14. Intellect, a signpost to God

Meditations in Meaning & Values  14:  Intellect, a Signpost to God

Eccles 3:18    I also thought, “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.

If someone woke up at the age of thirty say, having been asleep for the first thirty years of their life, so they have no knowledge of this world but had grown and matured a capable mind while they were asleep, if they embarked on a search for meaning – what this world is all about – then already in the words we have written are two amazing clues that they might ponder upon. The only trouble is that WE take these things for granted and in so doing miss the wonder of them.

The first clue that there is meaning in this world comes from the fact that our imaginary waking individual has what I described as a “capable mind,” i.e. they have the ability to think, to reason, to investigate, to rationalise, to draw conclusions. Again and again Solomon indicates the use of his mind. In our verse he simply says, “I also thought”. The danger of the mind is that it is capable of apprehending truth AND error, it can come up with wrong conclusions. Solomon has truth in what he says, but it is only partial truth. (The second clue is that this man [Solomon] can’t help but refer to God, but we’ll leave that for another time)

All these capabilities we take for granted. They are the capabilities that a child at school uses from their earliest days through to being awarded a doctorate at university! These are the capabilities Solomon has been using for many years in his search of meaning – and we take them for granted, they are so normal, so natural, but the truth is that these capabilities,  which go further and include the ability to imagine, to write, to compose, to design, to invent, these capabilities distinguish us from all the other living creatures on this planet. It is not merely a matter of degree as some dolphin watchers might have us believe, it is much greater than that. These are the things that the Bible refers to as being “made in the image of God”    (Gen 1:26,27).

Without those Bible references we are left with the question, “Why are we like this? Talk of evolution feels very unsatisfactory to an open mind. Why did we evolve in this direction, why not in some irrational direction or some direction that leaves us just like another animal without these capabilities?  All of these capabilities of the human mind that we have been considering collectively work together to constantly draw conclusions, work towards goals, imagine objectives to be reached out to and then even, yes, a sense of meaning. In purely mechanical terms the meaning may be functional: we design better houses to be more comfortable but, hullo, what is this concept of aesthetic  design, design that can have a sense of beauty about it? What is that about? Why do we have these concepts of meaning and beauty. Materialistic answers fall short.

Asking questions is a unique part of these human capabilities which push us on to find answers in all sorts of areas. Questions flow out of the human mind, and we take it for granted. Again and again, Solomon refers to the use of his ‘mind’: “I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly–my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives,” (2:3) and “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest.” (2:22,23)

Why is it that sometimes in the middle of the night, the human mind is full of worries or plans or questions, why does it keep on pushing us further in our development? Then there is, “So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly.” (7:25) As we said, the human mind constantly wants to find out more, to find out why things work as they do – which is exactly what we are doing in these particular meditations.

See this verse above? Solomon actively and purposefully used his mind to try to come up with answers. Why is there a concept of ‘wickedness’? Surely animals are predisposed to do just what comes naturally, to kill, to beat up the weaker ones? Why should we be concerned about the weak? Why should we distinguish between good and evil? How do those concepts even exist? Surely all behaviour is just natural if we just evolved in an accidental and meaningless way? Why should it matter if the Germans murdered 6 million Jews, or one African tribe tries to wipe out another, or one religious group tries to destroy another competitor who think slightly differently in the Middle East? Aren’t all these thing just what animals do to each other?

And yet the more we reason the more we feel we are not the master of our fate: “Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come? No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death. As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it. All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun.” (8:7-9)  And his conclusion? “When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth–his eyes not seeing sleep day or night– then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.” (8:16,17)

So we have this incredible thing called ‘intellect’, this thing a dictionary calls “the faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively, especially with regard to abstract matters,” this thing that keeps asking, “Why?  When he gets to the end of his writing what is his conclusion?  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.” (10:13) How intriguing! Jaded he may be, away from God he may be, but at the end of it all, his questionings bring him back to bow before God. He is not an atheist, just a jaded backslider, but his very existence and the very existence of this book screams out, “We are more than animals, we are more than mere accidents of nature, we demand meaning and purpose, we want answers, and the very fact that we feel like this points us towards a life that has been designed, a life with divine purpose”, and that is what the Bible is all about, revealing that divine purpose. Amazing!

