Ecclesiastes is fast becoming one of my favorite books in the Bible (if you read my post, Vanity!, you can start to get an idea of why). Ecclesiastes tells it like it is, pulls no punches. Last night found me sobbing, completely at a loss to dredge up any trust in God, heartbroken and angry that I didn’t have the strength to keep myself together. Because life is hard, and questions abound. Why is it that we pray, and sometimes we get a miracle, but sometimes people die? Why does God seem so bloodthirsty in the Old Testament? How can I really trust the Bible? Why are there so many who refuse the gospel, or who have never even heard it, if God is so good? Why do some people seem so sure and confident of their relationship with God, while I only get wisps and whispers and maybes? These are real questions. To them, Ecclesiastes says, “Yup.”
It may be strange that I find this comforting. But somehow it is extremely comforting to know that life is “hevel.” An enigma. A vapor that you can never quite catch. To see it there, in plain print, right in the Bible itself, that none of this will ever work like a formula. That life is messy and confusing and not fair. It’s this way for EVERYONE. Well, everyone who’s paying attention. Christians do not have a corner on the market of being confused. Maybe slightly different set of perplexing questions, but still. Everyone has some weighty questions lurking. That’s why there’s such thing as philosophy. As science. Humankind is driven to understand…but we always fall short.
When I was in Scotland with my family recently, we went to a used bookstore that we stumbled across, because all the ladies in my family are bibliophiles. It was a beautiful bookstore, I was just in love. But I remember walking around it, looking at all the little niches harboring their volumes of science, philosophy, religion, health and wellness, politics; thousands and thousands and thousands of books…representing just as many points of view on any given subject. I started getting overwhelmed as I browsed, thinking, “How can we actually know ANYTHING?” There are so many perspectives, so many good arguments and studies and evidences to back up each. How can anyone sort through all that to even start to get a bigger picture? The answer is, of course, that no one can. The end of Ecclesiastes offers a wise observation.
Ecclesiastes 12:12 (ESV)
12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
In other words: be wary of trying to figure it all out. It’s an endless, and ultimately futile, pursuit. Something I could use an hourly reminder of. I should really get a tattoo off it. (Will it stop me from trying? Of course not. Overthinking is what I do. But maybe it can help keep me from taking things too far.) So what is one to do? How do you exist in a constant state of not understanding what the heck is going? To quote George Michael, “You gotta have faith.” The good news is that faith (for the sake of this post I’ll define faith as trust or confidence in something we can’t be completely sure of) is woven into the very fabric of our existence. Faith is something we all have to rely on, whether we’re aware of it or not, pretty much every moment of every day. We’re wired with the ability to judge probabilities and take action on something that is likely as though it is sure. We do it all the time.
Because there are a lot fewer “facts” out there than we realize. So many of the things we take for granted, take for “common knowledge” will probably change in 100 years. Think about our conception of the world. Several hundred years ago it was a fact that the Earth was flat and the Sun revolved around it. Now we know better. But it was a fact at the time. When I was growing up the food pyramid was everywhere. On cereal boxes, on posters in the school cafeteria, in health magazines. I assumed it was something nutritionists knew and that we could all continue to rely on for the rest of our lives and children’s lives and on into eternity. Twenty years later, there are about 9000 “best” diets out there. None of them resemble the food pyramid even remotely. It would be arrogant to assume we’re any different now. It requires at least a bit of faith just to choose what to eat for crying out loud! We don’t have the world sorted out. We haven’t arrived at ultimate truth. And we won’t. Because, much as we hate to admit it, none of us is God. None of us has the full perspective. None of us can take in the 7 billion different needs, perspectives, desires, heart-cries in this world and sort them all out into some sort of rational, comprehensible package. So to us, it’s hevel. It’s a fog, something we’re always trying to get a handle on but never will. So…? Ecclesiastes again comes to the rescue here.
Ecclesiastes 5: 18, 19 (ESV)
18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.
There are several similar admonitions throughout the book. In other words, stop trying to figure it all out. Don’t put too much stock in the future. Savor each sweet moment as it comes. Be grateful and don’t take anything for granted. Sound advice whether you’re a Christian, a Muslim, an atheist, or anything in between. So, do I have everything figured out? No. Will I ever have everything figured out? No. Am I ok with that? Hahaha no, not yet. But at least there’s some comfort in knowing that I share this uncomfortable position with at least 7 billion others right now (excepting, of course, all the teenagers who DO have it all figured out). And I have hope that someday in the future I’ll be able to let things go enough to have a little faith that the God of the universe might know what He’s about better than I do.