at the world around us is sufficient to answer the questions raised by our existence and the patterns of life into which we inevitably fall.

The Preacher has painted for us a perfect picture of mankind’s condition apart from divine revelation, which means that Ecclesiastes is at times a dour, unpleasant book. How can it not be? God is frequently outside the frame. When he appears, it is as one who gives an unhappy business to the children of man to be busy with, who gives to the sinner the business of gathering and collecting things he will never enjoy, who keeps man from fully understanding God’s purposes, who may destroy the work of your hands in anger, and who is to be feared rather than enjoyed. None of these things the Preacher believes about God is untrue, but they are only fragments inferred from experience. They are far from the entire picture. For that we need revelation.

Those of us who grew up in Christian families take the word of God for granted sometimes, as if it has always existed in its current form and will always be as readily available to us as it is in the present moment. We sit at the end of the ages with the capacity to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge ... and we so often fail to appreciate the inestimable privilege with which we have been gifted, and the unbelievable responsibility that comes with it. Our Bibles gather dust. We complain about not having time to read them, and when we do, we far too often fail to meditate on what we read and make it part of who we are.

For shame.

Ecclesiastes asks all the questions the rest of our Bible was written to answer. Perhaps if we came to it first, before becoming familiar with the contents of the gospels and epistles, we might better appreciate what God has done for us in speaking to man at “many times and in many ways”, and finally and most unequivocally in his Son. But generally speaking, we don’t. By the time a Christian reads the Preacher asking what he gains by working endlessly all his life, he has already discovered that even the most mundane daily task may be performed joyfully, for the glory of God in hope of eternal reward. By the time a Christian reads that God has put eternity into man’s heart, he already knows he was made for eternity. By the time a Christian reads the Preacher on the emptiness of riches, he already knows that the proper use of the “mammon of unrighteousness” is to make friends for ourselves who will one day greet us again in the Father’s house. By the time a Christian reads Solomon venting about the fact that good leadership is rarely appreciated, he already knows that the greatest Shepherd ever given to humanity was taken by those to whom he was sent, brutally mistreated and murdered. He also knows the end of that story — that God has made him both Lord and Christ. When his own efforts at caring for God’s people go unappreciated, he has both a perfect example to follow and an “unfading crown of glory” to look forward to.

But we don’t generally come to Ecclesiastes first. It is highly unlikely we were intended to. For those of us who have never known anything but Christian answers to life’s questions, Ecclesiastes may even seem a bit redundant. And yet many people who have come to Christ in mid- or later life understand Ecclesiastes very well when they encounter it, because they are familiar with the questions it raises. Any thinking person looking at the world around him or her will eventually ask them too.

For the man or woman who does not know Christ, then, maybe Ecclesiastes is a record of your travels. For the man or woman who does, it is a reminder to give thanks for the unbelievable generosity and grace of God in giving us his word, and most of all in giving us the Word Made Flesh.

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