10. Self Remedies

Meditations in Meaning & Values  10:  Self Remedies

Eccles 1:12-14     I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

We have embarked, we recently reminded ourselves, on a series where we are considering meaning, purpose and values in life, and therefore we have considered the nature of the world and the way we live in trying to come to grips with the world and make sense of it.  In 1943 a psychologist by the name of Abraham Maslow wrote a paper entitled, “A Theory of Human Motivation”. Out of this came his famous pyramid or hierarchy of needs. On the bottom of the pyramid was ‘physiological’ meaning our basic physical needs, our concern to satisfy hunger, thirst etc. Next came ‘safety’ or the need to feel secure. Then came the need to feel loved and to belong. Next came the need to feel esteemed and finally when all these others are in place, the need for what he called ‘self actualisation’ which is about reaching full potential, fully becoming the person you can be. Intriguingly in later years he added a further level and said the self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality.

Observing Solomon in what he writes in Ecclesiastes, we see a man who, despite all his wisdom yearned to find true meaning in life, find his real purpose. Our verses today go back to chapter 1 where he acknowledges his hunger ‘to know’ and yet the frustration when he limits it to all that is “under the sun” and his conclusion that it is all meaningless. Maslow similarly says we all have a yearning and a drive, and these are to fulfil the needs we have within us. Let’s assume for a moment that he was right in his assessment, all we are saying is that this is how God has designed us, to be people who want to know, who want to understand. We have already noted before Solomon’s sense of frustration when he writes later, He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11) The words “yet they cannot fathom” indicates a search that ends in frustration.

Indeed so far we have considered how men and women, like Solomon, seek fame, fortune and pleasure as means of obtaining a sense of achievement or of meaning or of fulfillment. We have this yearning like an inner hunger. Many of us simply subside under the difficulties and pressures of life and, I suspect, give up on working for these things. Poverty is possibly the greatest burden that makes people give up. They don’t have the luxury of climbing Maslow’s pyramid and are stuck trying to make ends meet and thus meet that most basic of needs, to survive. However, they may be more fortunate than the person of a relatively affluent middle class who struggles, like Solomon, to use their relative affluence to achieve fame, fortune and pleasure in the false hope that these will be the means to achieving meaning and fulfillment, and yet remain frustrated and reach old age with a sense of jaded cynicism abut life.

Many of us pursue these goals endlessly because we dare not give up and arrive at a conclusion of helplessness and hopelessness. This is the predicament of the world and dare I risk saying it, also the predicament of Christians who fail to learn and understand the wonder of what they have entered into when they were born again. Thus many of us try this and try that, steadily moving along the shelves containing all the different sorts of self-help books. It is quite fashionable to have a mentor, a life skills tutor, and yet as I have read their godless writings, within them is a pretense that they have got the answers and yet, as Solomon found out, all this self help is hopeless unless it includes God.

There is a famous Puritan catechism that runs, “Question 1  What is the chief end of man? Answer 1  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, (1Co 10:31) and to enjoy him for ever. (Ps 73:25,26)”. In some senses that over simplified it but later questions and answers unpacked that. Consider again Maslow’s needs and let’s see how the Gospel meets those needs:

  1. To survive physically: When we hear and understand the Gospel we realise that God has come to impart life (which affects our very physical being and for which He promises He will provide).
  1. To feel secure: He makes us secure by dealing with our Sin and putting us right with God who promises to care for us and protect us.
  1. To feel loved and belong: We hear He is love and through the work of Jesus we see His love for us, and He imparts His Spirit of love to us. He calls us sons and daughters, children of God, we are part of His family, we belong.
  1. To be esteemed: We realise we have been lifted up to sit with Christ in the heavenly places, to share in all he has, we are special, we are esteemed (look how the father in the parable of the prodigal son treated his returning son.)
  1. To become what you are designed to be: When we come to Christ, it is just the start; we enter a life of change where, stage by stage, we become more like Christ, more the people we were designed to be, and that includes receiving gifting to grow and to serve.
  1. To give outwards and experience a spiritual dimension: Yes, even that last add-on is worked out as we allow the Holy Spirit to inspire and lead us in serving Him and blessing His world.

