Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12, verses 13 and 14.
Today is New Year’s Eve, and today we finish these entries on the book of Ecclesiastes. It has taken us 8 months, together, to go through the entire book and see some ways in which God is still speaking through a three thousand year old poem. So much has happened this year that I’m not the same man I was on this date in 2011. Weddings, projects, devotions, vacations, crises, family times, friends won and friends lost, health scares, financial struggles, bonuses, that devastating Super Bowl loss, many movies, exercise pain, and cross-country odysseys: it has been a busy but very good year. Make your own list of what’s happened in this trip around the sun. I bet you’ll be able to say something similar.
At the conclusion of the matter, whether it be this year, this commentary or this book, God is still in, around and through it all. When we forget that, we forget to respect Him, honor Him, cherish Him just a little bit at a time. I’ve never experienced an event that, in itself, singularly crushes my faith in God. Yes, I know there are people who experience trauma that makes them turn their backs. I tend to believe this is actually the culmination of many questions building up over time instead of just one shock to the system. Losing our faith is like erosion: one wave at a time, the fallen world can wear away a rock-solid foundation. When that happens, when we allow it, we forget to fear God and keep His commandments.
When that happens to you, can you really, honestly, look back at a year like this one and be thankful for it? My friend, I have my doubts. I have doubts because, let’s face it: whether we acknowledge Him or not, God is still there. He’s in the eroding waves, and He is the tide that drives them. He’s in the rock, the shore, and the water. At the end of all things, He will still be there to bring us to account on what we’ve made of the gifts He has given to us. It’s like putting miles on a rental car: whether you did it on the highway or on the side streets, the owner is going to find out anyway. Or it’s like skipping school, cheating on a test (or cheating on your spouse or your taxes), taking seconds at every meal, or name our own secret vice: they’re going to be found-out someday anyway. I fail to understand how people can look back at things done in secret and not fear God.
I prefer to be thankful. Just a few years ago, I had shredded my life into tatters. Not just mine, but others around mine. My actions were the culmination of the heights of selfishness, and even though I tried to keep my deeds and my thoughts secret, they came out into the light. They always do. The path to healing from all this could only carry me to the cross, where I felt the weight of my guilt pressing my soul into dust. And at the cross, I began to feel that weight lifted off of me. The path since then hasn’t been easy, but it’s one in which I’ve always felt the warm light of hope shining down on me from that cross. It helps me to remember that God sees all, God judges all, and God wants to forgive us all. Living in that thought, at the end of it all, I prefer to be thankful.
“Have the courage to live. Anyone can die.” That’s a saying I saw on a tattoo. But it’s true, and it, too, is contained in these last verses of Ecclesiastes. We all die; Stephen King says ‘we each owe a death for a life,’ and that’s also true. Contained in the loving respect of God is an insatiable will to live. It takes courage to live, to fight through all that happens in a year. Whether you live in 2012 or in antiquity Judea with Solomon, it takes courage to understand the consequences of our actions and how they fit into the big picture of life. Any schlub can go through the days and expire. It takes a person of courage to live boldly. The Man from Galilee taught us that. Starting with the new year, let’s you and I each have courage.
So at the end of a book whose focus seemed at first to be hopeless, I find freeing hope instead. All that we do in this world is meaningless without understanding there is real hope and solace in God. It’s the promising kind of hope, not the wishing well version; it’s knowing wisdom instead of unanswered questions.
The year ends in just a few hours; heck, somewhere in the world it’s already over. The year to come promises to be a mountain range of new heights. There will be dark valleys, meandering trails, coursing streams to ford, and rockslides designed to block our way. There will also peaks with brilliant vistas, and there will be cleansing exercise that builds us up. At the end of it, a year from now perhaps we will stand again at the edge of a meadow, out of the mountains and on the start of a new plain. Will it be a fertile field in which to grow, or will it simply be the edge of the desert? That path remains to be walked, unwritten. Grab His hand and let’s walk into it together. We aren’t who we were last year, and we aren’t yet who we will be a year from now, but we’re better all the same. I’m thankful for that. And for you, and for all the blessings that God’s wisdom imparts to us. Happy New Year, my friend, and bless your new year to come.