A Mess

Therefore, I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me. For everything is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
— Ecclesiastes 2:17
If all of our days are only blessings and pleasures, then it will tempt some to dismiss Solomon, to rebuke him, to quote to him or exhort him to greater faith. Prone to believe that his talk about hating life reveals immaturity at its worst or burnout or depression at its best, we might want to ask the Preacher to step down from this pulpit. We might want to turn off his sermons and turn instead to more comforting messages in other books of the Bible. After all, while we seek a healthier, more mature teacher to replace him, he can get the help he needs, and we can get back to learning about the happy faith and dynamic hope that God’s people are meant to have.

Yet Solomon’s language resembles the rest of the Bible’s wisdom literature. We learn from such books and such language that the life of faith includes these untidy sentiments. God gives us categories for faith that include the capacity for all ranges of emotion and thought. Faithful despair, wise hatred, hallowed hollering, and good complaint rise for our mentoring.
— Zack Eswine, Recovering Eden
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Between the reports of racism once more ignored, sexual violence and trauma abundant, and just the toil of the day to day, our last words to each other before finally falling asleep were, “I am overwhelmed. Jesus, come save.”

Disappointment slides thick and gooey all over the pages of Ecclesiastes, the teacher’s autobiography beginning right before chapter two as he indulges his indulgences as meaningless, unhelpful. Delineating between that which brings enjoyment and that which can fully satisfy is limiting and exclusive, but it doesn’t stop him from trying. Especially as he sees life in light of our inevitable end, no matter who you are, he preaches in his own way about balancing the emotions that may dictate our days requiring not an ignorance, but a new sort of wisdom. As many have said before, we long for Eden, and it is not here yet.

This can be read as referring to a failed attempt on the part of Qohelet at creating something like paradise.
— Adrian Verhey
There is nothing better for a person than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen that even this is from God’s hand, because who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from him? For to the person who is pleasing in his sight, he gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy; but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and accumulating in order to give to the one who is pleasing in God’s sight. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
— Ecclesiastes 2:24-26

I wish things were easy, tidy, simple and formulaic. But most of us know that even those who have followed the “rules” have seen that even obedience doesn’t come out to the success we think we deserve and crave in this world; in fact, oftentimes obedience has put us in places of risk, want, and even death. Things are not clear-cut, not black and white, but muddied in the waters we find ourselves in and even are ourselves.

The answer to our disappointment with the way things are is not a cheerful face and positive answer. Many may shout, “count it all joy,” pushing down and away that which feels unacceptable. Yet, these are things we must pass through. Hope is hard to muster, and Qohelet makes it plain that even that hope must be a gift received. As Eswine calls this life “untidy,” we look at our hands and consider our own deeds and thoughts unclean.

We may be tempted to run to the old adage that even the assembler tries for himself, “ignorance is bliss.” Our tired hearts would prefer it most nights after carelessly running through the endless supply of evil events in our world. We hold a messy tension in our hands, and as we seek to quiet its voice through something other than the lament of Maranatha and the pressing in to the mass of goodness that does surround us, though undeserved, we come up ever thirsty, parched.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the humble,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
— Matthew 5:3-10

With little pockets of Shalom, we live in dependence in this world that values independence; we are upside-down people following a crucified and yet alive King. We wait.