Yes, without the Gospel, we are condemned to a life of frustration, just like Solomon. Just like him we will embark on one thing after another in our self help crusade only to find frustration. With Christ we will be fully fulfilled and at rest. Hallelujah!

1. Big Picture Stuff

Meditations in Meaning & Values   1:  Big Picture Stuff

Eccles 1:2,3    “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.” What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?

For quite some time I have focused on meditations that work verse by verse through a Bible book. For the last few weeks I have had this idea floating in the back of my mind to revert to a themed series and the theme being ‘Meaning and Values’, and to do that we really need to look at the big picture portrayed by the Bible. Now post modern people don’t like ‘big pictures’, they don’t trust them because they question both the origins and the accuracy of such big pictures, but I believe that is a cop out, a failure to truly assess the evidence for such big pictures and to write out those that are dubious and validate those that can be trusted. This is not the place to take space to validate Christianity’s big picture and why we can trust the evidence – but we may do that as we proceed through these meditations. So, meaning and purpose and values.

In the New Testament, John’s Gospel is my favourite for its profundity and revelation of the Son of God. In the Old Testament my favourite is Ecclesiastes because it so points to the dilemmas of the modern world, and it is this book that will be the starting point for much of our thinking.  It was probably written by King Solomon who started his reign with the blessing of God and so became the wisest man in the world and thus became incredibly rich and powerful. Tragically over the years he rejected God’s wisdom and took foreign wives who pressed him to worship their foreign idols. Nearing the end of his life, he had clearly drifted far away from God and had a jaded perspective of life.

I observe this jaded outlook in modern atheists. In one of his earlier books Richard Dawkins in his Preface, quotes one of his friends, Peter Atkins who had written, “We are the children of chaos and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.” Dawkins realises that such rhetoric doesn’t do well for the atheist cause  and so while agreeing with this assessment  acknowledges that none of us live with this long-term gloom. Indeed in future writing he goes on to try to show what a wonderful world we live in, but you can’t help feeling it is slightly cynical propaganda that flies in the face of his foundational gloom. His wonderful world is still a world of accident and chance although he tries to paint into it meaning through evolution – but it is still by chance however much he tries to insert some meaning.

It is the same foundational gloom that cynical and jaded Solomon starts out with when he declares everything ‘Meaningless’. But even in those opening verses there is a clue to the root cause of his jadedness when he speaks of man’s labour “under the sun”. Now that expression occurs, I believe, twenty eight times in this book and it speaks of the material world and only the material world. It excludes any other possibilities. Whether he does this purposely or it is a Freudian slip or even a nudging of God, is unclear but everything (well virtually everything – we will note the exceptions) is about life in the material world.

How tragic that a man who had  an encounter with God in a dream (1 Kings 3:5-15) and received such wisdom that he was able to become so rich and powerful through it, should end up in such a jaded state. We will in some of the meditations ahead, look at some of his causes for feeling like this because they challenge us, what will we make the basis of our lives. It is an appropriate question for intelligent people to ask: what is the meaning of life, why do we exist, is there any purpose in my life?  And yet, as Solomon was to go on to write, there appears a frustrating mystery about life: I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.” (Eccles 3:10-12)  Yes, the truth is we have these yearnings – a sense of eternity – and yet we cannot fathom how it all works.

The history of philosophy shows us great thinkers who came up with great ideas, only to be debunked by the next set of great thinkers, but one thing I notice, whether it is from Plato to the most modern philosopher, is that their thinking is “under the sun”. Yes, there are many world religions that seek to reach out to the spiritual world to find answers but so often come up with ideas that a rational and intelligent  mind rejects as weird. In the foundation of Judaism and Islam we find the rational evidence of the Old Testament but it is only in Christianity with its New Testament that there is revelation of this ‘mystery’.

