God’s Work, Man’s Work | The Voice 12.25: June 19, 2022

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The Voice

God’s Work, Man’s Work

What benefit can a worker gain from his toil? I have observed the burden that God has given to people to keep them occupied. God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time, but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart so that people cannot discover what God has ordained, from the beginning to the end of their lives. I have concluded that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to enjoy themselves as long as they live, and also that everyone should eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all his toil, for these things are a gift from God. I also know that whatever God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken away from it. God has made it this way, so that men will fear him (Ecclesiastes 3:9-14).

If life under the sun is futile, absurd, and a chasing after wind, what benefit or value can remain?

The Preacher has set forth many challenging truths in his discourse so far: all of life is futile and absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). Time is more cyclical than linear; what has been done will soon be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11). All pursuits under the sun are like chasing after wind: a never-ending and ultimately futile task (Ecclesiastes 1:12-13). The three main pursuits of mankind cannot deliver on their promises: pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11), wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:14-18, 2:12-17), and labor (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26) all ultimately prove futile and a chasing after wind. A time and a season exist for all things under the sun: yes, those things we enjoy, but also those things we work diligently to avoid (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

The Preacher established such things in order to compel the hearer to consider many of the vain pretenses under which he or she pursues existence. The hearer will naturally find what the Preacher establishes abhorrent; yet such contempt, disgust, and/or hostility stems from the exposure of such pretenses. Humans want their lives to matter and to be full of meaning. In their corruption, and in the face of death, humans are easily tempted to invest in various earthly projects in order to find that meaning and to make their mark on the creation. Who among us wants to believe we will be forgotten within a century, most likely left as an entry with a birth and death date on some future descendant’s family tree?

While the natural human within us wants to resist the Preacher’s message, we do better to heed his wisdom. Yet we can understand why many would find him nihilistic to this point: if life is so meaningless, then why bother? Thus the Preacher would go on to provide exhortation about what can be enjoyed about life and work in Ecclesiastes 3:9-22; and he began by speaking of God’s work and man’s work in this creation.

The pericope (or section) began asking again what benefit a worker can gain from his effort (Ecclesiastes 3:9). To answer it the Preacher made appeal to God and His work: God has given labor to humans to keep them busy (Ecclesiastes 3:10). The Preacher confessed how God made everything beautiful in its own time and way (Ecclesiastes 3:11). God has made the creation so that mankind cannot ascertain how God has begun it or how it continues, or even how long they will live (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The text maintains vagary about what God has placed in the human heart: we can read the text, along with the ASV, as saying God has placed eternity in man’s heart, or, along with the NET, as saying God has placed ignorance in man’s heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

We may have a preference regarding which way we want to read the text in Ecclesiastes 3:11, yet either would make for robust theology and reflection. God has made mankind in His own image, and God is eternal (Genesis 1:27, Revelation 1:4). Humans indeed have eternity in their hearts: we have strong intuitions that there is more to living than this life. Cultures throughout time have expected some kind of afterlife for a part of themselves which was not consigned to physical death. Yet even though we might have intuition of eternity, we remain woefully ignorant regarding the spiritual realm and its operations. We do not know how long we will live, let alone how things will turn out for us.

Many decry and lament such ignorance; they believe they would like to know how their lives will turn out. We might understand such a desire for a moment, but upon reflection we can hopefully understand how terrible it would be. Generally we humans want to know things in order to master them; we might imagine we can find out how things will happen so we can make corrections or whatnot. But if we changed some matters of our existence which we would not have otherwise changed, would it not change our trajectory, thus invalidating whatever we were shown would take place? Such is the time traveler’s dilemma: if we could travel back in time in order to change a circumstance or event, then the reality in which we would exist would reflect the changed circumstance; how could we then know the circumstance or event needed changing? We thus cannot master what would happen. To know our end could easily paralyze us into fatalism. We understand and sympathize with the anxiety regarding the unknown regarding the future; yet such an unknown also allows life to have its vitality. Despite what we may think, ignorance regarding our end under the sun remains bliss.

The Preacher confessed how God’s works will endure forever, without addition or elimination; God has made the creation thus to give mankind reason to fear and revere Him (Ecclesiastes 3:14). And God’s gift to mankind is life (Ecclesiastes 3:13). God has not given us the pretensions of the institutions, powers, and principalities over this present darkness; God has not given us the delusions of eternal satisfaction of pleasure, wisdom, or labor. But God has given us the ability to enjoy the creation He has made, to eat and drink, and to find some enjoyment in the work we do (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).

