In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. Ecclesiastes 7, verse 15.
Haven’t we all, your highness? King Solomon, haven’t we all known this?
The government mis-steps in reaction to a crisis and yet it is the person making challenging statements about those mis-steps who is criticized. A young child lives a harmless life, a life of loving goodness, and dies at seven of leukemia. An old nun lives a life of despairing servitude and serving despair in the slums of Calcutta. The disgraced former president is hailed as the political savior of his faction. There is a kind grandmother who lives her entire life caring for others and dies penniless in a nursing home having never really known true happiness. And there is the story of that minister in Iran who was held in jail for a year for refusing to recant his Christian faith and turn from his apostasy back to Islam.
Any of these statements could have been taken from the press of our time; some of them were. Yet the point the three thousand year old verse makes is true, namely that these kinds of stories are nothing new. The good die young and the wicked live long lives of luxury. That’s an extreme statement though; one that really doesn’t fully square with commonplace life. How about this instead? You do the right thing and get no credit for it while the weasel gets ahead for breaking the rules. Has that ever happened in your experience? Or did your parents ever punish you for something you didn’t do while your sibling got away with what they did? Does that hit closer to home?
In it, through it, and around it, there is God. The best any of us can answer when we ask “why” about these things is “because.” That ‘because’ is because of God. My kids would hate that answer; don’t all kids rail on us when they ask why they can’t do something and we answer ‘because?’ Understanding the meaning of the word, though, comes with maturity and time. ‘Because God said so’ or ‘because of God’ means something different to me now than it did even just a few years ago. Sometimes the only right answer to such an ethereal questioning ‘why’ really is ‘because of God.’ Because of the love of God we know that He works in, through, and around all situations in our lives. That’s the essence of faith: that God loved us enough to do for us what we couldn’t. When we accept and cling to believing in that, the answer of ‘because’ makes sense. When we don’t, it becomes a frustration to us and life seems meaningless. More so, life without God is exposed as meaningless and we are vexed at why the good die young and the bad get away with murder (sometimes literally).
And still there is the mystery of God. To give meaning to the meaningless and all the answers to all the questions of eternity, there is the mysterious and meaningful loving presence of God.
A life lived solely in and for the human experience is meaningless. There is no purpose in it; there is no higher calling, no reason or even reason to search for a reason. We are deluded if we think that the pursuit or cherishing of knowledge, power or possessions is purpose. Solomon called it ‘a chasing after the wind.’ A life lived only for the sake of living, of being human, even of glorifying just the human condition is a life of petty poverty. It is meaningless. Yet in what is commonly called ‘post-modern America,’ there are so many folks to whom this seems the highest aspiration. Again, this is nothing new. History has seen this many times before. History has seen this kind of thing happen in empires large and small, in families and situations all the way back to antiquity. I think an earlier chapter said it over and over: “there is nothing new under the sun.” Amen.
Because of God, because of the mystery of Him, there is meaning. Because of God, all the things that seem unjust or unfair to us have restitution. Sometimes that’s immediate, sometimes it will take a lifetime. However long it takes, it is His promise. When we are still to know Him, He never leaves us empty. And when we know Him, the fairness questions of all history take on meaning. We see them for what they are and are finally free to find their answer in one that will last.