The intriguing thing about Solomon is that as he recognizes this mystery, he blames God. Even in his jaded state, he is not an atheist, which makes him one step better than the modern crusading atheists with their shallow knowledge of the Bible. It will only be as we ponder these things in the light of the Bible that we will come up with real and meaningful answers. Come with us on this adventure and face up these gloom makers of the world who only observe (and then misinterpret it) the things ‘under the sun’. There is more to life!

22. Wrong Methods

Meditations in Colossians 2: 22:  Wrong Methods

Col 2:23    Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence

As we come to the end of the second chapter Paul drives his final nails into the coffin of human spirituality or human salvation, that brought about by our own endeavours. Again to catch the full flow of the logic of what is being said we need to go back to the previous verses. Earlier he denounced following rules: Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?” (v.20,21) and he had gone on to say that such rules were doomed to disappear: “These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.” (v.22). It was these ‘rules’ that were “based on human commands” that he now refers to when he says, “such regulations”.

There is a temptation, I suspect, in many to feel these are words of warning against Gnostic malpractices and which therefore have little relevance to life today. I don’t think such a view could be more wrong. We live in a world where excessive provision of material blessing – especially in the West where choice of food is amazing – has actually caused much concern for health and wellbeing which in turn has resulted in an abundance of approaches towards dieting and other fitness regimes. A considerable number of people are concerned about their weight or their shape and perhaps greater numbers are concerned at following self-help manuals or the guidance of mentors or trainers to keep their lives in shape generally.

At the time of writing this meditation (mid 2015)  the trend towards pleasure through materialism is showing signs of collapse, as increasingly in the media there is a recognition that pleasure or satisfaction gained through collecting or owning ‘things’ is short lived. The signs are that people are moving away to seek meaning or pleasure or excitement through ‘experiences’ whether it be sky diving, going on cruises, taking drugs  or a multitude of other experience-creating activities.  So here we have these two streams – self-help and looking for ‘experiences’ – which although very much being twenty-first century manifestations of misguided mankind’s search for meaning and purpose, very much echo the lives and experiences of those following the Gnostic trail in the first century.

So let’s look again at our verse above. All of these approaches of following rules – or someone else’s self-discipline regime – “indeed have an appearance of wisdom.” How eagerly people scan these things today in the weekend papers. The eastern outlook on ‘mindfulness’ has become one of the more recent fads to sweep the Western world taking in both believers and non-believers, for both individual and corporate business  development. Each new thing creates an interest because past things have failed and just maybe this latest thing will provide the wisdom we need.

Note again the things Paul identifies in the Gnostic way that is also common today. First he speaks of “their self-imposed worship.”  Worship is simply highly esteeming something over everything else and when he says it is ‘self imposed’ he means it is brought about by the false teachers and does not flow naturally out of a genuine encounter with God.  If we ascribe to any regime, method or discipline honour that exalts it as ‘the answer’, we are in deception, for nothing and no one is worthy of our worship except God Himself.

Second he speaks of “their false humility,” which simply speaks of their appearance – they look good. You watch these people and initially their regime gives them a buzz and for a while they look good; it seems to work. Look again in two years and you will probably find them trying something else. The present is a false appearance.

Then third, he speaks of “their harsh treatment of the body,” and how people today are subject to fitness regimes which are really hard work. Yes, the motivation of the Gnostics was to do with thinking that the material or physical was bad, whereas today the workout is to improve personal health and appearance, but ultimately both have false foundations.

Paul concludes with a damning condemnation: “but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”  For the Gnostics they beat themselves up because material things were evil, but actually their assessment was false and they often soon gave way to falling back to sensual pleasures. How often today does the person who struggles for months on a really harsh diet eventually give way and fall back into bad eating habits. The thing is that without the proper motivation, all these things are doomed to failure.

