41. Contentment (3)

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 41 :  Learning to be Content (3)

Eccles 4:7,8 Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless– a miserable business!

You may remember at the beginning of Ecclesiastes Solomon started off, Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccles 1:2) A number of times he has put content to that initial declaration and so now we find yet another thing that he has seen that he considers meaningless or pointless. Perhaps that word ‘pointless’ is one that might ring more bells for us than simply ‘meaningless’. There is no point in this, is what Solomon is saying.

Look, he says here, I have see one of these people that I have been talking about, who struggle and strive for meaning through work, to achieve greater and greater things, but this particular man has been working all the days God gives but the trouble is that he hasn’t got any close relative to leave it to or who could even benefit from it now. He’s just working for himself and as he comes to this realization of having no close family, he wonders why ever he is working and working like this. His work just goes on and on and yet there is no one else to benefit from it. Meanwhile as he is working away all the hours he has, he has no time to enjoy life; it is just passing him by.

I have observed a number of people who do exactly the same as the man in Solomon’s illustration. There are of course, those workaholics who use every waking hour to prosper their business but have no enjoyment of life. Their family never sees them so they cannot enjoy their wife or children and so becomes a virtual stranger to them. They may benefit from the wealth he accumulates but when it comes to relationships, their lives are empty.

Over the years I have watched a number of Christian leaders, good men given over to serving God, but as I have observed their lives I’ve sometimes wondered at the lack of variety, lack of creativity and indeed lack of enjoyment of life generally for these men. We may give ourselves over to sharing the Gospel and building up the church, but if we ourselves are not living in the good of God’s world and having time to build relationships with those closest to us, surely we are missing something and surely the form of Christianity we portray is seriously lacking!

There is another group of people in the world today that I have become aware of who are missing out on life. This isn’t to do with work though, so I am going off at a slight tangent here. I am thinking about the thousands and thousands of young people who are addicted to computer games or addicted to a social networking sites such as Facebook. Many young people (and no-so-young as well!) are spending hours and hours and hours on their computers or mobile phones while all around them the wonder of the world is being ignored. These are the new addictions to be added to those of drink and drugs. All such addictions mean that such people are missing out on the wonderful world that God has given us. Oh yes, it’s not just work that does this to us.

Perhaps we might sum it up by suggesting that contentment, real contentment, that is not one-sided or single-focused, involves having balance.  Balance here means keeping work in proportion and ensuring that it doesn’t take over your life. In fact, I would suggest, anything that takes over your life means that it robs you of the wonder of the experience of being a human being who has been designed by God to enjoy His world. Many of us forget that being a human being means we are a combination of capabilities and so we miss out on one of more of them. For instance, God has made us physical beings and so we have the capacity to enjoy the use of our senses – sight, hearing, taste, touch – all of these things given to us by the Lord for our enjoyment of His world. But we also have mental capabilities so we can read or write, think, reason and plan. We have a full range of emotional abilities and so we may laugh or cry, feel for others, enjoy, anguish and so on. But we are also spiritual beings and so we have the capacity to seek and know the Lord and be aware of the spiritual dimension to life.

A balanced person seeks to use all these capabilities, but even that needs the wisdom of God, for He has laid down boundaries and if we cross them, we harm ourselves. Over emphasis of our physical abilities means we fall into gluttony, alcohol abuse and so much more.  Over emphasis of the intellect can lead us into pride and arrogance. Spiritual ignorance means we miss out on the most exciting side of our lives – encounter with the living God, the Creator of all things. In all these things we need to come to Him and ask Him to show us how to live our lives, show us how to avoid the pitfalls that Sin and Satan would lead us into. Failure to do this means we are likely to fall into a jaded view of life that Solomon ended up with. May that not happen!

61. No Wrong God

Meditations in Job : 61. God does no wrong

Job 34:10-12 Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.

In chapter 34 we pick up the second phase of Elihu’s talking, started by, “Then Elihu said…” Again he challenges his listeners to listen and check out what he has to say: Hear my words, you wise men; listen to me, you men of learning. For the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food. Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good.” (v.2-4).  In this there is a confidence that is willing to be checked out.  We also have a reasonable faith one that can be checked against the evidence and we should not be afraid to say to others, “Check it out!”

Elihu then picks up again on what he has heard Job say, “Job says, `I am innocent, but God denies me justice. Although I am right, I am considered a liar; although I am guiltless, his arrow inflicts an incurable wound.” (v.5,6) Job has asked for justice but justice is not what it is all about.  Elihu concludes that this puts Job in the same category as evildoers who also say wrong things about God (implied): “What man is like Job, who drinks scorn like water? He keeps company with evildoers; he associates with wicked men.” (v.7,8)  i.e. he takes in scorn as one drinks and takes in water and by his words he “keeps company with” and “associates with” wrong people. That doesn’t make him an evildoer or wicked but just means he is speaking in the same foolish way they do.

Why?  What has he said?  He has said, “It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God.” (v.9)  i.e. what is the point of trying to please God?  Back in chapter 21 Job maintained that the wrong doer so often appears to get away with it and, indeed, both good and bad die young or live to old age.  Perhaps this is what Elihu is referring to.  He has a strong answer which we have in our verses today which may be summed up as, “God does no wrong!”   Often in these meditations I have found myself saying that we may not understand what is happening to us but when we get to heaven, if God allows us to look back on His dealings with us, we will never be able to criticise Him for anything He has said or done or not done!

In verse 11 we find a doctrine that comes up often in Scripture: “He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves.” In the New Testament Paul says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10) which is about our future destiny, and then more generally in respect of life here on earth, “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)

Yes, this is a general truth.  One day we will have to appear before the Lord to account for what we have done and, yes, here and now our wrong behaviour can have serious repercussions. For example the promiscuous person can find themselves with a sexually transmitted disease, which may be life threatening. Their behaviour has genuinely serious repercussions. The person who steals something lives in fear of being caught and one day may be arrested and judged. The person who has an uncontrollable temper may say things which harm and destroy a relationship and life is changed.  A person who eats too much becomes obese and may have a whole range of health problems, as does a person who drinks too much or takes illegal drugs. In all of these ways wrong behaviour DOES bring ‘negative fruits’ to our lives, fruits that are liable to be harmful and destructive.  It is no wonder that Elihu had previously said that God speaks to us “to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 32:17,18)

But there is a bigger truth and it is that God does things sometimes that are not related to this general principle and so Job is not being punished for his wrong doing.  As we’ve seen, he’s been declared by the Lord to be righteous. This is all about testing of faith, testing for faithfulness, and that is nothing to do with discipline to deal with sin. No, the principle is right, Elihu, but it just doesn’t apply here to Job.  It’s a good and right principle but it is not what is happening here.

Yet again we are faced with this warning not to judge people without revelation from God. It is too easy to get it wrong!