This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind? All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger. Ecclesiastes 5, verses 16 and 17.
Over the weekend, my mom reminded me of something that I had forgotten: a section of Ecclesiastes was read at my father’s funeral. Specifically, she asked the minister to read from Ecclesiastes 3, the section about a time for all things under heaven. It would seem like a strange funeral verse, that there is a time for everything, even a time for dying. If you think back, I think you’d agree with (my mother and) me that it isn’t strange at all. That section is poetic, perhaps the most poetic verses in all of Scripture. It’s also comforting to know that all things have a time and all things occur in God’s good time.
What about these verses today? They are far less comforting yet they still make a commentary about the timing of things. If you remember, yesterday’s verse talked about how we enter and exit life naked, and it obliquely contrasted this with the fact that we don’t get to take our possessions with us, but we do take the spiritual love that we’ve possessed in this life. Today, here’s another oblique contrast.
Working for ‘stuff’ all your life is evil. I said not long ago that I am a big believer in capitalism and ‘the market.’ I believe in what the American Founding Fathers said about the pursuit of happiness. If you’ve never read up on the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of ‘happiness’ is NOT talking about an emotional condition. If your civics teacher taught that, I’m sorry: they failed you. ‘The pursuit of happiness’ that Mr. Jefferson wrote of was the pursuit of wealth, the pursuit of ‘stuff.’ He wrote that we should be free to pursue making the most out of our lives free from the interference of government (in the 1770s case, free from the British monarchy and a meddlesome Parliament). Our lives are the time and place for earning, for striving to be free, and this is a right and proper thing, even a Godly thing, for us to do.
If that’s all you live for, then you are living for evil. No, this verse isn’t inconsistent with that founding American tenet. The key is ‘live for.’ If all you live for is the pursuit of happiness, then you are living for a grievous evil. Don’t be surprised when wealth, belongings, and possessions leave you feeling a bit hollow. Don’t be shocked if you find that sleeping around, rock and roll all night (and partying every day) just wears you down and leaves you feeling cold, used. All the striving to find purpose in things (or even in just the striving) turns us cold and empty. Without something to believe in, an empty soul will fill itself with anger, depression, resentment, frustration, and even more striving for more.
In other words, it will do what the verses say.
You and I were made for more. If you really want to rock and roll all night, check out some inner peace in God. Strangely enough, here’s where I think of Leo DiCaprio and his tuxedoed smirk on the Titanic: “so, do you wanna go to a real party?” I’m not here to tell you to not live for today. I think of another movie: The Color Purple. Whoopi Goldberg lives a harsh, terrible life of being used and abused when in breezes Oprah Winfrey. In response to suffering, Whoopi’s character says “this life don’t last forever.” There is heaven beyond. The Oprah refuses to stand for that. She won’t write off here and now, and insists that Whoopi stand up for herself. Before the tables turn later in the movie, don’t lose sight of that fact. We ARE to live for here and now, and we are to live better, and we ARE to live for tomorrow as well. It’s a ‘both/and’ type of situtation.
If you want to rock and roll all night (and party every day…thank you Messers Stanley and Simmons) then live it up; it’s your choice. If you want to do that and still live for something better, then submit yourself to God and watch what happens. It isn’t some cure-all action, some get-rich-quick scheme that will take away all your problems. What that submission (and subsequent faith building) can do, though, is help you deal with the frustration, anger and affliction that would otherwise fill up your soul when the partying is over and the rock and roll silent. Have the faith that Miss Celie talked about – remembering that heaven awaits – but don’t forget that we’re part of heaven now, not just later. Try that one on for size.
Try it on because it’s the only way there is to turn back the hopeless, grievous evil that walks with us every step of the way if we don’t. When my mom asked to have Ecclesiastes 3 read at Dad’s memorial, the minister did indeed tell her that it seemed like an odd verse to read at a time when people should seek spiritual comfort. I think that, in this case, she knew better. It is comforting to know there is a time for every purpose under heaven. The time to live is now.