We so often hear of people “comfort eating”, meaning they eat to make themselves good because they have such poor self-esteem. When you really come to know you are loved by God and have a place in His plans for the world, you no longer need to use food (or even a fitness regime) to feel good. You feel good because you are loved and you know it! All of these things we have been considering can be summarized as self-help, and people do them because they do not go to the true source of all real help – Christ.

All of the things Paul has been speaking about in the later half of this chapter are substitutes for a genuine relationship with the living God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Observing special days, following rituals, trying to follow self-disciplinary rules, all of these things are substitutes that DO NOT WORK. That is the lesson of this chapter. Make Christ THE focus of your life, enter into a real relationship with him via his Holy Spirit, and you will know a sense of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. May it be so!

7. It’s all from God

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  7. It’s all from God

Gen 1:1   In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth

We live in an age where the voice of the authority of the church has diminished and the voice of atheistic scientists and atheistic media people prevail. We need to recognise that as we approach this incredibly simple verse right at the beginning of the Bible, a gem that must stand out in the darkness and scream volumes of truth at us. The verse above is neither scientific nor non-scientific. It simply states a basic truth. The people I have referred to above will do everything in their godless, self-centred attitudes to explain the world without God. In fact some of them have been blatant about that and said whatever else we might believe we cannot believe in a God. At least that is honest and out in the open but in itself it is a denial of the scientific approach that says we must be open to whatever we find in our researches.   But people say these sorts of things because they know that if they recognise a superior Being then surely that Being will have the right or authority (by being superior) to be able to say how we should live – and people don’t like being told how to live! So this meditation is not for silly people who deny their own scientific presuppositions, it is for people who might be open to consider all the possibilities.

Now from the outset let’s acknowledge that this verse doesn’t say how God created, simply that He did. I would love to believe that He started everything off down an evolutionary path except evolutionists insist that it is a mechanical process where survival of the fittest rules. If that is so then it is pure blind chance that we have ended up in the way we have; we could have gone off on a myriad of alternative paths, but the trouble is that that leaves us a creatures of pure chance and words like meaning, purpose and beauty have no meaning in such a context, yet everything within us screams out that they do. We deny we are meaningless results of random chance.

The whole evolutionary idea worries me. When you sit down and think dispassionately about the very workings of survival of the fittest it demands incredible leaps of faith. And no one has yet to give me and adequate explanation of how sexual reproduction developed where two very early ‘things’ in the evolutionary chain remained the same but took on exactly opposite features that, when developed, would come together to produce the next generation.

Another of the massive leaps of faith has to be in respect of carbon dating. Here we stand at a tiny piece of time and assume that decay is uniform over millions of years. Think about it in detail and it starts taking on an Alice in Wonderland feel, because we don’t have a clue what might have happened a million years ago that makes it all needing to be rethought. It is another of those assumptions that we have to make in the face of much unknown and because it is unknown we don’t even know that it is unknown!

And then the further we go back the nearer we get to the great impossibility. Here we have, in present thinking at least – and it may change, the belief in the Big Bang and I am neither denying not challenging it. Maths, they say, can take us back to a millisecond after it happened, but before that we are still left with a conundrum. Francis Schaeffer used to point out the folly of this. He said imagine nothing, not a vacuum but, as he put it, “nothing nothing”. It is very difficult for our finite minds to even grasp that concept of there being ‘nothing’ for usually we think of space and lots of it. But space isn’t nothing; at the very least it has light pouring through it.

Take away the myriads of stars, the myriads of constellations, take away everything we can comprehend and imagine nothing – really nothing, there is nothing there, absolutely nothing. This is important to grasp. One primary thing that science tells us is that for there to be movement of any kind there has to be some originating force, energy, call it what you will – but it is not ‘nothing’ ‘Nothing’ can produce nothing. It’s the very logic of our language, our thinking, our understanding. Nothing comes from absolutely nothing. Don’t talk about atoms and molecules or even smaller units because you are still talking about matter, you are still talking about ‘something’. Our minds can’t grasp the meaning of the absence of ‘something’ and yet we talk so easily about this big bang as if it will eventually explain what was before it but we cannot grasp the concept of absolutely nothing, and then absolutely nothing changing to become ‘something’.