The Preacher again devastates human pretension. No matter how much effort we put into this creation, we cannot add to or take away from it. There is as much created stuff at the end as there was in the beginning; we may have changed its form, eliminated life, built up the things we call “development,” but it is all still made of the basic elements of the creation which God has made. When it is all said and done, God will purge it by fire and reconstitute it all according to His good plan and purpose (Romans 8:18-25, 2 Peter 3:1-13). We remain part of the life cycle of this planet; we have not withdrawn ourselves from it, and we never will. Here the Preacher affirmed, in his own way, what Paul would set forth in Romans 1:18-20: the creation testifies to its Creator. We should fear and revere God because He made it all, we are merely part of the system He created, and we cannot find any lasting form of meaning or purpose outside of Him. If we try to find meaning or purpose in His creation, we give the glory due the Creator to His creation, and He will give us over to such debased thinking, and we will prove miserable (cf. Romans 1:25).

Thus we can strive for what endures forever through what God has done in Christ. But when it comes to life under the sun, we do best to “stop and smell the roses.” The “little things” we can enjoy in life remain the only joys we can fully expect to enjoy. We should enjoy the warmth of the sun and the majesty of what God has made. We should enjoy the taste of the food and drink with which God has blessed us. We should rejoice, cherish, and laugh with our family, friends, and associates with whom we share life. We need to find what we can enjoy in our labor and effort so as to make it worthwhile. The “little things” are ephemeral indeed. Yet so are we! Let us enjoy what God has given us to enjoy in His creation, and may we invest our hopes of eternity in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

God’s Work, Man’s Work | The Voice 12.25: June 19, 2022

A Time For Everything | The Voice 12.20: May 15, 2022

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The Voice

A Time For Everything

For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to search, and a time to give something up as lost; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to rip, and a time to sew; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

Some messages remain entirely non-controversial yet controversial all at the same time.

The Preacher in Jerusalem has set forth his thesis: everything is hevel: a vapor, futile, absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). What has been will be; everything is cyclical; there is nothing new “under the sun”; all work done “under the sun” is a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:3-18). The Preacher knew people would protest such things, and so he explored in greater depth three aspects of life in which people invest great meaning: pleasure, wisdom, and labor, and saw how the end of all remains futile and a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:1-26).

The Preacher then turned to set forth what might seem to be a relatively straightforward reflection on reality: for everything there is a time and a season on earth (Ecclesiastes 3:1). He then provided a series of contrasts: birth and death, planting and uprooting, killing and healing, breaking down and building up, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, tearing down and building up, intimacy and withdrawal, searching and not finding, keeping and throwing away, ripping and sewing, silence and speech, love and hate, war and peace (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8).

How many times have we read this list, affirmed it, and continued our reading without much fanfare? After all, such is life. We were born; we will die. We plant sometimes; sometimes we have to uproot. We live in times of peace; we see times of war. The Preacher spoke accurately.

Yet perhaps we do well to stop for a moment and wonder if the Preacher has something more profound in mind: why did he speak thus, and at this particular moment in his discourse? What purpose might it serve?

While we might confess the reality and truth which the Preacher has spoken in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, we still do not like it. We enjoy birth, planting, healing, building up, laughing, dancing, gathering stones, embracing, discovering, keeping, mending, speaking, loving, and peace. But death, uprooting, killing, breaking down, weeping, mourning, tearing down, withdrawal of intimacy, giving up on a loss, throwing away, tearing apart, silence, hatred, and war? We do not enjoy them as much. We will often go to great lengths to avoid such things!

Such is the controversial nature of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: there is a season for everything on earth and for every purpose under heaven. This is undoubtedly true about the good things; it is equally true about those which we find less than pleasant. We often aspire to a life featuring half of the things the Preacher mentions; nevertheless, life “under the sun” will involve all of them.

We live in a culture which celebrates birth yet fears death: you can announce to the world how a child has been born, and all will rejoice; yet if you speak of how someone has died, others will not know how to handle the situation well, and will seek to avoid you. Who among us would live in active denial regarding the birth of a loved one, and yet how many cannot come to grips with the grief of loss? In terms of the faith, we enjoy planting and building up; yet in order to plant and build up, one must first uproot all which works contrary to the Gospel and tear down every human edifice. Yet how many today prove apprehensive or hostile toward the “deconstruction” many feel compelled to do in order to come to grips with what they have been taught and have experienced in light of what they find revealed in the pages of Scripture? For good reason Jesus considered those who mourned blessed, and pronounced woes on those who laugh (Luke 6:21, 25): He was not attempting to suggest greater virtue in one over the other, but wanted people to think differently about laughter and mourning: those who laugh can only look forward to mourning, but those who mourn can look forward to a time of laughing, since there is a time for everything on earth. For many, the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ring in their ears as the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds from 1965; the song was composed a few years earlier by Pete Seeger, and it was so sung as to be an anti-war protest song (“a time for peace / I swear it’s not too late”). We can understand why many in the middle of the Sixties would wish for peace, and can even appreciate it; yet the time for war would continue.

