Ecclesiastes Series #4
Ecclesiastes 9:1-10 and 11-18
Our scripture lesson today is a culmination (I suppose) of all the despair and all the frustrations that are laid out for us in the previous chapters of Ecclesiastes: with what must certainly be... the ultimate reality of the meaninglessness of a life lived apart from God...
And that reality... that ultimate conclusion of vanity: is death itself.
The Teacher - admittedly tried just about everything life could offer in his vain attempt to find satisfaction, and meaning, and purpose - all to no avail. It was all a meaningless and empty persuit... nothing was capable of filling the void - the God shaped void - that we talked about last week.
And in the third verse of our lesson for today, the Teacher essentially argues that death is not only the exclamation point of vanity... it’s the greatest of all evils. I don’t think any of us would argue with that! If you’ve experienced the grief that’s associated with death… You know how devastatingly evil it can feel.
We were ALL created for abundant life with God! But sin… SIN entered this world, and caused death to have authority over our lives. The teacher describes death is the great equalizer: “the same destiny overtakes us all.”
There was an article in the magazine “Christianity Today” not that long ago, about a doctor named Paul K. I’m calling him Dr. K because I cannot pronounce his last name (Kalanithi)!
Dr. K was a neurosurgeon at Stanford University, who devoted his life to helping the dying... especially in terms of the suffering that’s associated with a terminal diagnosis. But just as Dr. K was finishing his residency, he himself was given a terminal diagnosis.
It reminds me of a minister friend (who some of you knew intimately) who used to say, “None of us are getting out of this life alive!” None of us... even those best equipped to deal with the stark realities of life... are immune from it.
Dr. K died in March 2015.
But about a year after his passing, Dr. K’s memoir was published (and became a New York Times bestseller). Dr. K’s book explored the ways he and his family found life and hope in the midst of looming death.
This Doctor, who’d invested so much of his life to helping others work through their terminal conditions... literally practiced what he preached... offering hope and encouragement from his personal experiences, with others walking the same path.
Our scripture lesson today (9:7-10), describes a very similar kind of hope: the realization that death can make things seem meaningless, but it can also give meaning to life!
It’s all about perspective!
The perspective of living life “under the sun” or apart from God, always leads to the realization of meaningless despair in death. But a life lived with God allows us to acknowledge the good gifts God has given, and find hope and joy in spite of our own terminal condition - under the sun.
I don’t know about you, but I love pulling for underdogs… And I have talked about this before. But rooting for an underdog in some competition, game, or event, can be thrilling (if you don’t have a dog in the fight). It can be exhilarating to watch someone who doesn’t seem to have a chance at all, work diligently, and hard... and in the process, manage to pull off a dramatic upset. One of the reasons we tend love stories about underdogs, is because they flip our expectations. It’s easy to expect the stronger and faster team to win... it’s usually an easy bet. We naturally expect a person with more experience to come through in the end… Favorites are usually the favorite for a reason.
But, quite often in life... the expected is not the reality.
Our scripture today, verses 11 and 12, shift us to a discussion about the rules that actually govern our life on earth. Not only does death make those rules seem meaningless, but the Teacher discovered that they don’t always work out the way we expected anyway! Sometimes the talented and strong still lose, and the wise and learned fail.
Ecclesiastes reminds us that we can’t always count on the tried and trusted in this life. You can’t always rely on the temporal nature of this world. Because not only does death put an end of the rewards and achievements of people who work hard, but sometimes life doesn’t even guarantee those rewards to begin with!
And then... verses 13 through 16 take this whole idea step further: sometimes the TRULY valuable thing isn’t even recognized or valued at all!
In this broken and fallen world, we’re inclined to listen to the loudest voices… or the richest, or most powerful people, instead of valuing the gifts of all kinds of people. The Teacher points out in verse 16 “But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer needed.”
That sounds awfully depressing and pessimistic, on the surface...
But there’s an implicit HOPE in the very next verse… That “wisdom is better than weapons of war” and that while “one sinner destroys much good” - REMEMBER this is all from the perspective of being under the sun… or apart from God. It’s easy to despair in a world where all of the evil here is very, very real and true. But the good news, is that we are not left to our despair…
The greatest hope that any of us could ever aspire to have is this… “But there was a poor, but wise man, who saved… but his wisdom is despised...” Sound familiar?
Who’s name naturally comes to mind, for the believer, when we hear of a poor man, full of wisdom, who became a savior, but his life and teachings have been rejected? Jesus, right?
The prophet Isaiah (53:3) pointed to the One who “was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
From our perspective... as followers of Christ... from “the side of salvation”… post resurrection… our narrative has changed! We no longer live life from the perspective of being “under the sun” or apart from God. We live from death to life… from meaninglessness to purpose… from vanity to fulfillment! We have every reason to be filled with hope! We have every reason to be filled with life…
The teacher wasn’t necessarily making a direct reference to Jesus, but if you have the perspective of a Christian… the Teacher’s words certainly reinforce for each of us, that God may not always use strongest nor the richest people... and the quiet wisdom that He values is often despised by the people who need it most.
But we can rest assured, as followers of Christ… that even in the midst of the greatest of despair - when we’re staring down death itself - we have hope, a blessed assurance…
When we’re living life in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ... nothing we do, or experience, is meaningless. Not even death. Christ brings meaning to it all!