And then we come to Genesis 1:1 and are confronted with the concept of God at which point some not-so-wise smart-alec asks, “So who made God?”  Look we just agreed that we cannot grasp the concept of absolutely ‘nothing’ so why be surprised that we cannot grasp God and His origins – or not-origins! The best I can manage when I struggle to ‘define’ God in terms to try to satisfy my materialistic scientific friends is that God is “energy with personality” and yes, I know that raises just as many questions but that is as far as I suspect any of us can go. God is Spirit, the Bible says, but I’m not sure what that means. I believe it but don’t ask to me to define it beyond what I have just said.

If science has to make so many assumptions and ends up scratching its head when it comes to the ‘nothing into something’ part, why is it so difficult to belief there is a God who is defined by His acts as revealed in the Bible and at the end of the day (to use a more inappropriate cliché) simply accept that ‘He’ is all powerful and the One behind all that we call creation? Answer: because the moment you do you will have to worship Him, and that faces us up with a challenge that is more about us than it is about Him!

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!

15. Can’t take it

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 15 :  You can’t take it with you

Eccles 2:17,18   So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.

Today’s title sums it up, yet I’m sure some people don’t believe it! Observe people’s priorities, the things people consider the most important. We make choices in life and those choices reveal our priorities. The priorities for the person who does not believe in God MUST be to seek to create some sort of meaning in life. If life is purely material and there is no God then all we can do is try and fill our lives with activities that make us feel we have meaning. So some people put all their energies into making money, building a business, developing a career, or having a family. For the person with no God, these all becomes exercises at creating meaning. And who knows, success comes. Lots of money, a thriving business, a renowned career, a great family; perhaps it all works out really well.

And then one day you are confronted with the unpleasant fact that you are getting old. Possibly, for it happens to many, you are threatened with what appears a terminal illness. However it happens, suddenly you are made to realise that your days are limited and death IS coming. At that point you look at your big bank balances, and your stocks and shares, you look at the fame you have achieved, you look at the business that is still blossoming and you look at the family where there are now even great grand children, and you suddenly realise that sometime in the not distant future, all this is going to be separated from you and you are going to lie down and die, and it is all going to continue without you. This reality has a sobering effect upon you and, like Solomon you look at it all and wonder and conclude it is all meaningless because this is what you have achieved – and there is a lot to show – but you can take none of it with you!

But for you, if you are a Christian, that is not how it is. At some point you came to realise that your life was missing something, your life was inadequate, your life was wrong, and you were godless. You heard about Jesus and you responded eagerly to the good news of the Gospel and suddenly life changed.  Suddenly one of Jesus’ enigmatic sayings meant sense: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:39). All the time you had been working to find the meaning of life, it seemed elusive. You found yourself and achieved great things, but it was all meaningless. This was not ‘life’. It still left you with an empty feeling, and then you came to that all-important day when you surrendered to Jesus Christ and suddenly everything made sense, suddenly there was meaning to do with life, and it was all to do with God.

Initially (and hopefully still is) there was a hunger in you, that wanted to know more, wanted to know God, wanted to know about Him and what he had done for you, wanted to know what he wanted of you, and wanted to know what He said He had for you. Suddenly life was filled with God-questions and it took on a completely new perspective. In the present you came across a reassuring instruction: seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33). Put God first and he’ll sort out and provide all the material things you need. Suddenly that took the pressure off having to succeed. The all important thing was now God and what He wanted for your life, for He promised that if you left it up to Him, then blessing would follow.

But much more than that, you found constant references in the New Testament to you having an eternal future. Death was not the end. After death came the next phase, an even more gloriously wonderful phase of living in heaven in God’s presence. That knowledge brought a new perspective to life here today. Yes, it was a limited time but it was a time given by God, inspired and directed by God and it was given over to pleasing Him and blessing the people around you. That brought a new freedom in respect of your career, your business and everything else. These were all temporary things and although they were important, they were secondary to knowing God and knowing His will for your life. This meant that when it came to making decisions – God’s will or your career – God’s will came first, and to your surprise, your career blossomed as well, because God blessed it. Will the knowledge of God’s will, changes of direction came as well, and with those changes of direction came even more blessing. Three times in my life I have gone with God’s guidance and every time my quality of life has gone up. Twice I have changed my complete career but twice life just got better. This is how it is with God.

