We have to agree with Solomon that a remarkable number of life events and observations do not have explanation or the look of justice. The wicked can prosper and prevail, even at the expense of the righteous. We would expect God to intervene more actively and quickly. But God does not always do that. Our sinful world is indeed a mess. We see it around us, though honestly it is far worse in most corners of the earth.
Throughout Ecclesiastes, we see the writer’s disenchantment with these circumstances, saying that God’s ways are not understandable for us. Yet he also commends a wise life throughout the book, saying that this remains the best plan for happiness and success in a crumbling world. God will make all things right at another time, beyond this world.
Rather than repeat so many themes of these past couple weeks, I thought I would share with you today some excerpts from a blog post I read from a missionary associated with our Evangelical Free Church missions arm of ministry, serving in Tanzania. Though she is not reflecting upon Ecclesiastes nor even referring to it, some of the themes of her writing fit with the thoughts we have been considering. In her article, which you can read in its entirety HERE, she writes …
Sometimes I think it’s easy for American Christians to see everything tragic that is happening “out there” and make the assumption that God could never let that happen to us. Disasters and tragedies happen to other people, to other nations. Not to Americans. Not to American Christians. As if we are somehow set apart, special, blessed.
Just a few countries north of Tanzania is South Sudan, which the Economist recently deemed the most miserable country of 2018. The unfortunate residents of South Sudan, 60 percent of whom are Christian, know little else other than war, rape and starvation.
Or how about Venezuela, which is also known as a Christian country? Inflation exceeds 1,000 percent, and the nation is experiencing extreme shortages of food and medicine.
And then there’s Syria. And Iraq. And North Korea. And countless others. I know with much certainly that Christians exist in all these countries. They are chosen and loved and saved by God, and they desperately seek after Him—our brothers and sisters. Yet He allows the Syrian Christian family to be forced to leave their home, their business, their country and become refugees at the complete mercy of others. He allows the North Korean Christian to be turned over to the torture camps by the betrayal of his own son.
And I think: Why do I assume this won’t happen to me, to my country of origin? Sure, I know I am not immune from cancer, from accidents, from tragedy. But do I really think that God holds America in a special category; that He won’t allow its destruction, that He won’t allow my financial ruin, that He will always ensure my country’s safety? …
… God does not owe American Christians anything. He does not owe me a savings account or health insurance. He does not guarantee that my children will have the opportunity to go to college and become prosperous citizens. He does not promise religious freedom, or pleasant vacations, or safety on American streets. He doesn’t even promise that America will continue to exist as we know it.
If God has allowed you a beautiful house on a tree-lined street, 2.5 children and religious freedom, fantastic. Use it all to His glory. Maybe that will be my life someday too. But it’s no longer my expectation. I’m not going to assume that America or the government or God will make my dreams come true. Everything I have already been given (which is a lot), I want to hold with an open hand. My hope is in Christ, my destination is heaven and nothing in this life is guaranteed (Romans 5:1-5). Today I have it; tomorrow I might not. He gives and takes away.
Does that scare you? It scares me. But it shouldn’t. If Christians all over the world have put their trust in God when running for their lives or suffering under an oppressive government or enduring a disease ravaging their community, then we can too. Maybe we need to pay better attention to how they do it.
Pretty good stuff, isn’t it? Here is our passage for today …
Ecclesiastes 8:1 – Who is like the wise? Who knows the explanation of things? A person’s wisdom brightens their face and changes its hard appearance.
2 Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. 3 Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. 4 Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?”
5 Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.
6 For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a person may be weighed down by misery.
7 Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?
8 As no one has power over the wind to contain it, so no one has power over the time of their death.
As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it.
9 All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. 10 Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.
11 When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong. 12 Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him. 13 Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.
14 There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. 15 So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.
16 When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night— 17 then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.
Maybe only one out of ten people or one out of a thousand have any idea of the risks that constantly face this country. Like a Star Wars movie where a pilot is navigating an asteroid field … significant dangers of all types could easily erase the life we are so accustomed to.
People have no idea of the numerous natural disasters that can strike. (Some people do actually, but most don’t and very few know actually the full extant of natural disaster risks that there are.)
People have no idea about how wicked people in this country have escaped punishment for their ongoing crimes. Several very wicked people will be praised at their funeral … just as the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote. The sentence against evil-doers is not quickly carried out and may never be carried out.
People have no idea about our “collective sins” and what will happen to this country as a result. Again perhaps some do, but few know the extant of our collective responsibility for not following the advice of the founding fathers of this country. More recent Presidents too have given strong advice … thinking of a farewell speech by Eisenhower for example. He said only a vigilant and alert citizenry could stop a certain problem that he saw developing. … Without getting into what he said … I can give this country an — F — for failing to heed his advice too.
Consequences unimaginable remain for being proud and arrogant, and not being humble and seeking God. Maybe we are being given a brief respite … but each day we don’t repent as a nation we are only adding to the calamity that is being added to the ledger of trouble due us.
Even now I am afraid I’m perhaps giving more concern to the state of the nation … than to what God wants. Trying to keep this country together is one thing … but the troubled state of Christianity is also something to be aware of and fight against. Wolves in parachurch ministries find it easy to toss out slogans and exploit the people of God with nice sounding truths … that are actually distortions and lies. Because we as a church often don’t properly let the word of God correct us we miss so much truth. Like politicians that rile people up with shallow sound bites, the church too often falls pray to those spouting slogans and targeting certain opposition groups.
In any case we can’t before God afford to be proud. We need to humbly seek him and repent of not following his will … and even sometimes repent for we don’t even know what his will is.
Please forgive me for my many words…
Awesome stuff! I think we all like to keep these truths closer to the back of our minds even though all Christ followers should know that we’re not immune to the same fate as our brothers and sisters in Sudan and North Korea. One of my favorite songs is “Blessed be the name of the Lord” because it reminds me “He gives and takes away”.