The Preacher, therefore, did not come out of left field with Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. He had established how life is futile and absurd and a striving after wind; pleasure, wisdom, and labor cannot ultimately satisfy us; and life features a time for everything on earth and for every purpose under heaven. We confess its truth while resisting it, because we want only to enjoy the good things in life and avoid all the pain and difficulty. The Preacher would disabuse us of such a notion: life involves everything, death as well as birth, tearing down as well as building up, weeping as well as laughter, war as well as peace. Such truth need not depress or lead to despair; indeed, when we undergo the days of trial and difficulty, suffering that which we would rather avoid, we can remain confident it will remain for a season. Nevertheless, the Preacher, as well as the Lord Jesus, would remind us while we enjoy the good times, the times and seasons which prove less pleasant will come.

It is not for us to determine which time and season in which we exist at any given moment, nor is it for us to determine how long each season or time will last. We would be abusing the text to use it to rationalize, justify, or commend anything because there is a “time” for it; any such exhortation would say much more about the person who would preach it than it would the Preacher or God’s purposes. Instead we do well to consider the Preacher’s wisdom about life under heaven and understand how a time and a season exists for everything, to find enjoyment in what we can, and to endure what is unpleasant in hope for a better season. In all things we do well to put our confidence in God in Christ to be ready for the time when He will return and we can share in the resurrection of life; may we do so in every season and time in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Time For Everything | The Voice 12.20: May 15, 2022

Labor Under the Sun | The Voice 12.16: April 17, 2022

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Labor Under the Sun

So I loathed all the fruit of my effort, for which I worked so hard on earth, because I must leave it behind in the hands of my successor. Who knows if he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will be master over all the fruit of my labor for which I worked so wisely on earth! This also is futile! So I began to despair about all the fruit of my labor for which I worked so hard on earth. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; however, he must hand over the fruit of his labor as an inheritance to someone else who did not work for it. This also is futile, and an awful injustice! What does a man acquire from all his labor and from the anxiety that accompanies his toil on earth? For all day long his work produces pain and frustration, and even at night his mind cannot relax! This also is futile! There is nothing better for people than to eat and drink, and to find enjoyment in their work. I also perceived that this ability to find enjoyment comes from God. For no one can eat and drink or experience joy apart from him. For to the one who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy, but to the sinner, he gives the task of amassing wealth – only to give it to the one who pleases God. This task of the wicked is futile – like chasing the wind! (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26)

As with pleasure and wisdom, so with labor: it cannot provide ultimate meaning.

The Preacher advanced his general thesis: everything is hevel, a vapor, futile, absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). Everything continues as it has in the past; life is cyclical, and there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11). The Preacher has seen how everything under the sun is a chasing after wind; wisdom leads to frustration (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18).

The Preacher then specifically explored three of the main domains in which people have invested ultimate meaning. The first was pleasure: he satisfied himself with all forms of pleasure, but none of them could truly deliver what was promised (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). Then he explored wisdom: he found it better than folly, but the wise man and the fool both die, so even wisdom was ultimately futile (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17). The Preacher then turned to consider labor (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26).

Work and labor easily defines human life. In our modern society, we often speak and think of ourselves in terms of what we do for work. Institutions of labor encourage workers to thus define themselves and to encourage belief that the labor they provide for that institution has lasting and significant meaning and value. Humans may die, but they nourish the hope that the work they have done will not. Thus humans seek to invest their labor with long lasting value and meaning.

When the Preacher considered labor under the sun, he found two forms of futility. The first involved the ultimate end of the fruit of labor: a person might work hard throughout their lives and amass some resources, but those resources will be enjoyed by descendants, regardless of whether those descendants prove wise or foolish (Ecclesiastes 2:18-21). The second futility centered on what the laborer would acquire for which he or she worked: they suffer pain and frustration during the work, and cannot rest well on account of anxieties about the labor and/or uncertainties in the future (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23).

