After several chapters of the Preacher’s words, are you beginning to suspect that he is just a pessimist? Is he missing the happier parts of truth? Don’t be too critical of him. We have already heard his advice that there are many things in life that can and should be joyfully received. The problem is that with everything that we experience in this life where we could say, “That is genuinely beautiful,” we soon discover that even a little dead fly’s worth of folly can easily create a nasty stench in what should have been a sweet-smelling ointment of wisdom perfume.
Every day there is so much good to be experienced, yet we know that misery and death are all over the earth. No one can escape the effects of the Fall. Even the wise man has this problem within himself, but if we supposed for a moment that we could almost entirely (say 99%) surround ourselves with people that are almost entirely wise (use 99% again just for fun), not only would we have to deal with the 1% folly in the wisest people, we would also be irked by the presence of the 1% of the population that is actually pursuing a course of foolishness. Our percentages are certainly very optimistic, but even if they were correct, that 1% of mess would make all the difference. Fools will be noticed. And occasionally, the owner’s only child will be a fool, and guess who inherits the business?
How do you live in a world where you may work for a fool? If you can find a job where you can serve God better and enjoy life more, gain your freedom as soon as you can. But there are times when you will not be able to do that, and there are other times when your old job only looked horrible until you spent a few weeks at your new job which you thought would be so much better. (I wonder if they are still hiring at the old place?)
There is wisdom in recognizing that the various authorities that you live with in your life are infected with folly, just as we all are. We need to be able to live in the real world, knowing that this is not heaven yet. Stay calm, give a troubling situation some time if at all possible, and do not presume that you have the answer to every blemish that you encounter on the planet.
Sometimes our insistence that we can fix everything only causes more damage. By the time we are finished there are three or four smelly flies in the ointment instead of just one. You sweat to dig a pit to hide some eyesore, and then you fall into the sludge yourself. You break down a wall that you thought would improve the view, and there is a snake lurking behind it, ready to bite. You are digging away at a rock to get at what looks like precious gems, and some boulder higher up on the mountainside comes rolling towards you. You save some money by cutting your own wood, and you end up getting a splinter that leads to a nasty infection. With so many of your great plans ending up yielding more misery, you are not sure whether to laugh or to cry. The Preacher’s advice: Take a moment to think. Use wisdom at least as much as you use blood, sweat, and tears.
One other hint for getting by in a world of futility and danger: Choose your words carefully and don’t talk so much about things that you only pretend to understand. Do you really know what the future will be like under the sun? What is the point of pretending that you know what God has chosen to conceal? Focus on what you can and should know. For instance, find out the way to your destination before you spend all your effort walking in the wrong direction. That’s something you can know. “The toil of a fool wearies him, for he does not know the way to the city.”
As you walk through this world to the best destination, remember that you live in a place with real danger, where incompetent, lazy leaders may ruin life for those who have no other choice but to make the best of a bad situation. Eat well, have a glass of wine, buy something that might make your day more pleasant. But don’t wag your tongue all day long against those in charge. A proverbial “little bird” may bring them news of your exaggerated insurrection. If some place here below is your celestial city, you will find that when you get there, there is more than just one fly in the ointment. If the place was perfect before your arrival, it won’t be after you get there.
God sent His Son into this world not because it was a great vacation spot. Take an honest look all around you. This is not yet paradise. Jesus came from heaven in order to set you on a journey, and in the process, to restore His creation to what it should be. He was not confused about where He was, or about where He was eventually going. His toil along the journey home to the Father was not wasted. He has become not only our final destination, but also the way that we can get to that celestial city that will one day come down upon this earth at the renewal of all things. Admitting that we are not entirely in heaven now is an important component of true wisdom, and it will help you live in a world that is not yet perfected in holiness.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Father God, our lives here are brief and there is so much to learn. Teach us to be wise. There is much that does not seem to make sense, yet You have a way of working out Your purposes even in this world of confusion. Teach us to hear the Word of true wisdom that You have spoken through Your prophets. There is much trouble in many lands. We have forgotten the appropriate appreciation of those who have been blessed with great gifts. We do not know how to bend the knee in order to show deference. How will we ever worship You? How will we ever move ahead? You are above us. We are below You. If we do not know this most obvious fact, how can we live wisely at all? Teach us the way of wisdom, though we are slow to understand many things. Surely You are God. You know the beginning from the end.