So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. Ecclesiastes 2, verses 20 and 21.
First comes hating life, then comes despair. If you or I put our faith in the ways of the world, then the world will invariably let us down. Maybe you’re the husband who seeks other relationships because he’s immature and feeling unfulfilled; maybe you’re the wife who feels the same and wishes her husband understood. Maybe you’re the school kid who thinks that, if you just get all A’s, then everything will be fine and you won’t feel bad about things anymore. Maybe you’re the frustrated worker who feels that a promotion will make up for all those times when you felt you didn’t get credit enough. Maybe you’re a pastor who just can’t understand why more people aren’t flocking to your Sunday services.
Maybe you’re you or me.
I’m no PhD but I’m betting there’s a dissertation in studying the process from obsession to rejection/hatred through despair. It seems to be something like the process of grieving where we stage from denial through anger, bargaining, and depression until we finally reach acceptance. Perhaps there is some corollary to how we transition from sin through forgiveness. We do something wrong or desire something we shouldn’t, and when we get it, we hate the world for what ‘it did to us.’ It wouldn’t take long for that to evolve into despair.
You know, it’s a shame it has to be that way. God transitions our sins from our confessing them to being immediately forgiven. There are no in-between stages; there are no steps you need to land on for total forgiveness. We repent, we are forgiven. There’s nothing more involved and there’s nothing more to do: that’s simply how God does it. We’re the ones who muddy up the waters and muddle the process.
I think it’s a shame because the vestiges of our sins stick with us. We make ourselves own them even after we’ve let them go, even after God has taken them away. They are part of our past, and while we don’t need to even think about them or be defined by them any longer, in this world that still happens. We still meet people who know us way back when, or our memories bubble up, or the enemy attacks. The world is still full of reminders of our days gone by and it is constantly trying to drag us back into them. I think one of the most common ways that happens is through despair.
We are constantly reminded that our work is for nothing, that we’re never good enough. If we’ve put our faith, hope and trust in what we do (instead of what He did), then we’re constantly disappointed. After we’ve met our goal, there’s always another unfulfilled goal. When we have money, there’s always more money to be made. When we’re hooked on relationships, there’s always the next one. When we shop for solace, there’s always another bargain. Pick your pet sin: the process is similar.
The common denominator in all those things is us, and within us is our clinging to that sin. That sin can’t save, redeem or make us happy. It can only make us hate life, then lead to eventual despair. I think it becomes easy to wallow in that despair, to deepen it, when we open ourselves to the true thought that, when we die, all we have will go to somebody else. Everything we work for, everything that we thought would make us happy, becomes someone else’s property. The girl moves on, finds another guy. Our home is just another house to be sold to some stranger. Somebody else gets our treasured belongings. All that worry, work, angst, and faith that we put into making those things special doesn’t mean much.
And that’s ok.
It’s ok because we are meant for more, and we were meant for more in the middle of all that despair. Remember, when God takes away that worry, work, angst and misplaced faith, He takes it away immediately and forever. Our great misfortune becomes His greater glory and our greatest blessing. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: it’s that whole religious speech, that whole believer-angle and Christian thing. What about ME? What about how bad I feel because things haven’t worked out the way I want? What about my feelings?
What about them? Here’s a heart-felt offer: let me carry that for you for awhile. Let me do what Christ would do for you and help you out so you can take some time to regenerate in Him. Put down your cares, open up to Him, and let somebody help. You’ll be surprised how quickly hatred and despair can turn to forgiveness and peace.
That won’t happen, however, if we keep putting our faith in the world. We live in this world and we’re always going to be challenged by it. The tempter hasn’t changed his ways in millennia, and he won’t be doing so now. If we keep ourselves mired in the things that have made us unhappy, hating, or despairing, then we’re never going to really understand the true peace that God offers. It’s the point of this verse, the missing ingredient that contrasts the hopelessness that Ecclesiastes outlines. You won’t have to look far for it: you’ll find it at the foot of the cross.