Few exemplify the futility of the ultimate end of the fruit of their labor than Solomon himself. Throughout his life he worked to amass great wealth, prosperity, and stability for the Kingdom of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 3:1-10:29). His son, Rehoboam, would behave foolishly, overseeing the division of the kingdom, the invasion of Judah by Egypt, and the loss of all the wealth his father had accrued (cf. 1 Kings 12:1-24, 14:21-31). Many times wealth is obtained through deceptive, exploitative, or oppressive means; yet even when wealth is earned through noble and upright effort, what will happen when a person’s descendants inherit it? Perhaps a person’s heir was well raised and trained to appreciate what was given, and uses the wealth wisely. But what will come with the next generation? Eventually a fool will arise and what had been gained well will be lost. So it has gone with every dynasty of power and wealth.

The modern worker likely well understands the bitterness of what they acquire for their work. The majority of people are compelled to “live to work”. They may have to work multiple jobs in order to maintain even the most basic quality of life. Employers often demand many hours or flexibility according to their needs without much regard for the quality of life for their workers. Workers put in a good day’s work and receive their appropriate pay, and yet concerns remain about making sure they can pay the bills and make ends meet. Those who have proven more financially successful in our present meritocracy would maintain the presumption that such laborers are not working well or hard enough; in truth, they are working harder than anyone else, yet not getting anywhere. They suffer the constant anxiety that comes from being poor or living near the poverty line. Lamentably, the Preacher is not wrong: there really is nothing new under the sun.

Yet the Preacher maintains a glimmer of hope: God has given people the ability to find enjoyment in eating, drinking, and in their labor (Ecclesiastes 2:24). Without God there would be no food, drink, labor, or life itself (Ecclesiastes 2:25). God blesses those who seek and please Him with wisdom, knowledge, and joy; yet sinners are given the task of obtaining wealth that will ultimately be enjoyed by those who please God (Ecclesiastes 2:26). The wicked suffer from futility, chasing after the wind.

In this way the Preacher has begun to reveal the ultimate purpose of his discourse: to strip humans of their pretensions to great or ultimate meanings so they can rediscover and dedicate themselves to the simple joys of the lives they are granted to live under the sun. It would be inappropriate to condemn the Preacher as a hedonist; he has already explored the end of pleasure (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). Instead, he essentially reminds his audience to “stop and smell the roses”: humans do not have the control they would like to think they have, their pretensions toward eternity will not be satisfied by anything “under the sun,” tomorrow is not guaranteed, so enjoy what you do have in the moment. Enjoy food, drink, and work. Labor is much easier to endure when one can find enjoyment in what one does. How many things prove more lamentable than a person who expends the short life they have under the sun in labor which they detest and provides them no form of joy or satisfaction? Likewise, how demonic is a system or group of people who develop forms of employment which dehumanize those who participate in it and provide no opportunity for enjoyment?

In light of the Preacher’s message we do well to resist all impulses to make life all about work. Work is an important part of life, but it should only be a part of life. Those who labor should be able to eat and enjoy the fruit of their labor. They must not invest their life’s meaning and purpose in their work, and always remember the importance of the experiences they can enjoy and especially the people with whom they share their lives. Yet those who employ should consider themselves well. Is God glorified when people work but cannot eat and enjoy the fruit of their labor? What does it say about a people and a society when many jobs cannot provide any real benefit to anyone, and cause great suffering to those who are employed within them? What employer has any right to demand for any employee to make work their life’s primary purpose, providing no opportunity for enjoyment and rest?

As Christians we must balance what we hear from the Preacher with what we learn about God in Christ. The Apostle Paul affirmed that our work in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58): what we do here in this life will have implications for life in the resurrection to come. Thus Paul exhorted all who labor to do so as unto the Lord (cf. Ephesians 6:5-9); we cannot imagine that our work is divorced and separated from our life of service to Christ, but must find ways to glorify God and submit our work lives to Jesus. And yet the Preacher’s words endure: under the sun, all our labor is ultimately futile. What will remain is not what we have built with our hands, but the impact we have imprinted on other people. May we all serve the Lord Jesus in all we do, and glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Labor Under the Sun | The Voice 12.16: April 17, 2022

Wisdom | The Voice 12.12: March 20, 2022

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The Voice

Wisdom

Next, I decided to consider wisdom, as well as foolish behavior and ideas. For what more can the king’s successor do than what the king has already done? I realized that wisdom is preferable to folly, just as light is preferable to darkness: The wise man can see where he is going, but the fool walks in darkness. Yet I also realized that the same fate happens to them both.
So I thought to myself, “The fate of the fool will happen even to me! Then what did I gain by becoming so excessively wise?”
So I lamented to myself, “The benefits of wisdom are ultimately meaningless!”
For the wise man, like the fool, will not be remembered for very long, because in the days to come, both will already have been forgotten. Alas, the wise man dies – just like the fool! So I loathed life because what happens on earth seems awful to me; for all the benefits of wisdom are futile – like chasing the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17).

