I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 1, verses 12 – 14.
Let’s start by admitting I was wrong. Verse 11 wasn’t the end of the chapter…it was simply an intermission. It’s an intermission that I failed to recognize in the online Bible from which I copy these verses now (biblegateway.com, where you can find dozens of different translations). When I was researching yesterday’s verse, I looked and mistakenly saw the verse that I thought started chapter 2. My apologies for any confusion I might have caused.
And I was wrong about another thing: we don’t just bring on troubles ourselves. Indeed, perhaps God sometimes ‘puts’ them on us. Isn’t that what the verse says? Oh boy, here we go with that thought.
Not long ago I was talking with a woman who said she thought God hated her. She’s had up and down troubles and things haven’t always been easy. She told me she really thought that God hated her, that He was punishing her for something. The choices of her life hadn’t made her happy and things had been going wrong. She felt very depressed. My response was that I didn’t believe that was true, that God didn’t hate her, that she was being attacked when she was vulnerable.
But does this verse prove me wrong? It says “what a heavy burden God has laid on men.” Not my words: they’re the author’s (presumably King Solomon, though it could have been someone else). Doesn’t that imply that God puts our sins on us? When we mess up, God places those sins squarely on our shoulders. If we’ve done anything that is wrong, doesn’t that kind of make it God’s fault, at least in part, for letting that happen?
It’s talking about vanity.
In fact, isn’t it just a little vain to imply that God is at fault for our choices? Like it or not, when we transgress, when we sin, when we mess up, when we do wrong, however you want to put it, we make choices. If you tell your kid to not do something and you stand back and they do it, does that put you at fault? If your boss tells you to not do something (or if a regulation says not to) but you do it anyway, is your boss at fault for putting you in the work environment?
Again, the verses are talking about vanity. After considering that the works of man without God are meaningless, Solomon admits that even with all his God-given wisdom, he looked into the doings of men and did some of those things himself. All that wisdom didn’t prevent him from knowing he could be in temptation at any moment. All that wisdom didn’t stop him from doing wrong when he did (and later in life, Solomon went very wrong, forsaking God and chasing after idols). The more he looked at the human condition, the more he saw that living on our own, just for ourselves, was hopeless, fruitless, purposeless, and a life lived in vain. What’s more, the more he looked the more he saw that it was vanity by choice, that is, even a form of idolatry to think that we know better than the God over all things. It is a vain choice, a hopeless one. Pure vanity; pure vain choice.
God doesn’t dog-pile our sins onto us. He allows them to enter into our lives because He doesn’t want robots who simply do what He says automatically. God is love and He wants that love in our lives. He gives us the choice to love or not, knowing that any deviation from His love isn’t love. Sin is anything that separates us, even a little bit, from that love. God doesn’t put our sins on our shoulders, but He does allow us to put them there ourselves. He is that parent above, telling us what is right & wrong, then standing out of the way to let us experience our choices. Good choices usually bring reward; bad choices bring less desirable consequences. Either one is done in love because it takes a truly loving God to even allow us the liberty of free choice. Even when we get down, God doesn’t abandon us. Instead, he offers us an alternative. Turn from the meaningless and seek His real meaning. God wants us to love him selflessly, the way He loves us, not to be forcibly compelled to do so.
So even when you’re king, you get to see the fruit of your choices and how meaningless things are when you decide that it’s all about me.
Which brings me back to my friend. She’s a good person, a educated lady and a survivor. She’s also a sinner like me and you. I reminded her that she knew her Scripture and that nowhere in Scripture does it say that God hates us or that He does things to get back at us. If He did that, we couldn’t live. I identify with her depression; I’ve been there myself. Nobody wants to say something that can get someone even more down, so I didn’t. I simply reminded her that God loves her and through these struggles that love can shine even more. My own experience is that, the more depressed I get over something the more that love seems to be hidden from me. But that’s an attack, a consequence of my wrongs. It’s the enemy working overtime to hide what God really feels for me from me. In reality, when I do wrong, like Paul says, God’s love is all the more amplified. The enemy fights a real spiritual war every minute against us, trying to keep me from seeing that God is always calling me back to His plan of good for my life. So it is with me, so it is with my friend, so it was with Solomon (or whoever wrote Ecclesiastes) and so it is with you.
And that’s where I leave it. I’m reminded of The Band, and Levon Helm (who recently died) and their song “The Weight.” The song wasn’t written about the life of a believer, but it could have been. “Take a load off Annie, take a load for free; take a load off Annie, and you can put the load right on me.” That refrain could have been written about you, me and God, who seems to put the weight of our vain sins on us but, in reality, lets us carry it around so we can see how much He really wants to do it for us instead. Lay down whatever burden you have. Lay it down and rest from it for awhile. Be content with the success of the moment, even when that success is simply having air in your lungs and a smile on your face. As long as we’re here, we have life and we can choose to keep trying to do better. Troubles come but we can deal with them, we can resist and turn from them when we realize that all things apart from God are meaningless and, like His Son said, apart from Him we can do nothing.