The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Ecclesiastes 7, verse 8.
Another proverb that is good on its own but seems unrelated to the sayings around it. It’s a good standalone piece of advice, but where does it fit in? I mean, up to now in Chapter 7 we’ve seen how death and eternity are preferable to Saturday night (being alright for fighting, of course) , and how we’re all common criminals. Now are we back to this whole death thing? If so, why the verse on extortion and why this one now?
Ah ‘why.’ How much of our lives do we spend asking that word? “Why” worked out really well for Job, too. “Why did you do this to me, Lord,” he asked God. I think of God putting His arm around Job and answering “who are you?” Job, my man, I love you but who are you to tell me about how to be God? When you read the book of Job, you’re struck by heavy contrasts: the serious and deadly nature of competing for a man’s soul versus the absurdity of a mere man standing up to God Almighty and saying “yeah, what about it?”
So is this book. This chapter is a chapter about wisdom, all kinds of wisdom including those nuggets of it that seem to be misplaced (but really aren’t). In the middle of expounding on the wisdom of focus in life, the author of the book reminds of a simple truth: the end is better than the beginning and to get to that end you need patience. It takes pride to begin an undertaking, and it takes pride to get you through it.
When do you celebrate: at the beginning or at the end? Sometimes both, you know, but usually it’s the end, right? And what do you work for? Is it just a paycheck, just to get by, just to pay those bills? Nope! The job, even when we love it, is a means to an end. We work to reach completion. It’s a wonderful thing to get started. It’s even better to finish. Reaching the end means you’ve accomplished your mission, met your goal.
More importantly, though, it takes patience to get through something. Patience is required with my spouse. Patience is required with my children. It takes patience to work through project management, workplace drama, and schedule delays. It takes patience to deal with friends of differing opinions; it takes patience to hold my tongue and not always risk descending into sin by arguing for the last word. Patience is needed in city and long-distance driving. Patience is needed in church when the music is too loud and the pastor long-winded. Patience is needed to succeed through anything and in any relationship.
What’s more, patience is the antidote to pride. I struggle with pride, keeping it in perspective and treating it like a sharp knife. Pride can be a useful tool and even a necessary weapon, but that tool and weapon can easily be used against us. The better way is to step back, have faith, analyze, and act, not react. Pride has us react; patience is proactive. Faith is a fruit of using both in love.
Get the picture? And you know what else? All those people, all those roles, all those things? They show great patience in dealing with a proud knucklehead like me!
When you consider these words, then, in the context of the ones that came before them, it makes perfect sense. You get to consider that, perhaps,‘because’ really is the best answer to the ‘why’ question. I don’t need to have God remind me that I’m not Him, but I’m thankful when He does. He doesn’t do it with a celestial conversation of the ages, but He does do it with careful nudges and loving reminders all through my day. The answer comes in contentment, or unexpected kindness, or the small intellectual light bulbs that come on every now and then when I realize answers I think I should have known all along. It takes perseverance and determination to get through the times that lead up to these moments of serendipity. And it takes patience to deal with others and for them to deal with me no matter how determined either of us are.
Who am I that you are mindful of me? Who am I to ask ‘why’ something is the way it is? Some day in heaven, I look forward to meeting Job. I suspect he will have something interesting to say about it.