Wisdom is greatly praised in the witness of the Scriptures. The Preacher was very wise. Yet what is the end of wisdom?

The Preacher has been setting forth his exposition on life in this corrupt creation, “under the sun”: it is all hevel, a vapor, vanity, futile, or absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). People expend all kinds of effort, yet the creation continues as it has before; there is nothing truly new under the sun, and what has happened will be forgotten by future generations (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11).

The Preacher, king in Jerusalem, then began to consider the results of his inquiries into life under the sun: it is all a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14). Should people just pursue what is pleasurable and enjoyable? The Preacher lived a life of pleasure to the full, giving himself over to the pursuit of every desire and pleasure: he found it all futile, for trying to obtain them was like chasing the wind, and ultimately without profit (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11).

Since pleasure is thus futile, what about wisdom over folly? As with pleasure, so with wisdom: God granted Solomon great wisdom so that there were none wiser in all of Israel or even the ancient Near Eastern world (1 Kings 3:12, 4:31, Ecclesiastes 2:12). If anyone were able to fully explore the depths of wisdom to see if we can place our full confidence in wisdom to provide hope and meaning in life, it would have been Solomon. Furthermore, who would we expect to be a greater advocate or champion for wisdom than the author of Proverbs and much of what we deem the “Wisdom Literature” in the pages of Scripture?

The Preacher already summarized what he had learned regarding wisdom and folly in Ecclesiastes 1:15-18; he set forth his exploration in greater detail in Ecclesiastes 2:12-17. Whereas Solomon could not find much value in pleasure, he did see some benefit in wisdom: wisdom is better than folly just like light is better than darkness, since the wise person can discern the journey and its attendant dangers, but a fool stumbles through and suffers greatly (Ecclesiastes 2:13-14). And yet ultimately the same fate awaits both the wise person and the fool: they will die (Ecclesiastes 2:14).

The Preacher bitterly lamented the common fate of the wise person and the fool, for he who endeavored so diligently to pursue wisdom and the person who put absolutely no effort into obtaining wisdom will equally die (Ecclesiastes 2:15-16). The wise person and the fool will equally be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 2:16)! Thus wisdom is ultimately futile and absurd, a chasing after wind: whatever benefits it may provide for you in life end at death (Ecclesiastes 2:15, 17). The Preacher thus found this aspect of life quite distasteful: wisdom cannot keep a person from dying, and wisdom cannot provide ultimate hope and meaning (Ecclesiastes 2:17).

Many of us find ourselves in a similar predicament as the Preacher, especially if we hold Proverbs and a philosophy of self-realization through moral improvement dear to our hearts. We can see great value in the wisdom of those who have come before us and the stupidity of folly. We anguish over the not well considered decisions of others which have caused them and others great grief. We strive to instruct our children to pursue the ways of wisdom and not folly. We want to keep improving our virtue and abilities so that we can excel and do better at life. We want to believe that the more wisdom we cultivate the better and more meaningful our life will be.

And yet the Preacher said it is ultimately futile and a chasing after wind. Wisdom, like pleasure, cannot entirely satisfy. Wisdom, like pleasure, cannot really deliver on its promises.

We must not overstate the case. Pleasure intrinsically cannot deliver; it promises things it can never truly provide. Wisdom is better than folly, and it is right, well, and good for us to pursue wisdom and to live wisely and not foolishly. We should meditate on the Proverbs and find ways to practice wisdom and eschew folly.

Yet under the sun wisdom cannot save us. Yes, fools will suffer from their folly; many will even die in their folly. Yet even if the wise person avoids all sorts of preventable forms of anxiety, stress, and death, they also will die some day. We would also like to believe that fools will be mocked and maligned in their memory, and the wise will be highly esteemed; yet this also is not the case. In the short term there are plenty of people who deem folly to be wisdom and laud it while persecuting the wise; in the long term both the wise and the fool are forgotten.