As you’ve looked over these last paragraphs, have you been able to identify with what is described there? I hope so. If life is stale, if life is frustrating, if life has lost it’s meaning, it’s not about perking up your career, it’s about checking your relationship with the Lord. That is the crucial key to your life here on earth and the life to follow.

1. Meaninglessness!

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 1 :  Meaninglessness

Eccles 1:2 Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.

Many people find Ecclesiastes dry and boring. I find it exciting. It reveals to us a fundamental truth, that without God, life is seriously tedious if not depressing. Ecclesiastes comes from that latter part of Solomon’s life when he had been drawn away from God because he took many foreign wives and gave way to their demands to have their foreign idol worship in the palace. Gradually he drifted away from God and into their confused and deceived lives. Here he paints an amazing picture of godless life, life seen from a purely human or earthly perspective, life that should speak volumes into modern Western society.

The last two hundred years have seen the rise of a number of atheists who have made their voice heard and who have pressed their beliefs that there is no God. In a number of cases these were men whose lives became emptier and emptier. One of these key people was German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). He was described as a most introspective person and so effective was his thinking on himself that he spent the last eleven years of his life insane.

True thinkers who start from the place of the atheist, that there is no God, must always come up with the conclusion that life is meaningless. One modern philosopher, Peter Atkins wrote: “We are children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.” The truth is that when you take away God there is no personality in Creation and therefore all we are left with is pure blind chance, and those words are summed up in the one word, ‘meaningless’!

The truth is that Solomon, in his old age, had abandoned God and so looks at the world as simply an incredible bank of data that makes no sense. Here is an important point to note: people don’t look at the evidence and move away from believing in God to a place of atheism; they start out from the place of atheism and then assess everything from that standpoint. Solomon didn’t reason his way to an atheistic position, he slid into it to please his wives. Once he was in that position he found all of his thinking was changed and this book is the result. When you find yourself with atheistic friends, ask them why they are, challenge them why they are. If they are able to be honest, they are atheists because that’s an emotional stance they took for convenience and not because they have examined with an open mind all the evidence. Those who do examine the evidence with an open mind become believers. The tragedy is that most atheists refuse to examine the evidence. They have adopted a stance and that’s it!

This is what we find with Solomon and when he views all he has seen and done from his position of immense privilege and wealth, views it from a godless perspective, his conclusion is that he can find no meaning or purpose behind it all. The Hebrew for the word we have here as ‘meaningless’ was originally ‘breath’. Perhaps another way of putting this therefore, might be, “Breathless, breathless, life is breathless” or to expand on that, “Lifeless, lifeless, there is no driving life force to give life meaning.” You find this word in Psa 39:5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.” There the sense is similar. Life is but a breath, and so fleeting that it is meaningless. Yet the psalmist went on, But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (v.7). Life on its own is meaningless and it is only the Lord who puts meaning into it.

Christian leaders of the past obviously wrestled with this. In the Westminster Catechism we find: Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of man?  Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.  Did you see what their conclusion for the meaning of life? It is to glorify God and enjoy Him. Everything, in other words, comes out of knowing God and responding to Him. Paul said, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” In other words, as God raised Christ from the dead, so he raises us from spiritual death and gives us life. Meaning is suddenly given to us because God gives us a new life and from then on everything about our lives is seen in relation to Him. When I see everything in my life as before Him, my life takes on new meaning and significance.

The question for us in the light of all this is, do I see that I have meaning and purpose in my life and that is it discovering and doing the will of God?  Do I see that God Himself is the one who brings meaning to my life? My life today is living out this life, responding to His guidance and direction and empowering. As I do that I have a sense of well-being and fulfillment. Suddenly life is full of meaning and I am significant because my significance comes in the plan of God. Hallelujah!