“Look,” says the Teacher,“ this is what I have discovered: “Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things — while I was still searching but not finding — I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all. This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Ecclesiastes 7, verses 27 – 29.
Yep, another chauvinist verse from the chauvinist king, right? More sexism to prove that men have always been sexist pigs who only want to keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, right?
No, not quite.
I had to read through this a few times to figure out what it meant. That didn’t help much, so I read through some commentaries online. The one with which I most closely agreed is at johnnybdaily.blogspot.com/2011/06/ecclesiastes-727-29-where-is-your.html. The short blog entry says, in a nutshell, “The point of Solomon’s statement is not that women are unwise, but that hardly anyone, man or woman, is upright before God.” Coming as it does – at the end of this particular chapter – that interpretation makes sense to me. It makes sense because of the word “mankind.” That tells me that the verses are meant to apply to all of humanity, not just a particular gender. Sure, coming on the heels of the last verse – you know, that other one where Solomon talked about women being a snare – it’s understandable that the King Solomon’s opinion of women was limited by his experience and his choices. But it wasn’t so limited that it obscured his understanding of what God meant him to say about everybody.
We are all sinners. Christ yearns, works and loves to transform our spirits to redeemed saints, but our nature as people is still inclined to sin. Those two are constantly at war, and as long as that war endures, we are not upright. Without the covering of Christ, we can’t stand innocent before an upright, holy God. Without the covering of Christ, our lives are indeed without hope, chock a bock full of guilt, resigned to fall deeper into depravity.
One other thing I noticed about the verse is how Solomon’s search for meaning is an ongoing thing. He was still searching but not finding. This was a life-long pursuit, this understanding of wisdom. Even with the gift of divine discerning, Solomon still sought out to understand ‘why.’ That’s part of the beauty of wisdom, that it leaves us hungry to be more wise, to seek further wisdom that we might interpret it better. It is also the curse of humanity, that we may ever be hungry to want to know more.
Hand in hand with that hunger is that it is we who choose to follow the many schemes. God made us upright. From the beginning, from Eden, God made us as ‘very good’ and intended that we should remain so. He could be in full communion with us if we were ‘very good’ and holy. That changed with the fall. First the woman, then the man, and through him, all mankind. She chose the scheme, then her husband chose the same scheme. Maybe the verse is a subtle reference to original sin, that Eve sinned first and then tempted Adam to join her. Who was the weaker: the original sinner in woman or the man who gave in to woman’s temptation?
In the end, it doesn’t matter because you and I are still tempted by those same schemes. Yes, our sins vary by the severity of how they affect mankind but in the eyes of God you or I are no different from most diabolical murderer in history. We chose it; we still choose it. We choose it every time we give into those pet temptations. Mine is women; yours is gambling; your brother’s is drinking; your kid’s is swearing; your father’s is stealing; your cousin’s is envy; your neighbor wants someone dead. A sin is a sin is a sin. My cardinal sin is no different that Adam and Eve’s simple idolatrous disobedience. It’s the same for you. We’re in the same gene pool; we’re both mankind. We’re in the same gene pool with the person who sees zero problem with holding onto their wrongs and causing even more.
I’ve mentioned here before that my son and I (and now my wife) enjoy “The Walking Dead.” If you aren’t familiar with the show, it’s about life in Georgia after a zombie apocalypse. The living survivors are (literally) just trying to stay alive, and the show is about them and their struggle. Most of the characters are (what we would consider in a ‘normal’ world) every-day people. A sheriff’s deputy and his wife & son, a veterinarian, an attorney, a housewife, college students, a trucker, a hunter…and a rabid white supremacist (who is returning in the coming season): they’re all thrown together just trying to stay alive. Their sins are our sins. The innocent child is the deputy is the housewife is the redneck who hates people because of their skin. I am you and you are me. We are all in the same world; we are all mankind. We were all made to be upright but we aren’t, so we are all intended to be redeemed, bought back, and transformed in mind, spirit and body. That, too, is a common fact of mankind.