We can find no greater testimony to the futility of wisdom than Solomon himself. Solomon had great wisdom and his kingdom enjoyed prosperity beyond anything they had previously enjoyed or would ever enjoy again. We do well to remember that the “father” exhorting his “son” is a standard literary convention in ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature, but we would imagine that Solomon very much tried to exhort his son Rehoboam to live in the ways of wisdom and to rule wisely. And yet as soon as his father died Rehoboam foolishly wanted to assert his own power and privilege, and it led to the division of his kingdom and a wound against the kingdom which would never heal (cf. 1 Kings 12:1-19). Solomon was extremely wise; he died, and his kingdom was given over to folly; truly futility and a chasing after wind!

We may still speak fondly of Solomon’s wisdom and castigate Rehoboam’s folly, yet they have been practically forgotten. Each generation arises and learns lessons from previous generations for better and for worse; they may exhibit some wisdom their fathers neglected, but will likewise surely leap headlong into forms of folly regarding which their ancestors learned from experience or avoided by heeding their elders. No amount of instruction in wisdom will secure future generations from these trials.

Under the sun there is no ultimate meaning or hope in pleasure, wisdom, or in anything else. Yet thanks be to God that He has established eternal wisdom in Christ Jesus who is the treasury of all wisdom and knowledge, and through whom we can obtain confidence in eternal life (Colossians 2:1-3). We ought to be rooted and grounded in Christ Jesus, not in ourselves, and understand that it is only in the Lord Jesus that our efforts and our wisdom is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58, Colossians 2:4-10). The wisdom of the world is ephemeral and will not endure; the wisdom that comes from above, which is pure, peaceable, gentle, and full of mercy, which will produce the good fruit in faithful believers that endures for eternity (James 3:13-18). Let us not seek to pursue wisdom for its own end; let us instead be rooted and grounded in Christ, stand firm all wisdom and knowledge rooted in Him, manifest the wisdom which comes from above, and obtain eternal life in the resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Wisdom | The Voice 12.12: March 20, 2022

The End of Pleasure | The Voice 12.08: February 20, 2022

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The Voice

The End of Pleasure

I thought to myself, “Come now, I will try self-indulgent pleasure to see if it is worthwhile.”
But I found that it also is futile.
I said of partying, “It is folly,” and of self-indulgent pleasure, “It accomplishes nothing!”
I thought deeply about the effects of indulging myself with wine (all the while my mind was guiding me with wisdom) and the effects of behaving foolishly, so that I might discover what is profitable for people to do on earth during the few days of their lives. I increased my possessions: I built houses for myself; I planted vineyards for myself. I designed royal gardens and parks for myself, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I constructed pools of water for myself, to irrigate my grove of flourishing trees. I purchased male and female slaves, and I owned slaves who were born in my house; I also possessed more livestock – both herds and flocks – than any of my predecessors in Jerusalem. I also amassed silver and gold for myself, as well as valuable treasures taken from kingdoms and provinces. I acquired male singers and female singers for myself, and what gives a man sensual delight – a harem of beautiful concubines! So I was far wealthier than all my predecessors in Jerusalem, yet I maintained my objectivity: I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted; I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure. So all my accomplishments gave me joy; this was my reward for all my effort.
Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, I concluded: “All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless – like chasing the wind! There is nothing gained from them on earth” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)

The Preacher has seen the end game of pleasure. It is absurdity and a chasing after wind.

The Preacher has established the core emphasis of his message: everything is hevel, a vapor, futile, absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). Time under the sun proves cyclical: what has happened before will happen again; there is nothing truly new on the earth (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11). Man’s activities and behavior are a “chasing after wind”: pursuing them for their own ends will never lead to getting much of anything permanent; even the pursuit of wisdom is chasing the wind, since wisdom leads to greater frustration and vexation with the way things are (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18).

The Preacher’s message is a hard pill to swallow. We humans do not like to imagine our existence as ephemeral and our labors ultimately futile; we invest a lot of energy into our pretenses of meaning and permanence. The Preacher’s audience can think of many objections and difficulties with what he is trying to advance. To this end the Preacher developed his theme by expanding on many of its components.

The Preacher began such expansions by considering pleasure. The desires and passions of life are basic and primal: humans want to avoid pain and thus to enjoy some level of pleasure. We want life to be enjoyable and pleasant. We want to satisfy our desires. We think this is well and good for us.

