July 22, 2014

iMonk: All My Wrestling

Ecclesiastes (detail), Swanson

Ecclesiastes (detail), Swanson

From the classic Michael Spencer post: The Ecclesiastes Attitude

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The God of the Bible knows what he is doing. His work is, as scripture says, “past finding out.” He asks for no advice. He is not holding question and answer press conferences. He is not writing books of ten easy-to-understand bullet pointed explanations. He has spoken, and it is up to me to hear, believe and live accordingly.

And for me, at least, it’s difficult. It’s difficult knowing that I have failed in so many ways, hurt so many people, brought so many sinful consequences into my relationships…and God is at work- somehow- in all of it.

I want God’s purposes to be carried out through what I’ve done right. I’ve studied, preached, taught, served, counseled, led, encouraged and lived for the Gospel for more than 35 years. I want God’s purposes to be in response to all the sermons I’ve prepared. I don’t want God’s purposes to be about my failures, broken promises and abuses of others. I want to put what I want on the table, and I want God to work with that.

I’ve done a lot of things right, and I’d prefer God publish a list of how all of them are going to be rewarded. But that’s not the way it’s going to be. God is going to do what he wants to do, for reasons that can fit into a sentence in the Bible, but which are far too mysterious to wrap my mind around.

Sunday night I’m going to preach on “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” I know what the text means, but I can’t read it without thinking that I am, in a way, fearful of what God is up to. I read his ultimate purposes and I try to think of them, but I know that God has purposes now; purposes that involve my failures and the consequences he will not spare. God is not invested in hearing me say what I “need.” If he wants to take away, he will take away, and his purpose will be for me to go on without whatever he took away. The same with suffering, obscurity, humiliation and failure. God cannot be manipulated into carrying out my plans with my selected materials. He is about carrying out his plans with whatever materials he chooses.

The answer to encroaching cynicism is, I believe, Christian hedonism. The quest is not for understanding, but is for joy. The promise is not that God will do what he determines, but that he is determined to satisfy me forever with himself. Along the way of living this life, I have many more miles to travel. My heart is often hard, my mind fearful and my vision small. I am guilty of wanting God to make much of me rather than make me into a soul who makes much of him now and forever.

I am far more tempted with cynicism than I am with unbelief. I am far more inclined, as C.S. Lewis said, to see God as the experimenter than as the divine lover and heavenly Father. My prayer, and the prayers I ask for, is that I would trust God by exalting in his love, goodness and grace poured out in Christ and directed invincibly and irresistibly toward me.

There is a reason the book of Ecclesiastes is in the Bible. I have always been bothered by those who easily explained and expounded this book. It is a book that wanders in the same emotions that I have. The author counsels trust in God, but the struggle continues on every page. Over and over, he returns to the affirmation that life under the sun is meaningless and only God makes it meaningful. Only God is our hope in this world.

But Koheleth finds himself trusting a God who is never revealed in intimate loving terms. In Ecclesiastes, God seems sometimes to be more a deity of unavoidable fatalism rather than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I know something of this God. He gives. He takes away. He does not explain. He asks for faith, and for everything you thought you could never give up.

I do not know God’s ways. I can only put my hand over my mouth, look to the Word and the work of the Spirit, and press on. When all my wrestling is over, God remains.

Comments

  1. I’m not sure why I turned to it, but Ecclesiastes was one of the first books of the Bible I read after becoming a Christian. I was astounded at its honest hopelessness, which I found kinda refreshing. Ecclesiastes solidified my belief in the Bible and God, for a God who is willing to let a book so beautifully bleak be a part of his “word” and “truth” is a God I’m willing to believe in. Ecclesiastes remains one of my favorite books.

  2. I recently passed a sign that often has ‘pithy’ sayings on it – it said, ‘conquering fear is the beginning of wisdom’. That struck me as a real perversion of the oft-quoted Biblical phrase. Undoubtedly, someone thought it was from the Bible. I may preach on this difference between the two phrases some day, especially in the attribute (or lack thereof) of humility before God.

  3. David Cornwell says:

    Gregory Mobley has the most fascinating discussion of Ecclesiastes. He sums up one paragraph as follows: “When we are in the middle of a situation, we do not know if it is a time when something is being born or something is dying.”

    Then he goes on with an explanation of the word “hebel” which ended up in most of our translations as “vanity” So we have “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” However the word isn’t that easy to translate. This is because “hebel” has something to do with the wind in its manifestations, such as “mist,” “puff of smoke,” “breath,” etc.

    With a little imagination you can see where this is leading, as one could say “mists of mists” or “vapor of vapor.”

    I hope my feeble explanation of what he is saying isn’t enshrouded in the “fog of fogs.” But life itself isn’t always easy to figure out.

  4. love the john august swanson painting – he’s been one of my favorites for a long time.

  5. Ecclesiastes is my favorite book of the bible. Solomon comes to the understanding that he can’t understand God.

  6. Josh in FW says:

    Since High School Ecclesiastes has been one of my favorite books of the Bible. This quote of Spencer’s:
    “I am far more tempted with cynicism than I am with unbelief. I am far more inclined, as C.S. Lewis said, to see God as the experimenter than as the divine lover and heavenly Father. My prayer, and the prayers I ask for, is that I would trust God by exalting in his love, goodness and grace poured out in Christ and directed invincibly and irresistibly toward me.”
    hit close to home.