Despairing Flames of Joy

Ecclesiastes 3:16–4:3; Job 3:1–26 (read online ⧉)

Let’s be honest, Ecclesiastes is not the most uplifting book of the bible. In many respects, it can be a bigger downer than the story of Job. Both books are generally put under (along with Proverbs) the category of wisdom literature.

Wisdom literature often doesn’t seek answers (though people search wisdom literature for it). Wisdom literature seeks understanding. That would seem to be the same thing, yet if we look at all the clicks a person makes on their computers or on Facebook, we know things about them, but it does not mean we understand them.

The hard thing about Ecclesiastes is that the writer (“the Teacher”) is quite willing to confront the darkness of the world, facing it head-on. Most of us would prefer to avoid the darkness of the world, and so such writers make us uncomfortable. This is a good thing.

It is for times such as this, that wisdom literature may help us. Wisdom literature won’t hand us the cure (whether for disease or human depravity). Wisdom literature can help us step back from our immediate responses and reactions, and help us to develop a framework with which to handle reality.

Ecclesiastes 3:16 begins with the presence of wickedness where justice and righteousness are supposed to prevail. It is not just with police brutality. It is not just with racism. It is not just with the distribution of wealth. It is not just with misogyny. It is with humanity.

This is not a paean to make us feel better about ourselves or to deaden anyone’s anger, frustration, pain, or fear in the drama that is 2020. This might, might, be the straw that finally breaks the camels back, and brings Christianity where it needs to be, united on our knees in prayer, supplication, confession, remorse, celebration, and reverence.

Seems to be an odd mix? That is the beauty of wisdom literature. Conclusions drawn from it, just like in life, are not always easy to put in a box.

As the Teacher seems to envy the dead and the neverborn, Job wishes that the day of his birth had never come. Similar to George in It’s a Wonderful Life, Job believed that it would have been better were he never to have been born. This is often the voice of despair in our lives, as it was in Job’s.

“When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity.” —Ecclesiastes 12:13

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.” —Acts 4:12

Often, it is these two verses that can keep despair at bay. The passage from Ecclesiastes is the conclusion of this book of wisdom. The passage from Acts was Peter’s first public sermon and strong proclamation of the Gospel.

When lost in despair, or tending toward despair, God remains steadfast.

※Prayer※

God, thank you for your steadfast love for all Creation. Help us rely and trust in that. May we look at our fellow humans as people who are looking (whether they know it or not) for the wisdom that only you can provide. Amen.

※Questions※

1) How is your soul in this turmoil?

2) How do you view your fellow humans at this point?

3) How do you attempt to redeem the darkness of yourself and your fellow humans?