“We” should be taken very literally and seriously: the Preacher might be adumbrating the general posture of Epicureanism in the tenth century BCE, but many in the Western world have fully accepted it, however unconsciously, as the default philosophy of modern secularism. What do a lot of people imagine the universe to be? Mostly dead, having developed essentially by chance. Thus, how should people live? We cannot expect to find much meaning intrinsically in the world, so we should do what we can to avoid pain and to find some enjoyment in life. This is what Epicurus had advanced 2300 years ago; this is how many modern people imagine is the way of the world.

But is life really all about comfort and enjoyment? What if we could play out the end game of comfort and enjoyment: if we could have all comfort and all enjoyment, would we find joy and satisfaction? If we could truly avoid pain, would we find life satisfying?

Most of us can only play out this end game in theory. The Preacher, however, can speak from experience, and relied on his personal testimony to provide wisdom regarding the end of pleasure. As Solomon, king of Israel, he was infamous for his great wealth in power, riches, wisdom, and women (Ecclesiastes 2:1-10; cf. 1 Kings 3:1-10:29). So he fully indulged in pleasure. He withheld nothing from himself: he partied. He got all the possessions he wanted. He built houses and elaborate gardens. He owned slaves, livestock, silver, gold, and plenty of jewels. He enjoyed the performance of great singers. He enjoyed the fleshly pursuits with many wives and concubines. In terms of wealth and pleasure, it seemed good to be the king.

Therefore, if anyone could tell us whether or not pleasure could really satisfy, it would be the Preacher. But what did he conclude? It was futile, foolish, accomplished nothing, and was a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:1, 10-11).

The Preacher’s conclusion might seem harsh and dismissive but proved true. For example, consider some delicious food. We can enjoy the sensual experience of the first bite: the flavors, the texture, the quality of the food. We may enjoy another few bites. Yet after a few bites the food cannot replicate that first experience. Those who use drugs recreationally bear witness in a similar way: the first high might prove to be a powerful and exhilarating experience, and such people will continue to use the drugs to attempt to enjoy that experience again. Yet future highs never quite reach the same level as the first one; often more and more of the drug is required to get any kind of experience; ultimately, those who use those drugs become dependent on and truly enslaved to them. Every other pleasurable pursuit will end in the same way: we become habituated to the experience and it does not provide as much pleasure as it used to. We have to put in a lot more effort to receive diminishing returns of enjoyment. And none of this even begins to touch the process of aging and decay and its concomitant effects on the ability to enjoy pleasures.

Jesus would provide similar wisdom a millennium later: what would a person gain if they gained the whole world but would forfeit their lives (Matthew 16:26)? If all we are living for is comfort and pleasure, what will we do when we can no longer enjoy either? How much are we sacrificing, and how many people are we hurting, in order to obtain something ephemeral and can never deliver on its promises?

Thus the Preacher has explored the end of pleasure for us. Pleasure promises much but delivers little. We cannot find comfort, deliverance, or rescue in pleasure. At the bottom of that well can only be disillusionment, frustration, and pain. Life cannot be just about satisfying our desires. May we instead seek to find deliverance, joy, life, and rescue in God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The End of Pleasure | The Voice 12.08: February 20, 2022

Striving After Wind | The Voice 12.03: January 16, 2022

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The Voice

Striving After Wind

I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. I decided to carefully and thoroughly examine all that has been accomplished on earth. I concluded: God has given people a burdensome task that keeps them occupied. I reflected on everything that is accomplished by man on earth, and I concluded: Everything he has accomplished is futile – like chasing the wind! What is bent cannot be straightened, and what is missing cannot be supplied.
I thought to myself, “I have become much wiser than any of my predecessors who ruled over Jerusalem; I have acquired much wisdom and knowledge.”
So I decided to discern the benefit of wisdom and knowledge over foolish behavior and ideas; however, I concluded that even this endeavor is like trying to chase the wind! For with great wisdom comes great frustration; whoever increases his knowledge merely increases his heartache (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18).

The Preacher knew of what he spoke. We do not have to like it, but we do well to seek to understand and respect his witness.

The Preacher has testified that all things are hevel: a vapor, futile, even absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). He understood time as a cycle; nothing is really new under the sun, all things have already been done beforehand, and later generations have forgotten (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11).

The Preacher now sets forth his purpose. He spoke of himself as Qohelet, the Preacher or Teacher, even though he was king over Israel in Jerusalem; thus we understand him to be Solomon (Ecclesiastes 1:12; cf. Ecclesiastes 1:1, 12:9). He wanted to understand human effort and striving on the earth. He understood it to be the burdensome tasks God has given to mankind to keep them occupied, and yet they are all futile (Ecclesiastes 1:13-14).

