For many years I went annually to a pastor’s gathering sponsored by our denominational association that was geared specifically for churches of our size at Tri-State Fellowship. It was a wonderfully helpful gathering of about 30 pastors, many of whom have become very dear friends.
Another aspect of this annual winter gathering that I especially enjoyed is that it was most often held in very warm climates, often in either Austin, Texas or in Southern California. This was a great break from the odious winter and cold that we experience and that I detest.
But it was also a bit frustrating. Even though it was beautifully warm outside, I was stuck inside while attending meetings – longingly looking out the windows at the inviting sunshine. I would often take the time at seminar breaks to go outside for even a few minutes, and I’d always find a way to take a hike along the Pacific ocean or in the hill country of Texas. It wasn’t perfect or all that I hoped to enjoy, but I chose to enjoy as much of the nice weather as I was able to experience.
And that is how it is as we journey through life in an imperfect world. We are most often burdened with responsibilities – usually even good stuff, but not the way we would most choose to best use our time if it was possible. Our cold spring season, along with my greater busyness, has ruined my cycling interests as compared to other years. I have rather chosen this late winter/early spring to do some extensive yard work, which I enjoy and which gives plenty of exercise. All of this is to say that we can choose to be bitter about what we are not experiencing, or rejoice in what we are able to experience.
In today’s passage we see Solomon’s first schizophrenic, Jekyll and Hyde sort of expression …
Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 – A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
After all the “Debbie Downer” negativity of the first two chapters, suddenly there is a total change of tone. We will regularly come across these “sage advice” sections from Solomon as he makes conclusions about how to live in a messed-up world.
Indeed, the world is schizoid as well. While driving south on Interstate 81 this past Saturday evening, the sunset over the mountains to the west was absolutely stunning. The array of varied colors and beams of light shining through the occasion clouds attested to the beauty of creation that God has given for us to enjoy. At the same time, the news on the car radio was talking about an insanely-drugged individual who unknowingly killed his infant child.
The believer has a perspective on the world that is categorically different than that of the unbeliever. The one who trusts in God has eyes to see and enjoy the gifts of God, even in a fallen world. He knows that this is temporary. The residual, natural graces of God and the blessing of His sovereign hand may be enjoyed, even while understanding that the curse of sin leads to death and destruction … with death leading to the perfect beyond.
But the unbeliever has nothing to hang onto but the material world and the pursuit of its temporal offerings. This pursuit is the ultimate “chasing after the wind” and will pass away quickly, perhaps even to the benefit of those who believe.
So, we may choose to embrace the good gifts of God as a believer should, or we may choose to act like the unbeliever and pursue the temporary and fleeting things of the temporal world. The former choice, while imperfect, is very good. The latter choice is frankly rather stupid.
Other parts of the Bible share the thought that even trials and suffering can be gifts from God. Some scriptures talk about the benefits of affliction, because they can serve to help us see what is important in life. Suffering can help us to refocus on God. And if I was to get particularly “long-winded” and write a long comment, also suffering can teach us to comfort others when they suffer. We will learn what it is like to be in a difficult situation and then can learn to better understand the problems of others and also to share the grace extended to us, (a grace that allowed us to stand under a difficult trial) we can then be experienced enough to share with others the comfort that we received from God.