God has subjected the world to futility as a result of Adam’s sin. The various miseries that come to us through evil, decay, and death are not all equally debilitating. But there is an evil that lies heavy on mankind.
Not all weighty evils can be appreciated by those who have not lived through them. From the outside, a rich man’s life may seem to be a happy life, a life of ease. But what if he lives in fear that what he has may be taken away from him, and he cannot even enjoy his food at night? How good is that life for the one who has to live it? One day he may be removed from his property, and all that he worked for throughout his life goes to a man he has never met. That is a weighty evil. Such things are very possible in this world, and anxiety over such an event can easily ruin a man’s life.
Many people find satisfaction elusive. They may never find it, and if they do, they cannot keep it. Do not think that any of us are immune to such difficulties. Are you able to perfectly keep anxiety away from your heart? If so, you may still be a carrier of the disease to others. Your lack of anxiety may make others around you more anxious. Or you may be a man of power with thousands of people working for you, and yet anxiety may be stealing away all your joy. If the day of your death comes and no one cares to give you a respectful burial, has your great life really been that great? The Preacher of Ecclesiastes gives God’s inspired verdict: “I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.” That child will find a rest that the rich man may never see. All men go to one place on earth: the grave. Yet their experience beyond this life may not be the same.
Man works so that he can eat, yet in just a few hours he will be hungry again. Do not exempt yourself from this kind of insight just because you have faith in Christ. You get hungry just as any other man does. Nothing can satisfy the appetite of your mortal body forever. A wandering appetite can lead to a world of trouble. And when will that kind of desire be fully satisfied under the sun?
As we feel the weight of trials such as these, we are reminded again of the One who is in charge, not only of our moments of clarity and opportunity, but also of those times when we feel the pinch of disappointment and even the crushing weight of more serious losses. The Preacher reminds us of this fact once again: “Whatever has come to be has already been named.” The Almighty Lord is the One who has named the future long before we experience it as the present. God is so different from us in that regard. There are all kinds of people who pretend that they know what the future will bring, but these details are known only to the Lord.
When a man finds himself beneath the hand of an oppressor he can know that even this deplorable and ungodly situation is under the ruling hand of the same Lord who gives us the sunshine and the rain. God is not surprised as the difficulties in our lives unfold. Certainly the problems of misery and futility are not ultimately within the power of man to solve. We cannot fix the world and our own lives with all our beautiful words.
Not only are we out of our league concerning the power that would be required to remove the futility that is now expressing itself throughout the created order, we do not even have the knowledge that would be necessary to determine what would be good for us and others. Do we suppose that life without trials would be the best thing for our character development in this age? Where is the evidence for this? Everyone asks God for an easy life, but how can we understand the fact that a man who lives in that ease which so many only dream of may still go to bed at night with an anxious heart? God has the knowledge, the power, and the love to work out all these details in this complex world to the end that is most pleasing to Him. This is a fact that we need to embrace.
Chief among the mysteries of God’s painful providences is the necessity of the suffering of the Son of God for our salvation. Jesus was able to walk through His burdensome trial knowing that if there had been any other way, then God would have taken this wretched cup from the hand of His beloved Son. There simply was no other way to accomplish His purposes.
If the sufferings of Jesus, the injustice, betrayal, and rebellion that He faced, were all rightly a part of God’s plan for glory, then how can we question our heavenly Father concerning our own light and momentary afflictions? We cannot fathom the purpose that God might have for emotional turmoil or for a lifetime of toil leading only to the transfer of a man’s wealth to an unrighteous usurper who takes what is not his own through cunning deception. It is all very much beyond us. Our confidence is in this: God knows. He surely loves us. His own Son faced many details of trouble and torment that are far more mysterious than the worst episodes of our lives. We can trust the Lord and worship Him as those who have peace with God through the life and death of Jesus.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Glorious Lord, a man may gather much wealth, and then not be able to enjoy what he has worked for. Who can make sense of this? It seems without purpose, and surely You are a God not only of power and beauty, but of purpose. We see this in what You have created and in how You sustain and rule all things. Yet of what worth is life when a man is dishonored at His death? Is this the end of the story of men under the sun? Will the answer for poverty and disgrace come from beyond this creation? Will You send us a new heavens and a new earth? You have spoken to us through the prophets, and through Your Son Jesus, and have told us wonderful things that we now hear clearly through Your Word. We thank You for the coming fulfillment of the work and wisdom of Jesus Christ. He is the One who is more impressive than the temple in Jerusalem! He is the One who is wiser than Solomon! It is through Him that we have lasting fellowship with You.