The Preacher introduced us to one of his favorite images which exemplify the futility of life and deeds under the sun: a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14). To strive or chase after the wind represents sheer folly: how could you catch the wind? It continues to blow across the earth; you cannot expect to grab ahold of it; and even if one could theoretically capture wind, it would immediately cease being the wind!

Humans bristle at the thought that all their work ultimately does not mean much and that we strive after wind. We tell ourselves motivational and uplifting platitudes about how what we do will influence and shape the world. We seek to satisfy desires and enjoy the good life. We recognize we have various challenges and difficulties but want to imagine that if we just had a little more money, a little more time, or worked on ourselves just a little bit more, we would be able to overcome them and get what we want.

Can we all think of people who have profoundly influenced our lives and our patterns of behavior? Absolutely. Is the Preacher thus wrong? Not in the grand scheme of things. What has become of all the “influencers” of four or more generations ago? They have been forgotten, just as the Preacher expected (Ecclesiastes 1:11). To seek after meaning and renown in the works of this world is to strive after wind: fame and meaning are ephemeral vapors which will not last.

Likewise, to live for the future and expect things to get better with just a little more this or that is also a striving after wind. If you do come into a little more money, there will always be more reasons to spend. If we work on ourselves a little bit, we will find other problems. We can never fully overcome our limitations, challenges, and difficulties; the “ideal” or “good life” is futile, absurd, and a striving after wind. One can pursue it all day long; whatever one captures will cease being what is desired after being obtained. Thus, indeed, all that is crooked cannot be made straight; what is lacked will never be fully satisfied (Ecclesiastes 1:15).

The Preacher continued with an extraordinary claim: he had become wiser and more knowledgeable than those who had ruled over Jerusalem before him (Ecclesiastes 1:16). We might be skeptical of such a “flex” and boastfulness, yet God indeed had given Solomon great wisdom (1 Kings 3:12-13, 4:30). Furthermore, his goal is not to vaunt himself as much as it is to establish credibility for what he was saying. Humans understandably resist what the Preacher has to say; they would be tempted to wonder who the Preacher was to make such claims and why we should accept them. The Preacher spoke thus of himself to establish his bona fides: he has explored wisdom and knowledge. He has greater depth of experience, knowledge, and wisdom. Will we thus consider what he has to say?

Surely a man as wise and knowledgeable as the Preacher would thus affirm the great power and importance of wisdom and knowledge. Yet when he compared wisdom and knowledge with folly, or attempted to know both wisdom and folly, he considered them also a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:17)!

How could the same man who so exalted wisdom over folly in the Proverbs here consider all of it a striving after wind? The question, as always, is to what end? Paul rightly warned Christians that knowledge can make arrogant (1 Corinthians 8:1); we must remember that it also ultimately is a striving after wind, since what we learn dies with us, and of the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom there is no end. Furthermore, was Socrates wrong when he considered that all he knew was that he knew nothing, for the more he learned, the more he recognized he had to learn?

The Preacher recognized frustration and grief attended to knowledge and those with wisdom consign themselves to heartbreak (Ecclesiastes 1:18). Consider Cassandra of Greek legend: she was able to see the future, but whenever she would speak of it, she would not be believed. A similar curse comes to all who have reliable wisdom and knowledge. One would like to think wisdom and knowledge would be heeded, yet many people’s livelihoods depend on them not accepting such wisdom and knowledge. Folly parades in the streets seemingly unmolested and those with insight are left to mourn and weep. Such is how it feels today; yet in truth, such is the way it has always been. Perhaps this is part of the reason the old adage declared ignorance to be bliss! From the beginning knowledge has come with a curse, and we must not delude ourselves into thinking that wisdom and knowledge will save the day. To this end the author of Proverbs thus reminds us of the limitations of the wisdom and knowledge he so thoroughly exalted in its pages. It can only go so far, and it causes great grief when one perceives how well wisdom is considered and honored.

Thus the Preacher has established his central premise: human life under the sun is futile and a striving after wind. We look for meaning where none will endure; we want permanence where there is nothing but vapor and wind; we want to hang our hat on some certainty, some form of advantage that will endure, and find them all flawed, limited, and ultimately hopeless. It will all be forgotten in the end. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but the Preacher is not wrong about this life. Such is why it is so important for us to invest in what God is accomplishing in the Lord Jesus Christ so we may obtain eternal life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Striving After Wind | The Voice 12.03: January 16, 2022