40. Contentment (2)

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 40 :  Learning to be Content (2)

Eccles 4:5-7 The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:

I never cease to be amazed at the practicality of the Bible’s teaching. Those who deride the Bible for being outdated teaching just haven’t read it or thought about it. Even in the midst of this jaded writing by Solomon in Ecclesiastes there is still wisdom to be meditated upon! The trouble is that sometimes it almost comes to us in shorthand and we need to pause up and think about it for it to really make sense. Take this opening sentence of these verses as an example: “The fool folds his hands and ruins himself.” What a simple picture! This man just sits back and folds his hands. It is a picture of complete inactivity. He does nothing. When you sit there with folded hand or folded arms, it is a sign that you are just looking and watching and doing nothing.

This inactivity, says Solomon, ruins a man. How so? Well first of all he is not working and so he is not earning and so he is drifting towards poverty. But actually constant inactivity is dull, it is boring and it is soul destroying. We need to be doing something purposeful. The person who sits back and does nothing has lost all purpose in life. They have no sense of achievement, no sense of fulfilment. Their mind is inactive and their hands are inactive. They are ruining themselves and not entering into the fullness of who they were designed to be.

This picture of laziness or idleness bringing downfall arises a number of times in Scripture in Solomon’s writings: If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks,” (Eccles 10:18) and “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest– and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man,” (Prov 6:10,11) and “I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.” (Prov 24:30,31) The signs are all there around this person who Solomon calls a fool, meaning someone who lacks moral wisdom.

But then Solomon paints two swift pictures of contrasting lifestyles. Let’s take the second one first: two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” This is the person who struggling and striving and working all the hours of the day, chasing after that illusory success. We live in a day when this lifestyle is clearly visible in this world of excessive materialism. The farmer of Jesus’ parable is often seen in those who work in the City: “he said, `This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘ “But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Lk 12:18-20) We try for bigger and better but in the process lose our soul. One day we’ll be separated from all we have earned and will face God empty handed. How tragic!

Yet he contrasts that lifestyle with one that is described as one handful with tranquility.” The ‘handfuls’ in the two lives refer to the wealth that has been achieved. One achieved a lot but in reality it was nothing. The first one achieved not much in material terms but yet it was the better lifestyle because it was accompanied with ‘tranquility’. What a lovely word that is! I always like the image of “the Sea of Tranquility” on the Moon. When somewhere is tranquil it lacks stress or upheaval, it is full of peace. When a mind is tranquil it lacks stress and is at peace.

How little tranquility there seems to be in modern lives, in modern minds! What a cost we have paid for our affluence. How few homes know this ‘tranquility’!  How often there is bickering and arguing, hostility and upset. Some families I know of, I am convinced, never know the experience of tranquility in their homes; there is an atmosphere of stress and upset that lingers there in the background and people tolerate it because it only bursts to the surface from time to time, but even in the times when it is not outright war, there is no tranquility!

Dare we assess our lives in this modern world against Solomon’s words? Are we working all hours, are both partners working all hours? What sort of people totter in the door in the evening?  What is the quality of our times together in the remaining hours of the day? What are our weekends like? Do we fill them with the activity we hadn’t had time for in the week? Is this really ‘life’? Many of us live on the basis of “it will be different next year – when I get a raise, when I get promotion,” but it never is. Are these the lives we really want?

4. Same old…

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 4 :  Same old…

Eccles 1:6,7 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.

It is so easy to take for granted what is there all the time. More than that, you can even get to despise it!  In his tirade against how useless everything is, the same old stuff keeps on happening, Solomon turns his eyes on the weather. It’s like he says, “Look at it!  Look at that wind! It’s blowing to the south again today. It was blowing to the north yesterday. It’s always changing but it’s always the same!” If he had lived in the Britain with its mostly changing weather he would have said, “Look at it. South westerly prevailing wind again today, just like yesterday and the day before. More rain coming in from the Atlantic! Bad news for Wales and the South West! Who needs a weather forecasting team to tell us about that?”

Then he gazed out on the hillsides and watched the streams running down. “Look at it,” he continues, “the rain falls on the hills, the streams fill up and pour it down to the rivers, the rivers pour it into the sea, the sea evaporates and the clouds take it over the hills where it rains again, and so the circle keeps on going. In fact it’s been going like that for billions of years they say!” It is all so predictable! What is predictable is so boring! Same old world, same old things happening!  This is a tedious world.

That’s the godless mentality:  look at it; it’s just like a great machine that keeps on going without change!  Boring! That’s what Solomon had arrived at. In fact he had lost the wonder of the world. Over the last twenty years of so, we’ve seen an interesting phenomena in this world. We have seen the advent of very high technology photography so that on our TV screens we have been receiving ever more wonderful insights into the natural world, especially that of wild animals. We have seen absolutely stunning film of enormous whales leaping out of the water, herds of elephants traipsing across hundreds of miles of wilderness, and even the chase of the wild with its grim outcome.  But something I have noticed is that leaping whales are not so exciting now.  Seen one herd of elephants, and you’ve seen them all. What makes for interest is newness, something we’ve never seen before. Yes, there is amazing beauty and wonder in so many of these films, but when it is repeated a number of times, it becomes ordinary and we lose again the wonder of what it there.  We become like Solomon: been there, seen it, what’s next?

It is only when we put all of Creation in a ‘God perspective’ that we start seeing something more.  It is when we go back and see the world as God’s creation, that things start happening. When we start seeing the world as God’s provision for us that says something about Him, and that in its turn makes us wonder and worship. The world thus becomes a means of creating wonder and awe in us which has the worship of God as the end product. When we accept the first chapters of Genesis and see this world, not as a freak accident of nature (the primeval ‘soup’ theory satisfies no one’s mind!) but as the purposeful creation of God (whether he did it gradually over millions of years, or over a very short period of time), it suddenly starts speaking to us.

The first thing that hits you is the staggering variety of that provision.  Why are there over a thousand different types of edible bean, let alone anything else?  God could have given us just ten different types – that would have been a reasonable choice! Why animals with long necks or long trunks or whatever other strange design. If Darwinian evolution is correct, why are there not a whole variety of elephants with different lengths of trunk, and why aren’t there long legged giraffes with short necks? The truth is that we have an incredible variety of plant life on this world, sufficient to give us an incredible choice. A slow walk round a major food store today begins to show us something of the range of food available to us.  Again I’ve noticed that foods we once thought exotic we now take for granted. Perhaps it’s time to get back to realise again that this is God’s amazing provision for us, and so go round the store praising and thanking Him for it all!

The second thing to note is that fact that it is there. Yes, there are places of drought and places of famine in the world, but the big picture is of bountiful provision that is constantly there. Yes, we do need to till the ground, sow the seeds and harvest the fully grown plant, but it is there! Possibly the story of Joseph in the Old Testament is a picture of how life in the world can be when God is included in the equation, warning us when bad weather is coming. In an entirely godly and sinless world perhaps there would be no food or weather problems. Indeed, an examination of the promises of blessing for the obedient Israel found in Deuteronomy 28, confirm that.  It is only when we push God out of this world does it go wrong – but that is our choice.

So, are you feeling jaded about this world?  See it as God’s provision and ask Him to open your eyes afresh to the wonder of that provision and His love that promotes that provision.  Don’t be jaded by the ongoingness of this world; be blessed by it.