Meaningless Life?: A Soul Pit Stop: Ecclesiastes 7:15-8:1 (Click Here for Audio)
I love cars. Trucks too. Ever since I was little I have really liked various vehicles. My dad and brother are very good mechanics, and are restoring a 1955 Chevy for my Pops from the frame up. My brother also drag races for fun.
I’m not a big fan of working on cars or trucks, but I do love driving them. My first car was a 1956 Chevy that I sold because it was not “cool” with four doors. Now that I’m a father of five kids, who also appreciate cars, I wake up every day and shake my head wondering what I was thinking as a teenager getting rid of that car.
Anyways, today I have a truck and a Jeep. The Jeep is something that I had wanted since I was a little boy. I’ve struggled since I was little with the change of seasons. I love sunshine, fresh air, long days, and being outside. My wife and friends joke that I’m “solar powered.” For me, driving a Jeep with the top off is just fun. So, about ten years ago I bought my first Jeep. It’s a two door Wrangler with the six speed manual transmission and six cylinder motor. I drove it during the summers in Seattle, but during the winter it mostly sat in the garage. So, despite being 10 years old, it has only forty some thousand miles. Having recently moved to Phoenix, and Fall is upon us, I now have the great joy of driving my Jeep all winter with the top off. For my birthday I took the rig in to make some much needed fixes. The Jeep runs good, but it still had the original tires that were worn down, and the original soft top had a tear. Like everything on this planet, it needed a bit of attention to get it back up to its best performance.
Driving my kids around in the Jeep recently listening to Johnny Cash and enjoying the sun, I literally thanked God for allowing me to make a few changes and get out and enjoy life. It also dawned on me that our souls are like my Jeep. Even the godliest people need to occasionally pull over, ask some diagnostic questions, and make adjustments. In this section of Ecclesiastes we are going to pull over for a soul pit stop and have Solomon run diagnostics on our soul with nine questions to get us healed up, tuned up, and back to enjoying life with God.
1. Do you believe in karma (Ecclesiastes 7:15)?
James talks about “pure religion” that follows in the path of his big brother Jesus Christ. Pure religion is about grace from God where you don’t get what you deserve and do get what you don’t deserve. But, there is also bad religion. Bad religion is usually in some form or fashion about karma. In karma you only get what you deserve.
Christians would say they disavow karma, but the truth is sometimes we functionally operate by it. What I mean is this – if something bad happens to someone we can wrongly assume that God is punishing them for being a bad person. Conversely, if something good happens to someone we can wrongly assume that God is blessing them for being a good person. But, this is not how it works. Sometimes, good people die young including Stephen and Jesus. Sometimes wicked people live long lives including the Herods and Pharoahs.
When your life is going well, don’t pat yourself on the back for earning it, rather thank God for his grace. When your life is going poorly, don’t automatically assume you are a bad person or that God is punishing you. That may or may not be the case. Furthermore, when someone else is hurting and struggling, do not assume they have some secret sin or did something to bring trouble upon themselves. That too may or may not be the case. When we read that Judas got paid for betraying Jesus, and Job lost everything for honoring the Lord we can feel free to throw any notion of karma out the window because it harms our relationship with God and others.
2. Do you chase extremes (Ecclesiastes 7:16-19)?
Jesus talks about the path to heaven as a narrow one. There are two ways to veer off this pious path. You can veer to the left by overly and wrongly emphasizing grace. You can veer to the right by overly and wrongly emphasizing laws or rules.
Veering to the left is pretty easy, especially for the lazy. You convince yourself that God is like a permissive parent – you know the kind that bought weed or beer for their junior high kids when they had sleepovers at the house. In this understanding, This belief says God is more concerned about love than holiness, more understanding that no one is perfect, not wanting to burden us with strenuous efforts for a disciplined life, not worried about our sin because he sent Jesus to forgive whatever we do, and permissive with the blank check. The response tends to look like sinning so that grace can abound.
Veering to the right takes a bit more effort and attracts those who are devout, serious, and disciplined. You convince yourself that God is a stern judge who parents with a merit and demerit system chart on the fridge, keeping score of everything. So, you start adding to God’s rules with your own rules, looking down on others who break your rules, and even judging and punishing them for not playing by the rules you and God put together on the chart plainly displayed on the fridge. As an aside, these kinds of people make awful spouses and parents because they fail to distinguish between breaking God’s laws and their rules, and in so doing start calling things sin that simply are not.
In the parable of the prodigal son the younger brother veered to the left by drinking a lot, sleeping around, and being a fool until he ran out of cash. The older brother veered to the right and was smugly self-righteous thinking he was a better son that never broke any rules. Both brothers were wrong, and both brothers have a lot of followers to this day.
Do you veer to the left or the right?
Solomon wisely says that both the grace abusers on the left and the rule makers on the right have erred and need a course correction. Jesus, of course, is the perfect example of staying on the narrow path. Those on the left found him a bit too serious about sin, repentance, and life change. For instance, when he told a woman at a well to stop sleeping around. Those on the right found him a bit too lax, and accused him of being a drunkard, glutton, and friend of sinners. Jesus did drink and eat – including at some nice parties – but he was never guilty of drunkenness or gluttony. The religious people added to God’s law their rules that you should not eat or drink at parties. They ended up being more “holy” than God and judged God for being less “holy” than them, even to the point of killing him for breaking their rules. Thankfully, Jesus was a friend of sinners and remains one to this day, which is why we are friends.
3. Do you believe in our sin nature (Ecclesiastes 7:20)?
When someone is acting in an ungodly way, just yelling at them to stop it is not enough. Likewise, yelling at a blind person to see or deaf person to hear won’t fix the problem.
