There is so much for us to learn from the Bible. It is a deep well of truth, and we will never get to the bottom of it. We could spend our whole lives carefully considering every passage, admiring the way that all the parts work together in support of the whole and seeing the glory of Christ on every page. There is also much to learn from life. God has created a world of beauty and order. We can never run out of things to learn in our observations of the world and our consideration of the glory of man. It is the intersection of these two great streams of knowledge that makes the Christian life such a rich adventure. God has ordained the pathway of our personal consideration of the world, and He directs us along that journey with the truth of His Word.
In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher writes to us of many things that an astute observer of the human condition could learn without opening the Bible. However, it is so much better for us if we will open our hearts to what God has said to us from heaven through His prophetic ambassadors. The person who refuses to think about life at all will miss so much, but the thoughtful man must face some difficult facts. To take in all of this in both the Bible and the experiences of life, to let it touch you as one who seeks to live it out in the presence of God without a lot of showy spirituality, this is wisdom. This wisdom helps a man to maintain a good name and to avoid the traps of enslaving sin.
Many parents throughout history have passed on to their children the importance of the preservation of the family name. This attention to character is better than all of the luxury items with which we could pamper ourselves. When someone trashes his name with foolishness and immorality, he should not think that he hurts only himself. He injures others in his family. Yet there is forgiveness, restoration, and even wisdom that can be gained through failure. We are connected by bonds of love and duty that should never be severed.
Some of this may seem obvious, but other related insights in this chapter are more surprising. We celebrate the day of birth and mourn the day of death, but should a reasonable man be able to see another side to this? Is it better to enter a world of futility or to leave that world to go to the place where God dwells? We love to gather together for a wedding celebration, but does that party contribute to our character formation as much as a good funeral carefully considered? The honest recognition of our limits is something that we need to take to heart.
More generally, do we have enough of an appreciation for the way in which God uses sorrow to shape our character, or is our goal to laugh our way through life and leave this world with a joke on our lips? There is a deep happiness and a fullness of soul that requires some loss. The person who has not yet experienced significant tragedy lacks something essential. The one who has faced trouble or received a stinging correction should make use of these trials, recognizing that much good can come from our worst moments if they are thoughtfully embraced.
Wise living longs to end well rather than mourn over a completely new beginning that can never be. This requires patience, perspective, and a rejection of false sentimentality that longs for the good old days. The world was under futility in those days of supposed bliss and innocence. Reject false optimism about the future under the sun. Do not imagine that people can somehow make straight what God has made crooked. Enjoy any present prosperity as a gift of the same God who also brings adversity. He surely has a purpose for one as He does for the other.
Here’s another good surprise to take to heart: Do not be overly righteous in some grand display of devotion to God that will only hasten your death. God knows the cross that He has ordained for your life. There is no need to order up two or three more that you bring upon yourself to show how very wise and dedicated you are. Of course, don’t race off to test the safe limits of wickedness and stupidity just because you will always be covered by the eternal grace of God. Wisdom is available to you. Sin is not only all around you, but it is also within you. There is no need to make yourself a celebrity by extreme living of one kind or another. There is a certain reasonable quality to a good life that is consistent with resting upon the sinless virtue and wisdom of Another who has done what we could never do.
Recognize the depth of the human problem and take it in deeply. Here it is: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” That deep problem required that a new Man come from heaven to make a way for us to have true peace with Almighty God. If we imagine that we will be purer than God, we will soon find ourselves where we should not be, enticed by a temptation too strong for us, leading to a further fall that reminds us who we really are. As the Preacher says after considering both life and God’s Word, “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” The necessary fix for this world could never be achieved by the strength, wisdom, and righteousness of a natural man. But God has done through the second Adam what no man could do.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Our Father, teach us how to live in this age. Grant us the wisdom of a right assessment of times of mourning, and those difficult lessons in our lives that yield patience and hope. Keep us from foolish words, for we would wrongly imagine the past as better than it really was. We cannot return to a day that is long gone. The better life must come in some future time. Surely You have made many things in this age to be crooked and broken according to Your providence. Do we really think that we can fix them with our work and wisdom? How can we, since we are broken and troubled? Help us to have a balanced life, not showy in our righteousness, but humble in our thoughts and behavior, for there is no one who does not sin. What a wonder that Your Son was without sin! He has come to save us. He has taken away the final sting of death. Now we have something beyond the bitterness of loss. The fact of our transgression remains a glaring truth for anyone who has eyes to see, for You created man to be upright, but we have sought out many schemes. This ugly problem demands a true solution. We thank You that the answer has come. Your Son has defeated both sin and death through His perfect life and through the cross.