We are sinners. Every single one of us, with the exception of Jesus Christ, is a sinner by nature and choice. We have sins of omission where we don’t do the good, and sins of commission where we do the wrong. We have sins of thought, word, deed, and motive.
Without understanding this we try to raise moral kids who still have a sinful old nature, or counsel people who don’t know God to just start obeying him, which is silly. The problem is not just on us, but in us. This is why Jesus came to die for sin, and sent the Holy Spirit to give us a new nature with new desires and new powers for holiness.
Until we get to the kingdom and see Jesus, we are all works in progress. Knowing we are a sinner on a planet filled with sinners gives us a bit of grace for ourselves and others. We can stop pretending we have it all together, be honest about our struggles and shortcomings, and invite other sinners to walk with us as we all become more like Jesus a bit every day.
4. Do you live for the approval of others (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22)?
Eavesdropping was apparently a problem 3000 years ago. Sadly, the Internet has only made things worse. It used to be that only God could really peer into the daily events of a person’s life – seeing what they do, hearing what they say. But, now we can all be a little like God peering in on everyone else’s life, seeing their photos, reading their posts, and obsessing over their opinion of us. The problem is, there is usually somebody somewhere saying something about us that they would never say to our face. If we are living for the approval and “likes” of our fan base, we are doomed for destruction. Every single one of us has said some things about others that we hope never gets back to them, so we have to cut others some slack. Flame throwing online is now a global hobby and produces nothing but misery. Before long, the world is invited in, and like monkeys at the zoo, the poo flinging commences. Solomon’s advice is the best – ignore it. There are better things to do – like pretty much anything.
5. Have you been stupid and foolish (Ecclesiastes 7:23-25)?
One feature I find fascinating on Google Earth is the ability to pull up an aerial view of the city and state that a specific place exists amidst. Sometimes, it’s good to do a Google Earth on your life.
Pulling up and looking back at the most recent season of your life, where were you wise and where were you foolish? What things at the time seemed smart, and in reflection they were just dumb? Ideas you held, fights you had, money you spent, things you did, etc.
Solomon is saying that some things are not necessarily sinful. They are just “stupid”, “foolishness”, and “madness”. You cannot get put in jail or kicked out of a church for them, but they are simply dumb. Examples would include the guy who never fixes the leaky corner of his roof, so eventually his house is destroyed. The teenager who stays up all night obsessed with clashing clans until their grades suffer in school. The responsible young woman who really needed a puppy, but instead found a pathetic guy to feed, water, and pick up after.
6. Is sex the bait on your hook (Ecclesiastes 7:26)?
As a reminder, Solomon had around a thousand women living in his palace, if you total up the wives and concubines. As a young man, he wrote the Song of Songs with his amazing first wife – the wife of his youth. By the end of his life, he was a lonely, jaded, dirty old man who had pagan wives that used his money to build places for ritual prostitution and fund abortions. After a lifetime of chasing his every fantasy, Solomon never met a woman like his first wife. It just goes to show that growing old, holding hands with your spouse, is still the best way to real joy. It combats every lust and sexual sin when we follow God’s plan for marriage.
7. Do you find men or women more virtuous (Ecclesiastes 7:27-28)?
The world is filled with some bad people. Users and abusers are everywhere. Some are men, and some are women. If you think that women or men are more trustworthy, safer, or godlier then you are deceived by either feminism or chauvinism.
Sitting on his gold throne overlooking his empire, Solomon says that out of his 1000 woman harem there is not one pure hearted woman among them. And, the odds for finding a good man are only .10% better which isn’t a glowing commendation.
The problem is not men or women. The problem is men and women. And, the solution is to find godly people with integrity to do life with, whether they are men or women. Such people seem incredibly rare, but once you find them praise God for them and follow their example.
8. Do you blame God for evil (Ecclesiastes 7:29)?
When God finished his work creating this world he called it “good”. When God finished making humanity he called it “very good”. Everything that is bad and very bad is in some way the result of human sin. Yes, God is sovereign but he’s also good. God is not in any way, to any degree, bad or evil. When evil occurs, the very worst thing to do is blame God. This world is not the way God made it, or the way that God will remake it for eternity. We have each chased a crooked downward path into darkness and have no one to blame but ourselves. Furthermore, the only way out is by following the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives as he straightens us up.
9. How can you grow in wisdom (Ecclesiastes 8:1)?
Wisdom is the great gift the Holy Spirit gives us to navigate through this life. Every day and every situation has variables and complexities that require more than a paint by numbers approach to life. This is where wisdom comes in and guides us forward. Wisdom, we are told, allows us to analyze what is happening, interpret how to respond, and brings a God given peace to our soul that shows forth on our face to others. Wisdom helps us be confident that no matter what comes, with the Spirit of wisdom guiding us forward we can, like Jesus, navigate the obstacles and opportunities that life brings.
Questions For Personal and Group Study Ecclesiastes 7:15-8:1
1. If you have to choose one word to describe the condition of your soul right now what would that be (e.g. hopeful, grieving, scared, peaceful, foolish, wise, etc.?)
2. When could you set aside at least a few uninterrupted hours alone with the Lord to think through, pray through, and journal areas in your soul that need some changes?
3. On the list of 9 things, which things encouraged you as areas you have already made progress in your soul?
4. On the list of 9 things, which things did God highlight for you as areas that are most urgent to be working on right now?
5. How can you grow in wisdom? Who do you need to get time with? What things do you know are right and just need to do? What do you need to read?
6. How is your personal relationship with the Holy Spirit?